Toby Keith Shares Label Plans at Country Radio Seminar

Diamond Rio Presented Artist Humanitarian Award During Seminar's Opening Session

Toby Keith hopes to launch his own record label after releasing two more albums for the Universal Music Group, he announced Thursday (March 3) during an interview that served as the keynote for the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.

Also during the opening session, Diamond Rio accepted the Country Radio Broadcasters’ annual Artist Humanitarian award. Radio stations in Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas also received humanitarian honors from the organization.

During an interview with Radio & Records country editor Lon Helton, Keith said he plans to redirect his attentions during the next phase of his career.

“You’re gonna see over the next couple of years that I’m going to move out of some places in this industry where I’ve been focusing and move into some new areas,” Keith said. “So you’re going to see some adjustments made where my energy is going to be better used.”

During the interview, Keith expressed frustration over finding himself back under Universal’s corporate umbrella after achieving his greatest success as a DreamWorks Nashville recording artist. Keith, who scored his early hits on Universal’s Mercury Records imprint, asked to be released from his Mercury contract after label executives declined to release one of his albums. Purchasing the album’s master tape and releasing it on DreamWorks, Keith finally achieved superstar status with How Do You Like Me Now?!

After Universal gained ownership of DreamWorks Nashville and moved the label into its existing country division, Keith found himself working with many of the same executives he dealt with at Mercury. Referring to a recent gathering to discuss his new music, he noted, “I had my first A&R meeting in 20 million albums.”

Keith refers to label executive James Stroud, his longtime friend, as his “buffer” from the corporate activities. Prior to the interview, Stroud presented Keith with a plaque signifying total career sales of 25 million albums. And although he wouldn’t rule out aligning with Universal when he starts his own label, Keith is clearly keeping all options open.

“Everything’s in early discussions,” he explained. “I owe it to myself and to my camp and my family to listen to the other labels. It’s a unique situation to be in where you’re making great music. I’m an album and a-half ahead. … I turned the new album in, and I’ve cut five or six new ones that are for another album.” He’ll return to the studio in July.

At the opening session, Diamond Rio kicked things off by performing the national anthem, but band members returned to the stage when Brad Paisley named the winner of the 2005 Artist Humanitarian award for their work with several charities, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Tony Stewart Foundation and the Children’s Miracle Network. Paisley won the award last year.

WQYK/Tampa, Fla., won the Radio Humanitarian award in the large market category. KXKC/Lafayette, La., received the honor in the medium market division and KDXY/Jonesboro, Ark., won the small market category.

Billy Dean sang his 1990 hit, “Only Here For a Little While,” during a tribute to the late Tom Rivers, a former air personality and operations manager at WQYK and WUSN/Chicago who is the namesake of a new award citing humanitarian efforts of individuals within the radio industry. The inaugural honor went to Rivers, a beloved member of the radio fraternity, who died suddenly last year. His uncle accepted the award on behalf of the family.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.