By Randy Grider
The first time I spoke with Bill Mack was a few years ago at a trucking trade show. One thing that struck me was how familiar his rich voice seemed as we made small talk in the press room.
It was some time later that I understood that familiarity. His was a voice from my past.
My dad, who was a trucker, hardly ever slept past 5 a.m. whether he was working or not. When he got up, he often turned on the little white radio on our kitchen counter. I often woke on the weekends to the broadcasts of Country Crossroads. Jerry Clower is the only name I remembered as a regular on the show, but another voice stuck in my subconscious. More than three decades later, I got the chance to get reacquainted with that voice as part of my job.
Co-hosting Country Crossroads is only one part of Mack’s extraordinary career. As you can read about in our cover story on trucking radio personalities in this month’s issue (page 21), Mack is an icon of broadcasting. Like many of the other DJs featured, he credits truckers with much of his success.
That’s because it’s impossible to separate trucking from the Mack story. His dad was a trucker and truckstop owner. His core audience has been truckers for decades. And his ties to country music make him even more appealing to many truckers.
After I was a guest on Mack’s afternoon radio show this past spring, he gave me a copy of his autobiography, Bill Mack’s Memories From the Trenches of Broadcasting. The book is filled with great stories about radio, country music artists and truckers.
One story, while painting a wonderful picture about growing up in his sleepy hometown of Shamrock, Texas, tells a great deal about why Mack holds truckers in such high regard. One summer night when Mack was a teenager, he and several of his pals noticed a truck loaded with watermelons. The bored boys decided to steal a few from the slow-moving behemoth as it struggled to climb a hill heading out of town. While Mack’s friend eased his old Plymouth up to the back of the truck, the future award-winning DJ and songwriter climbed out on the hood of the car and into the truck bed, where he tossed watermelons to one of his buddies waiting on the hood of the car.
Their plot worked well while they were traveling at a snail’s pace climbing the steep hill. That changed when the truck topped the grade and the trucker gave the rig some gas. Mack found himself stuck in the back of the truck while his friends high-tailed it back to town.
When the trucker stopped in the nearby town of Wellington, Mack was caught red-handed. The trucker scolded Mack for stealing and stressed why it was wrong. But he made the teenager a deal. He could pay for the watermelons he and his friends had stolen by helping unload the freight. After a full night of unloading watermelons, the trucker delivered Mack around dawn to his house, where he left a few watermelons on his lawn.
“Outside of my dad, this was the first trucker to take the time to instill importance in my life,” Mack writes in his book. “There would be many, many more.”
While informing and entertaining is the main goal of trucking radio, it relies on mutual respect between the talent and the audience. It’s that connection that breeds success.
Meeting Mack so many years after first hearing his voice coming through our little radio was a connection to my past. His stories of small-town life and trucking also paralleled mine. I hope our cover story will help you rekindle a few memories, too.