THE HOUSE THAT BUILT NASHVILLE COUNTRY RADIO

THE HOUSE THAT BUILT NASHVILLE COUNTRY RADIO

A Word Game with Legendary Country DJ Gerry House

OK, Gerry House didn’t really build Country radio in Nashville. But for 25 years he was a unique and beloved voice on Music City radio. His morning drive programs on WSM-FM and WSIX-FM were mandatory listening for Country fans and a priority target for publicists and artists who wanted to reach music industry cognoscenti.

A songwriter as well, House wrote Reba’s “Little Rock with Bob DiPiero and Pat McManus, LeAnn Rimes’ “On the Side of Angels” and many other songs cut by headliners including Brad Paisley, Pam Tillis, George Strait and Randy Travis.

That alone is enough to break the brain of less distinguished public figures, which may be why House titled his memoir “Country Music Broke My Brain,” published recently by Ben Bella Books. His many followers and friends will not be surprised by the hilarious remembrances and the deft prose of the author. But there are moments of startling candor too, some of them personal and disarming – including one section where House recalled being a little hurt after running into Taylor Swift and getting only a perfunctory greeting from her.

“I did get my feelings hurt, to be honest about it – little 12-year-old Gerry,” he admitted. “I knew her when she was 14. She’d actually made a painting for me. So I don’t know what happened. It could have been a bad night. It’s not the end of the world. She didn’t kill anybody. She’s not an axe murderer.”

Beyond dispelling any suspicions that Swift might be a homicidal maniac, the Country Music On-Air Hall of Fame and NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame agreed to take a few minutes at the Country Radio Seminar for a “complete this sentence” game.

The most intimidating interview I’ve ever done was with …

Charlton Heston, when he came into my show. I always catch myself before saying that he had just I remember when Charlton Heston came into my show. I always catch myself before saying he had just recorded a new version of the Bible. But he came in, and it was kind of otherworldly. In fact, when he left, the manager said, “Did I just see Moses walk down the hall?” And I said, “Yes, you did. That was Moses with a couple of tablets under his arm. Take two tablets and call me in the morning.” I was pretty shocked by that because he’s such an icon.

The one thing you should not do in preparing to interview somebody is …

Stay up all night drinking, although I’ve never done that. Actually, I have. I was on the BBC doing what my friends in London call “pulling a through-ee.” It would be 2 o’clock in the morning and you pull it through the night. I do some of my best shows when I’ve been up all night because you don’t know where you are.

In 10 years, Country radio will be …

Bigger than ever. I’ve been through three Country Music scares. There’s one every 10 years: “This is awful! This new music is going to ruin it! We’re going to go out of business! We’re all going to die!” And then it gets bigger than ever.

You should pursue a career in Country radio if …

You have no other alternatives. It’s the last stop on the Entertainment Highway.

The most important thing it takes to make an on-air crew like the House Foundation gel is …

Being friends. I love those people. We’re still friends. (Mike) Bohan does eat Doritos for breakfast. Al (Voecks) does drink. Duncan (Stewart) is from Mars. It worked that way. We were real. It’s tough being on the air with somebody you absolutely despise. You’ll find over the years that it wears on you.

If I could give one bit of advice to an artist going in to a radio tour interview for the first time, that would be …

Don’t be shocked by what people ask you, if they ask you the same questions over and over. Don’t chew gum. I hate it when people chew gum on the radio! It sounds like you’re interviewing a cow. But the bigger the star, the more prepared they are. It’s the mid-level acts that never get to be stars because they’re so wacky.

You know you’re a good fit for drive-time radio because …

You’re a happy guy in the morning. And I am. I’m a morning person. I did afternoons for about two months and I was absolutely horrible, because I was asleep. I get up at 5, so I was ready to rock. I went to bed at 8 or 9.

My one regret is that I never had a chance to interview …

Johnny Carson. I’m a big fan of older comedians – Jack Benny, Bob Hope and those guys. The way they did comedy, I studied that – a lot of space.

If I could change one thing about Country radio, it would be …

Well, I was always told, “Could you play a record?” I did a talk show interrupted by Country Music. People were hurrying me along to play the music. And I get that.

I would come back to Country radio if …

I’ve actually been offered several jobs, but I don’t think I would. I did it, I walked out the door, I was fine and I’m happy. I’m selling Mary Kay Cosmetics now.

I know what I would have made a great product tester for Waylon Jennings because …

There’s no way I’m telling that story! You’ve got to buy my book

Watch these highlights from Gerry House’s on-air interviews with:

Jay and Alison DeMarcus

Hunter Hayes

Lady Antebellum

Photo by John Russell.