Bill Mack’s broadcast career spans more than 50 years.
For many years trucking radio personalities have been close in-cab friends of solitary truckers as they trek across the country.
From local programs at remote stations to late-night shows in major markets to the celestial broadcasts of satellite radio, these mike jockeys serve their loyal listeners with useful information and much-appreciated entertainment.
On the following pages, you’ll get to know today’s radio legends – Bill Mack, Larry Shannon, the Truckin’ Bozo and Dave Nemo – as well as pioneers like Charlie Douglas and Mike Hoyer.
SADDLED WITH SUCCESS
Radio’s top cowboy gallops right along
Bill Mack’s interest in radio began in his hometown of Shamrock, Texas. It also was there that he first became acquainted with truck drivers and their lifestyle. He’s parlayed inspiration from pre-television radio programs and a mutual respect shared with truckers into a long and successful broadcast career.
But Mack is more than a well-known and beloved disc jockey. He also is a singer, promoter, Grammy-winning songwriter, author, columnist and close confidant to countless celebrities in the country music industry. Mack is a man who moves about with ease in almost every social circle, but he is most at home when on the air chatting with his loyal listeners.
“The truckers have been there since the beginning,” Mack says. “I have the utmost respect for truckers and many, many of them are close friends.”
Mack’s nickname was given to him by a Minnesota trucker in 1969 when he called in on Mack’s midnight-5 a.m. show. It was Mack’s first night on the 50,000-watt Fort Worth AM station WBAP. “The caller said, ‘Looks like we’ve got us a midnight cowboy,’” Mack says. “For the next three decades I was known as Midnight Cowboy.”
Today, Mack goes by the Satellite Cowboy, an appropriate moniker for his afternoon trucking show (Open Road channel 171) on XM Satellite Radio.
The early years
He was born Bill Mack Smith during the Great Depression in the tiny Texas Panhandle town of Shamrock along Route 66. His father Ernest was a truck driver and later a truckstop owner. His mother Irene was a devoted homemaker.
Mack, who has a younger brother named Clois, spins warm and humorous tales of growing up in a loving family in his autobiography, Bill Mack’s Memories From the Trenches of Broadcasting.
Starting when he was about 5 years old, Mack often rode with his dad on his trucking route, delivering cottonseed and later fuel. “It was a hot and dirty job,” Mack says. “My dad’s old truck, of course, didn’t have an air conditioner – no truck back then did – and the dust would come in the window and cover us. My mother would send along wet towels, and my dad would wipe the grit off my face.”
Later, his father bought a service station where Mack did odd chores like sweeping and hosing off the driveway. When Ernest took control of the Bumper-to-Bumper, the town’s only truckstop, Mack fixed flat tires and did other jobs.
One thing that has always stood out in Mack’s early memories of being around truckers is their honesty. “Some truckers would come in and didn’t have enough money for food or fuel to complete their trip, and they’d say, ‘Ernest, could you put me down in your book [of credit], and I’ll pay you when I come back through,’” Mack says. “My father told me when he sold the truckstop, not one trucker owed him money.”
Mack’s first steps in broadcast came in high school, when after a short-lived boxing career (one ill-fated bout), he started announcing the school’s matches on the public address system. Encouragement from the wife of his dentist, who told him he had a wonderful voice made for radio, led to Mack entering West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas, as a speech major.
Mack cut his college career short when he found out a radio station was being built in his hometown. Begging the station manager for a chance to be an announcer on the new KEVA paid off when Mack was hired for $12.50 a week.
Moving up the ladder
Over the next few years, Mack honed his skills as an announcer working at various stations across Texas. Sometimes he left for better opportunities. Other times his frustrations with program directors or stations managers, coupled with his mischievous side, forced the move.
Mack left KEVA because of the demeaning way the program director treated him. He orchestrated his departure by slipping some personally written news-wire transcripts to the program director, who preferred to read the news “cold.”
