(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Another trusted country voice is going away. Gerry House, who has been the only reason I still listen to any mainstream country radio, is walking off the big stage. He shocked his listeners by announcing a few days ago that he’s leaving his morning House Foundation show on Nashville’s radio station WSIX-FM in December.
I had gotten spoiled by the House Foundation, and I never fully realized how hard it is to do really good morning country radio until some years ago when I was doing a lot of business travel and listened to country radio around this nation. I pretty damn quick realized how truly awful or, at best, mediocre most morning drive shows are on country radio stations. BubbaBubbaBubba! And worse. That’s what you hear.
Gerry House has for 30 years made a live four-hour morning show seem easy, as well as funny and entertaining, which is a deceptively hard task. He’s also an accomplished songwriter and scriptwriter, whose sharp and sometimes acerbic lines have enlivened many country music awards shows.
I’ll give you one little personal anecdote as an example. Not too long ago, Gerry and I both worked on a multi-artist, pre-dinner mini-concert for the National Democratic Governors Convention/Conference in a huge tent at Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s farm outside Nashville. Gerry was the emcee for the show, and I was the music talent wrangler. (By the way, we worked the show for free. At least I know I did.)
Gov. Bredesen gave Gerry a long, effusive and very praiseworthy introduction. Gerry took the mic and said — very breezily — “Thanks, Phil.”
Not a big deal, admittedly. But that totally won over for him that very formal audience of governors, their families and their invited guests. And that kind of demonstrates his attitude to authority and to what is expected of people in his position.
I can certainly understand the urge to retire. House has had health problems. He’s also had to go to sleep early every night and wake up by 3:30 or so every morning. For a whole lot of years. Every night and every day. What does that do to your family life? To your health?
Additionally, Gerry was jacked over by his parent company Clear Channel last year when CC abruptly sacked two of his longtime show staffers, Al Voecks and Duncan Stewart, apparently without his knowledge. I heard he considered quitting then, but stayed on. I am not surprised he is leaving now. If the most highly-regarded country DJ in the country is not well-respected at all by his parent company, then what’s left in radio?
I know it’s not nearly as prevalent these days, but DJs and radio announcers were once some of the most influential people in music. Dewey Phillips in Memphis and Alan Freed in Cleveland are the two big progenitors of rock ’n’ roll on radio. Freed is a main reason the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland, instead of in Memphis, where it rightfully belongs. The music was born in Sun Studios on Memphis’ Union Street. Everyone knows that. Dewey Phillips first put the music out from there on the airwaves of WHBQ. Just as Alan Freed did later in Cleveland on WJW.
There are radio legends in country music radio. And there are many living ones. There’re such Nashville jocks as the astounding walking music encyclopedia Eddie Stubbs and such greats as Ralph Emery and Keith Bilbrey and Bill Cody. In Texas, I have listened to the amazing Bill Mack for many years. The Wolf in Dallas changed the direction of modern country radio. When I lived in New York City, Ed Salamon and Lee Arnold and Jessie Scott and their staff at WHN converted many New Yorkers to country music with their knowledge and wit. These are all people who are credible music experts who bring genuine music heritage and appreciation and love to their programs. And they are on live local programs, not on syndicated shows that are fed to stations around the country from one of the radio conglomerates.
One of the problems Nashville authorities found with local residents getting news warnings about the recent disastrous flooding here was that some Nashville radio stations are programmed by syndication, have no local news, and therefore there was no one even at some stations to take phone calls on the weekend when the flooding happened. The stations’ listeners heard nothing but automated programming broadcast from somewhere else. Who knows from where? Certainly not from here.
As radio conglomeration has decimated radio station staffs, genuine on-air radio talent is sadly disappearing. Some survive on satellite radio, where people like Bill Mack and Cowboy Jack Clement and Steve Earle still flourish. Long may they run. Like Gerry House, they still care about the damn music.
I won’t listen to WSIX again after Gerry’s gone unless they find a solid and credible replacement for him. Not that it’s a big deal for them that I won’t.