Taylor Swift Tips Her Hat to Radio at Hall of Fame Banquet

Brooks & Dunn Honored with Career Achievement Award

Taylor Swift made a surprise appearance Tuesday night (Feb. 23) at the Country Music DJ and Radio Hall of Fame banquet in Nashville.

In addition to spotlighting six radio personalities and executives, the event also honored Brooks & Dunn for their career achievements. The duo will retire as an act at the end of this year’s tour.

Swift came to introduce Mike Hammond, director of operations for Citadel Broadcasting in Knoxville, Tenn., who was being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Hammond was one of Swift’s earliest radio supporters.

“I just got back from Japan,” Swift told the gathering. “I’ve been overseas for about a month. Arigatou gozaimasu [thank you very much]. That’s Japanese.”

Swift said she got her first impression of what country radio was like in 2005 when she visited Hammond’s station, WIVK, in Knoxville. She was 15 at the time.

Hammond was so impressed by the young singer that he invited her to sing on air. Later, he posed for a photo in front of the station with Swift and her record label president, Scott Borchetta.

After describing that encounter, Swift unveiled a huge poster of the photo.

“I was talking to Kenny Chesney the other day,” she continued and then added parenthetically, “Mike, I name-drop because I care.” She went on to explain that Chesney, who’s from the Knoxville area, had remarked to her about Hammond’s importance to his career.

Swift wasn’t the only celebrity presenter. Earlier Alabama’s lead singer, Randy Owen, welcomed Rudy Fernandez, from KEAN/Abilene, Texas, into the Country DJ Hall of Fame.

Among the country stars in the audience were Gretchen Wilson, Joe Nichols and Radney Foster.

The evening’s other inductees were the late multiple radio station owner Cy Blumenthal, (a pioneer in programming country music), Dan Halyburton (president of Dallas-based RadioTime, a new media and technology company), Bill Bailey (a former DJ at KIKK and KENR/Houston and the man who, in 1969, sent the first recordings of country music to the moon via the spaceship Apollo XII) and Laurie DeYoung (veteran DJ for WPOC/Baltimore.

Charlie Cook, a longtime activist with Country Radio Broadcasters, the sponsor of Country Radio Seminar, was given the CRB’s president’s award. Cook is now an executive with McVay Media in Los Angeles.

Dierks Bentley paid tribute to Brooks & Dunn by singing the duo’s 2003 hit, “Red Dirt Road.” Backing him were the Travelin’ McCourys, a bluegrass group made up of Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Jason Carter and Alan Bartram.

“Brooks & Dunn was a big reason I moved to Nashville,” Bentley told the crowd, noting he had first seen them perform in his hometown of Phoenix.

“I think these guys have been to every radio station in America,” said Brooks & Dunn’s label chief, Joe Galante, before bringing the duo out on stage to a standing ovation.

“I value everybody’s kindness [in radio],” Kix Brooks said. “Randy Owen told us at about the time we got started, ’I don’t mean to talk down to you, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in this business, you’d better take care of radio, pal.'”

Brooks brushed aside the importance of Twitter, MySpace and other online innovations as artist development tools, saying, “Radio is — and, I think, always will be — the biggest gorilla in our business.”

“Here’s my speech,” said the more jocular Ronnie Dunn. “I love radio. I love DJs. I love program directors. Do you still have program directors? I love the guys who own radio — all three of them. I love that big house you bought me and that nice big car I drove up here in.”

“Our motto,” Brooks concluded, “is, ’We’re splittin’, but we’re not quittin’.”

View photos from the ceremony.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.