Mack listened to the fake news on his car radio as he roared away from the station for the last time. It included a rumor that Hollywood stars Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner had eloped and were honeymooning at a Shamrock motel. Some of the listeners hurried over to the Twenty-Trees Tourist Court just in time to see one of Shamrock’s biggest businessmen leaving a motel room with his secretary.
“Even though I had problems with some of the personnel there, I’m grateful for the opportunities it gave me,” Mack says.
Mack’s deep, iconic voice and friendly nature made finding a new radio job rather easy. But announcing wasn’t his only asset. His own musical talents made Mack well-rounded compared to many DJs of his day.
Playing with various country-western bands, who relied on DJs for getting their music on the air, was an ideal situation for Mack. At various times in some of the larger radio markets where Mack worked, he promoted and announced music acts as they came to town.
Mack got to know some of the biggest acts in the business – names like Johnny Horton, Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson and many more.
“My friendship with Bill Mack goes back in time longer than with my trusty uitar, ‘Trigger.’ That’s over 40 years,” Willie Nelson says. “Bill is one of the most respected names in broadcasting. He is unbeatable as a radio personality. He knows more about country music than most people. The fact that he is a close, personal pal is very important to me.”
Linda Plowman Fikes, who scored several songs on the national charts while touring frequently with Conway Twitty in the 1970s, gives Mack a lot of credit for helping up-and-coming artists.
“Bill is responsible for helping many singers getting started,” Fikes says. “Conway introduced me to Bill and [Bill] played my songs on a lot of his shows. He’s a special person who brings out the best in people – that’s his mission.”
Mack’s own music
As Mack built a reputation for being one the best DJs in the country, he also began writing songs in earnest. One of the first to get noticed was “Drinking Champagne.” Mack wrote it after being inspired by a billboard while driving to his Fort Worth home in 1966. “I literally wrote it in my head in a few minutes,” Mack says. “I rushed over to a friend named Johnny Patterson who had a recording studio, borrowed a guitar and recorded a demo. That’s the way I’ve written most of my songs – they’ve come to me in a matter of minutes.”
“Drinking Champagne” has been recorded by more than 100 artists, among them Dean Martin, Cal Smith, Ray Price and George Strait, whose versions of the song have resulted in gold and platinum albums. Strait reached No. 2 on the country charts with the song in 1991.
The song also earned Mack the distinction of membership in the BMI Million-Air Club, which means it has been played more than 1 million times on radio and television.
But Mack’s most famous song is “Blue.” Not only did the song earn him a Grammy Award for Country Song of the Year (1996), the American Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year and a guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show, it also launched the career of LeAnn Rimes.
After writing the song in 1958, Mack had hoped that Patsy Cline would record it. “I sent Patsy a demo of the song, but she was killed before she could record it,” Mack says. “I actually wrote the song while learning to play the guitar.”
Mack has had success with a gospel song named “Clinging to a Saving Hand,” which has been recorded by such artists as Rimes and Plowman.
Mack was under contract with various labels during his early years but never managed to get the breaks needed for a sustained singing career. “That’s never bothered me,” Mack says. “I’ve been blessed as a songwriter and a long broadcast career.”
Home at home
Mack likes to joke about his “long, daily commute” to work. Since Sept. 10, 2001, he has been broadcasting his show from inside his Fort Worth home. XM set up the state-of-the-art broadcast room in Mack’s private recording studio – another sign of respect for the godfather of trucking radio.
With Cindy, his wife of 34 years, working as the in-house producer and co-star of the show, Mack does what he has done for more than 50 years – inform and entertain his audience. On the weekends, Mack’s son Billy and daughter-in-law April do the show.
Each show starts with a sign-on of “Orange Blossom Special.” From there, he and Cindy discuss the top trucking stories of the day. The next four hours are filled with classic country, special guests and call-ins from truckers who often report traffic conditions and weather from their locations. One of the most popular segments is Willie Wednesday, featuring Willie Nelson as a regular guest.
As long as callers light up the boards, Mack, who is in his 70s (we didn’t list Mack’s exact age because of a summer-long contest in Shamrock to guess his birth date) plans to keep doing his show. “I don’t believe in forced retirement,” Mack says. “Paul Harvey is 89 and Andy Rooney is 88. I like staying active in mind and body. Besides, I love what I’m doing. It’s still fun.”
‘Blue’ – the Superhit That Almost Wasn’t
Bill Mack’s road to winning a Grammy for the song “Blue” was a long one filled with numerous obstacles.
While Mack didn’t specifically write “Blue” for Patsy Cline, as widely reported, his hopes of his good friend recording it ended with her untimely death in 1963. This resulted in Mack shelving the song among his catalog of 300-plus works for more than three decades.
One day in the early 1990s, Mack received a call from his friend Marty Rendleman, a music agent who was shopping around for another song for 11-year-old LeAnn Rimes to put on her debut album. He pulled a cassette demo of “Blue” from his shelf and offered to meet Rendleman a couple of days later at a Denny’s restaurant in Grand Prairie, Texas. Even though Mack had heard the talented Rimes sing a couple of times around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he wasn’t too excited because she didn’t have a record contract. “If it wasn’t for my respect for Marty, I might have suggested ‘Jesus Loves Me’ or ‘Tisket a Tasket’ for the youngster,” Mack says. “I also knew LeAnn had a great voice, so I agreed to give her the song.”
When the day came to meet Rendleman, it was cold and raining. Mack wanted to reschedule, but his wife Cindy insisted he keep the appointment because of the friendship with Rendleman. “Get in the car. I’ll drive,” Cindy ordered.
Later, as Rimes’ father Wilbur was going through a stack of possible songs for his daughter to include on her album, the young singer noticed a cassette in the trashcan at their Garland, Texas, apartment. Mack says the young singer inquired about the discarded cassette and was told by her father that the song wasn’t her style. She pulled the demo tape from the trash and took it to her bedroom. After listening to it, Rimes told her hesitant father she wanted to record it.
The throwaway song soon became the runaway hit “Blue.”
“I often thank God for Marty, Cindy and Denny’s,” Mack says.
Honors and Awards
A partial list of Bill Mack’s recognitions:
(2002) Texas Radio Hall of Fame Induction
(2000) Media Award – In Recognition of Excellence in Broadcasting voted on by industry peers in Nashville, Tenn.
(1999) Marconi Award Nominee for Major Market Personality by National Association of Broadcasters.
(1999) Induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame
(1999) Induction into the Texas Country Music DJ Hall of Fame
(1998) “Blue” selected by Red Lobster for national television and radio advertising campaign
(1998) Presented microform Lunar Bible, which was the first Bible on the moon, from the 1971 Apollo XIV mission.
(1998) BMI Million-Air Award for “Drinking Champagne” being aired more than 1 million times
(1998) LeAnn Rimes’ album Blue goes multi-platinum
(1998) LeAnn Rimes’ album You Light Up My Life, which includes Mack-composed “Clinging to a Saving Hand,” goes multi-platinum; the single “Blue” goes gold
(1998) Voted Texas No. 1 Disc Jockey for 25 years of service
(1998) Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Award
(1997) Received Grammy Award for “Blue” as Country Music Song of the Year (1996); also nominated as Song of the Year
(1997) Received Academy of Country Music award for Song of the Year, “Blue”
(1997) Country Music Association finalist for Song of the Year, “Blue”
(1997) BMI Pop Award for “Blue”
(1997) BMI Country Song Award for “Blue”
(1997) National Songwriters Association Award for “Blue”
(1997) Presented American flag flown over U.S. Capitol in honor of Mack’s Grammy Award
(1997) George Strait’s box set Strait Out of the Box, which contains Mack-composed “Drinking Champagne,” goes platinum
(1997) Dedication of Bill Mack Street in Shamrock, Texas
(1995) Induction into the Texas Music Hall of Fame
(1995) George Strait’s Ten Strait Hits, featuring “Drinking Champagne,” goes gold
(1993) Emcee at Bob Hope’s 80th birthday charity event
(1991) George Strait’s Livin’ It Up, containing the single “Drinking Champagne,” goes gold
(1982) Induction into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame
(1973) Country Music Association Disc Jockey of the Year
· Also voted among the 13 Most Powerful People in Country Music by Country Music Magazine.
· For more than a quarter century, Bill Mack was the voice of Country Crossroads, which became a nationally syndicated radio show and cable television program.
· Emcee of the Buck Owen Ranch television show.
· Voice of the Overdrive Top 10 Countdown, a syndicated program of popular country music sponsored by Overdrive magazine.
· Worked with Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers to supply and coordinate music for the movie A Perfect World co-starring Kevin Costner.
· Served two terms on the Country Music Association Board of Directors.
‘IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE’
Technology takes radio news personality from the farm to the airwaves
The voice of Overdrive Trucking News records from a 1920s house in a cornfield outside Westboro, Mo., population 163. “It’s nice except when the mosquitoes get to you,” he says. “Every winter all the bugs die because they freeze to death around here.”
Larry Shannon, who has jumped from the radio business to politics and back over his 58 years, last summer moved from Texas to his family’s 160-year-old, 900-acre farm, which he shares with his cat Kit and her kittens. He had been running the Fourteen Pines Farm from afar since his mother’s death in 1994.
“My friends in Texas kid me that I live in the middle of nowhere, and I say, ‘No, I live in the middle of everywhere,’” Shannon says. “We’re in the middle of the Corn Belt, and where I am is in the middle of the Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas state lines.”
The location may seem low-tech, but Shannon uses a computer to gather and edit news stories and record them for his show, which has aired since 2001 on stations across the Overdrive Radio Network and on XM Satellite Radio channel 171, Open Road.
Shannon started working in radio at age 16, the first year he was old enough to get a license.
“There were a couple of times that I visited a radio station when I was 13 or 14, and just going in there and seeing the DJs on the air and the newsmen, I thought, what a great job!” Shannon says. “And that was about it, really. I was hooked. Plus, I used to listen to top 40 radio, and I called in to request songs, and I joined all the DJs’ fan clubs.”
After 13 years and a degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, he left radio to pursue several careers – real estate development, jewelry wholesaling, investor relations, public relations and politics – the longest as an assistant to former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright through the ’80s and ’90s. During and since the 2000 election campaigns, Shannon has served as a political analyst for the Dallas-Fort Worth CBS television affiliate, KTVT.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Can’t you keep a job?’ and actually everything I’ve done began with radio because I learned communication skills in radio,” Shannon says. “If you get your communication skills down, you can do anything.”
Shannon got back into radio when he launched RadioDailyNews (website), a radio industry news site, and helped found the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.
“That led to me doing some weekend computer radio shows,” Shannon says.
His recent work in trucking radio has him paying more attention to truckers, even envying their independent lifestyle.
“Truckers are some of the best educated people in the world because when they pull into a truckstop and get a cup of coffee, they read the local newspaper and they listen to satellite radio and find out what’s going on in the world,” Shannon says. “I envy truckers in that they get to travel all over the country and see all sorts of things the average person doesn’t get to see. Every trucker probably makes mental notes: ‘You know, I want to come back to this town and take a tour.’”
Shannon got a brief feel for the road when he packed up his stuff in a rental truck and drove himself from Texas to Missouri.
“When I was behind the wheel of that diesel-powered big truck, I felt like a trucker,” he says. “For once in my life, I could feel that diesel running and feel the vibration under my feet, and I thought, what a great life!”
Then he saw flashing lights behind him.
“The trooper pulled me over, and he said, ‘You know you were going 65 in a 60.’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I was going up the hill and trying to get up as much steam as possible.’”
The trooper gave Shannon a warning, then recognized the name on his driver’s license.
“He told me he listened to the XM Open Road channel because it was folks like Bill Mack and the others, and it felt like they were talking to him, and it kept him company,” Shannon says. “You never know where they’re listening out there.”
–Kristin L. Walters
ENTERTAINER AND ADVOCATE
‘The Truckin’ Bozo’ and his son make their mark on trucking radio.
The Sommers name is big in trucking radio. The father – Dale Sommers, better known as “The Truckin’ Bozo” – has been on the air almost nonstop since 1964, the last 23 of those years in trucking. The son – Steve Sommers – took his father’s place in 2004, while the elder Sommers moved on to a daytime show on XM Satellite Radio.
Dale Sommers started out as a disc jockey, then launched his first music and talk show catered to long-haul truckers in 1984 with the title The Truckin’ Bozo. He’d been using the nickname Bozo since 1977, when he was working at a station in Kansas City, Mo.
“We had just changed the station over from middle of the road to country. They were remodeling and changing some things around, and I was in this little closet they’d turned into a copy room,” Sommers says. “The program director said to me, ‘They’re charging $1,200 just to take this wall out and make the room bigger. I said, ‘$1,200?’ and I just reared back and kicked the wall, and we heard this noise, and it separated from the ceiling and fell over into another guy’s office. It was a mess.”
The two of them stood the wall up, but after his boss left for the night, Sommers starting thinking what might happen if the wall fell over again and landed on someone. He decided to knock the wall back down.
“The next day there was seven kinds of hell raised,” he says. “My boss came in and said, ‘Damn, you’re a bozo.’ Later that week when I was on the radio, I saw my boss walking by the studio, and I said, ‘By the way, I’m the Afternoon Bozo here on 61 Country.’ Then the other guys started saying it, too – ‘This is the only station with its own Afternoon Bozo.’”
Sommers became what he calls a “journeyman broadcaster,” traveling around the country working at various stations on the advice of the first DJ he ever met – a neighbor down the street from his boyhood home in Cincinnati, who gave him his first gig at age 13.
“The gentleman in Cincinatti told me when you lose your job – and you will eventually – get the hell out of Cincinnati,” Sommers says. “I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘You don’t want to get stuck in a rut in one city without having contacts around the nation.’”
Still, Sommers has spent 20 years in his hometown, mostly at WLW 700 AM. WLW was the first to air The Truckin’ Bozo show, which broadcast over most of the eastern and central United States and eastern Canada. Eventually the show was syndicated to cover a much broader area.
“I knew nothing but nothing about trucking. I was a country music DJ, and I had a good feeling as to what the truckers wanted to hear. I got on there and played country music, took their calls and had fun with ‘em,” Sommers says. “Then I started getting calls from truckers complaining about this and that that goes on in trucking. I went from being Truckin’ Bozo the entertainer to Truckin’ Bozo the advocate.”
When Indiana tacked a lowered speed for trucks onto a bill and passed it, Sommers started his first campaign.
“I got on the air that night and raised hell about it. Things started getting hot. The truckers started getting mad,” he says, and the Bozo responded.
“Later one of the reporters at the paper told me the governor would call her up at 3 and 4 in the morning complaining about something he heard on my radio program.”
In addition to his radio popularity – and notoriety with politicians – Sommers got national attention in 1986 when he helped stopped a robbery in Camilla, Ga. Sommers was on the telephone with a regular caller known as “Mississippi Lady,” who worked at a 24-hour convenience store, when he heard her tell someone, “You can’t come back here.” Then the woman hung up.
Sommers called the police and gave them the information that helped them find the woman and stop the robber.
“They caught the guy coming out the door with the knife in one hand and the money in the other,” Sommers says.
When Sommers retired in 2004 because of diabetes and Addison’s disease, his son Steve – who had been a DJ since the age of 15 and had begun hosting the show’s weekend spot in 1996 – was the natural successor.
“We brought him into WLW as a producer for my show originally,” Sommers says. “The writing was on the wall that my career was closing down, so I taught him as much as I could in the 6 years we worked together. He, like myself, had never done a truck show when he first came in.”
After a five-month retirement, the Bozo’s doctors let him return to radio on the condition that he work only three hours a day and alternate between sitting and standing.
He launched a new afternoon drive incarnation of his call-in show exclusively on XM’s Open Road channel 171, from 4 to 7 p.m. EST. He records his show from a studio in his home in Inverness, Fla.
Steve’s show was renamed America’s Trucking Network and is heard on three affiliates, including flagship station WLW, live from 12 to 5 a.m. EST, and simulcast on XM channel 173.
–Kristin L. Walters
HE’S NO PHONY
From the birth of trucking radio to the dawn of the satellite era, Nemo stays true to his blue-collar roots
Dave Nemo has been in trucking radio since the beginning, when the concept was but a twinkle in his friend and mentor Charlie Douglas’ eye, but he still follows a sage piece of advice Douglas gave him early on – just be yourself.
“He told me truck drivers can spot a phony a mile away,” Nemo says. “And that’s still true today.”
Nemo spent his boyhood years in Vicksburg, Miss., where he spent days fishing and also where he fell in love with radio, especially the work the DJs did.
“They made it exciting and fun and interesting,” he says.
Nemo got his start in 1966 at the Loyola University station in New Orleans, then moved on to a part-time gig at the powerful WWL 870 AM.
After graduation, he enlisted in the Army, where he found himself in radio again at AFKN (Armed Forces Korea Network) in Seoul, Korea, with a 6 p.m.-midnight show he called “Nemo’s Nitebeat.”
“We played it all,” he says. “You could go from James Brown to Hank Williams.”
Back in the United States in the early ’70s, Nemo returned to WWL and met Charlie Douglas. “Charlie Douglas invented trucking radio,” Nemo says. “[He] was working at another station, and he went to WWL and said, ‘You have this flamethrower of a station, and you’re playing big band, which is fine, but you have these truckers out there.’”
Douglas suggested an overnight radio show aimed at long-haul truckers and featuring country music. He invited Nemo to co-host the show as a member of the “Road Gang.”
“I had a bit of a country music history myself having been a musician,” Nemo says. “Coming from a blue-collar background – that let the truckers identify with me as a real guy. We hit it off.”
Record companies sent the Road Gang hundreds of promos, and Nemo announced on the radio that they would send five 45s to every trucker who sent in a shoulder patch. “At the time they were wearing more of the company uniform type,” Nemo says. “We filled the studio with patches, and I felt that I was accepted.”
Nemo worked with Douglas until 1984, when Douglas left for Nashville, Tenn., to work the Grand Ol’ Opry on WSM. The Dave Nemo Show was born.
In 1995 Nemo moved to Nashville with his wife Cheryl and daughters Amy and Clare. He started inviting the stars to come on the show. XM Satellite Radio came calling in 2001, and for a while The Dave Nemo Show ran live overnight on AM stations and replayed in the morning on satellite radio. Finally, in June 2003 the show let its contracts run out with the AM stations and went exclusively to XM in the morning drive slot, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST on the Open Road channel 171, as a mix of talk and call-ins and just a little music.
“When we went live on XM, our program took a giant leap forward – I hope – because we’ve been able to have industry leaders on,” Nemo says. “We’ve really grown into a source of information for the drivers. Our mandate now is information. Our mandate in the old Road Gang days was simply to keep people awake, keep them alive!”
At the same time, the show does have a history of being a place where drivers can learn about and discuss relevant issues, Nemo says. “We always try to be a moderator. We got that started back in ’75 with the Arab oil embargo. It was quite a time, and we realized we needed to be a sounding board for all sides of these issues. And that’s the way we do it today, too. We’ll have OOIDA on the air one day, and the next day we’ll have ATA.”
With the show’s popularity have come hundreds of interesting encounters with truckers and others (including a robbery gang that was using song requests as signals).
Nemo even got a chance to help save a life, using the airwaves to help find a young girl and her mother in flight from an abusive situation. “The young girl was bitten by a rabid dog before they left, but they didn’t know the dog was rabid at the time,” Nemo says. “We knew they listened to the show, and we had to phrase it to find this girl and her mom so they didn’t think it was the father trying to get them back.”
–Kristin L. Walters
THE NEXT GENERATION
Freewheelin’ duo give truckers a place to be heard
Meredith Ochs and Chris Tsakis could be called the new kids on the trucking radio block. They paired up only a little more than a year ago to host Freewheelin’ With Meredith Ochs and Chris T. on Sirius Satellite Radio’s channel 147, Road Dog Trucking Radio.
But they’re no strangers to the mike. Ochs and Tsakis have known each other since 1990 when they both worked at WFMU in the New York City area, a station that was once a college station but went independent when the college folded.
“It’s a free-form station, and it’s pretty legendary among people who know about radio,” says Tsakis, who started there in the 1980s while in college.
“I also worked for many years at NPR as an engineer, on the other side of the mike,” Tsakis says. He also handles the technical side of Freewheelin’.
Meredith got her start in radio going after small jobs in a very big market. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a major in political science, she moved to New York City, where she saw an ad for a van driver at KROC and applied, ending up as a researcher on the Howard Stern Show.
She went on to work at several stations in NYC, including WFMU, and at National Public Radio.
She and Tsakis both started at then-fledgling Sirius Satellite Radio as DJs on the Outlaw Country channel. Meanwhile, for two and a half years Ochs made guest appearances on the Open Road Café show with Mark Willis and Elizabeth Walsh.
“People liked me, so they put me on more,” she says.
The station eventually gave Ochs and Tsakis their own trucking show.
“They paired us up because we’ve known each other for years,” Ochs says.
Freewheelin’ – which airs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST every weekday – is geared toward entertaining listeners, in contrast to the more sober Open Road Café morning show.
“The title Freewheelin’ is pretty apropros,” Ochs says. “We just try to let it go where it’s going to go. I think both of us are good at being spontaneous.”
Ochs and Tsakis choose a theme for each show and accept calls on the topic.
A recent show was “all about hair,” Och says. Ochs and Tsakis began by talking about their past hairstyles. Then truckers called in to talk about their own.
It turned out to be a topic more serious than it might seem at first. Ochs and Tsakis asked truckers how their hairstyles affected their jobs. “Does it change the way you’re treated on the job?” Ochs asked.
“We hear from a lot of truckers who say, ‘We feel invisible,’” she says, and the show gives them a voice. “This is a place they can call in and be safe and have a nice conversation.”
Ochs and Tsakis also share airtime with trucking industry representatives like OOIDA’s Todd Spencer or Carolyn Magner of Truckers News, as well as musicians – country star Gretchen Wilson, for instance – and television personalities like Larry the Cable Guy and the Chrome Shop Mafia of CMT’s Trick My Truck.
The response from the audience has been great, Ochs says.
“They tell us, ‘This changed my whole job. This makes it so much more fun,’” she says. “They know that Road Dog is their community. Not only are they talking to us, they’re talking to the drivers all over the United States and Canada.”
–Kristin L. Walters
HEART OF A NIGHT OWL
Midnight Trucking Radio host finds job a natural fit
Eric Harley can trace his affection for truckers back to childhood.
“Any time I could I’d open my window to listen to big rigs pass on the highway. That’s always been extremely relaxing to me,” he says. “Now I’m giving something back to them.”
This year is Harley’s silver anniversary in radio. Twenty-five years ago, he was a high school student working a few hours a week at the local radio station in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“I heard the local radio station had an opening, and I showed up,” Harley says. “I just never quit. I graduated in 1984, and within a couple of months I had a full-time job in radio, and I never looked back.”
For the past 11 years, Harley has been the host of The Midnight Trucking Radio Network, which broadcasts from midnight to 5 a.m. nationwide on terrestrial stations and Sirius Satellite Radio channel 147.
Trucking radio was a natural step for Harley, whose father and maternal grandfather were truckers.
“In fact there are others in my family – my brother has some trucking experience, and I have a cousin who’s driving right now. My father-in-law was a small fleet owner,” Harley says. “I feel like I can at least communicate with [truckers] with an understanding of what they’re going through.”
He also shares the night-owl tendencies of his listeners.
“Most people are starting their working day when I’m just about to have breakfast,” he says. “But I’m a night person anyway, and I’d likely be up till 2 or 3 in the morning even if I worked during the day.”
The radio show, which Harley co-hosts with Gary McNamara, focuses on news and information for truckers.
“There are some fun topics that we do every once in a while, but for the most part we consider ourselves to be like the CNBC or the Fox News of trucking,” says Harley, who also donates his efforts to several charities, including Trucker Buddy.
“We try to keep the truckers informed, and we also try to help them with their financial goals as well. We try and bring them information that will help them with their bottom line.”
–Kristin L. Walters
These men were the first to speak directly to truckers over the airwaves
Trucking radio owes its invention to former disc jockey Charlie Douglas.
“Charlie was the first to have the idea to do a show directly to truckers,” says Dave Nemo, who was his partner on the first overnight trucking radio show, Charlie Douglas and His Road Gang.
Starting in 1970, the show aired nationwide on WWL 870 AM out of New Orleans.
Douglas later moved to Nashville to host Music Country Radio and in 1995 left radio to operate Compact Disc Xpress. He was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1994.
The all-night trucking radio show experienced a boom in the 1970s, and many other pioneering personalities competed for truckers’ attention. Here are a few of the greats:
After spending several years in the military, meteorologist Billy Cole decided to pursue a career in the radio business. His first paying job was at a 100-watt station in Attica, N.Y. Cole spent more than 40 years in radio, including hosting all-night trucking shows at WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, from 1974 through the 1980s. Most recently he hosted a weekend program on KMGO in his hometown of Centerville, Iowa.
He was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 2002 and died on March 8, 2007. He ended each show with this sage advice: “The best way to have friends is to be one yourself.”
The co-writer of the trucking-song classic “Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” Mike Hoyer started his radio career in 1945 at age 17. After a tour of duty in the Korean War, he changed his name from Myron Heuer and in 1965 started the all-night radio show Country Music U.S.A. on WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. On the first night he debuted what would become very famous words: “coast to coast, border to border, and then some – Country Music USA.”
“When I was working top 40 stations in the late ’60s, I’d get off at midnight and rush home and turn the radio on and listen to Mike Hoyer,” says Dale Sommers, “The Truckin’ Bozo.”
Hoyer left all-night radio in 1971, after receiving the Billboard magazine award for country Disc Jockey of the Year, and hopped around to different stations until he retired from the radio business in 1991. He was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1995 and died on Feb. 1, 1999.
Billy Parker grew up in country music, performing since the tender age of 15. He began his radio career in 1959 in Tulsa, Okla., but left to become the front man for the Texas Troubadours. Parker returned to the airwaves in 1971 on KVOO AM in Tulsa and started his Billy Parker Big Rigger all-night radio show in 1972. He received the Country Music Association’s Disc Jockey of the Year honor in 1974.
Inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1992, Parker can still be heard on KVOO FM and KCKI FM in Tulsa.
Larry Scott first announced on a radio station in Neosho, Mo., in 1955. In 1972, Scott released an album of truck driving songs called Keep On Truckin’.
From 1982 to 2002, he hosted The Interstate Road Show, an overnight show on KWKH in Shreveport, La., and later KVOO in Tulsa. The show combined country music with news and reports of weather and road conditions for truckers.
Scott left the radio business for a time to run a trucking company but now hosts Sunday morning shows on KWKH. He was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Big John” Trimble
“Big John” Trimble started in radio at age 14 in his hometown of Paintsville, Ky. In 1972, Big John started an overnight truckers’ show, the first like it on the West Coast, on KMO in Tacoma, Wash., and two years later moved to the 50,000-watt KGA in Spokane.
Then Trimble moved to KWKH in Shreveport, La., and broadcast for three years from Kelly’s Truck Stop on the Texas border. For 18 years, he broadcast from Jarrell’s Truck Stop in Doswell, Va., for WRVA of Richmond, Va.
Inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 2007, Trimble is still on the air mornings on WCLM 1450 AM.