A fact well known in Nashville, and throughout the music industry, is that country music has been undergoing a transformation for years. Many of the artists have a new look and a new feel, which means fans also have a different look and want to hear their favorite songs and artists introduced and discussed in a new way.
Enter Bobby Bones.
Just as David Allen Coe famously described the perfect country and western song, for decades many similarly envision the perfect country and western DJ as a deep voiced, cowboy hat wearing guy with his matching belt buckle and cowboy boots.
Bobby Bones is none of that.
He doesn’t own a cowboy hat, or even a pair of boots, but that doesn’t mean Bones isn’t country. Sitting in the WSIX studio with his black rimmed glasses, and often a flat billed baseball cap, Bones discussed how the last year and a half where he and his co-hosts have taken the country music world by storm is far from his first introduction to country music.
“I’m from Arkansas; country music is what I grew up on.”
Bones is host of The Bobby Bones Show, with his friends Amy and Lunchbox, which airs weekday mornings on nearly 70 affiliates to approximately three million weekly listeners, in addition to hosting the Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones on weekends that has more than 100 affiliates.
The native of Mountain Pine, Arkansas, not only grew up on country music but one could almost argue his youth could have been a country song. His mother had him when she was just 15, he doesn’t know who his real father is and he was a self-described ‘welfare and food stamp kid that moved from school to school and trailer to trailer.’
“We didn’t know any different then,” he recalled. “We thought everybody bought their school clothes at garage sales. I didn’t know that we were struggling, that was just normal to us.”
It was that difficult upbringing though that helped develop a determination and desire to succeed in Bones that is evident to anyone who is around him.
“Radio is really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do my whole life; that and be a standup comedian and be on television. I don’t really know what it’s like to not know what I want to do with my life.”
Bones got his first job in radio at the young age of 17 and after becoming the first in his family to graduate high school, attended Henderson State University. While there he worked for the campus radio station KSH 91.1 The Switch and met professor Richard Robinson.
Robinson, whom Bones has described as a father figure in his life, recalled his first encounters with Bones in class. “I could tell from the beginning he was very eager and very determined.”
Robinson noted that as a freshman. “[Bones] applied for a job in Hot Springs and they didn’t take him. He then came up to me after class and said ‘There is a night job open at KLAZ, do you think I should apply for it?’ I responded with, well, if you don’t apply you definitely won’t get it, so he went over and got it.”
Early on Robinson could also tell that Bones liked to push the envelope – then maybe push it a little further. “He liked to do things that were out of the ordinary and a little different, and I think that goes with being incredibly intelligent.”
After graduating from Henderson State, Bones landed a job working nights at Q100/KQAR in Little Rock, and this was while AOL Instant Messenger was really big. Bones called his show “Interactive Nights with Bobby Bones” and he would give out his screen name on air so he could chat with listeners while songs played or take request.
While in Little Rock, Bones tendency to push the envelope was made most evident when he took over the airwaves of a rival station. His sidekick ‘Gilligan’ snuck in the rival station, patched Bones in by phone and he was able to broadcast on their air for 15 minutes before being caught.
“I almost got fired for that,” Bones said. “But, that’s also when Austin called. They were like, wow that’s awesome, come work in Austin.”
Bones had never been to Austin before but took the job only a few months after starting in Little Rock and now considers it one of the best decisions he’s ever made. While there Bones got his first shot at the coveted morning radio time slot, now only at age 22, and The Bobby Bones Show, as it is known now was built.
Austin is where Bones met his now co-hosts, although they were not part of the show in the beginning. Lunchbox he met in a bar and Amy he met at a restaurant. He began with other co-hosts but eventually brought his friends on to host the Top 40 morning show, where they were literally just friends talking each morning just like groups of friends do everywhere. That style was different and so was their approach to music and the artists, which again pushed the envelope of tradition.
“We weren’t like anyone else, we were having acts on that were alternative, hip hop, county – if you were good, you could come on our show. There was no rhyme or reason; we just wanted quality folks on the show.”
Bones’ and his crew’s approach resonated with listeners and the show became widely popular. Seeing this, Bones wanted to syndicate the show, but management didn’t agree at the time. That didn’t stop the ever-determined Bones though; he just bought his own equipment and paid out of his own pocket to start the syndication process.
“I paid producers out of my own paycheck,” he recalled. “We lost money the first two years because nobody wanted to take a risk on a show like us.”
Eventually people began taking that risk though and The Bobby Bones Show found its way onto 30 syndication affiliates.
In 2012 Bones was approached by Clear Channel management about taking The Bobby Bones Show national. The catch though was that it would require moving to Nashville and switching to a country format.
That didn’t bother the Arkansas native who grew up listening the Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw.
“It doesn’t matter where you put me, I grew up on country music and it is as easy for me as anything else is.”
Moving to Nashville, locally Bones and crew replaced legendary WSIX host Gerry House, whose House Foundation morning show had long been one of the most popular in Music City. The Bobby Bones Show is different; the only person who knows the topics that are going to be discussed is Bones. That allows for real reactions and real conversation among the hosts. Because Bones is the only one on the show with radio experience, the others have no DJ voices and no radio tendencies. He admits that can sound like a circus at first but then after listening you realize it is just normal people talking – and that has always been the goal.
The show also continues to welcome in guests of all music genres. The biggest names in country music, like Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Jake Owen certainly appear on the show, but performers like Ed Sheeran, A Great big World or country rapper Big Smo are also just as likely to be in studio as well.
For some listeners it took adjusting to the sometimes chaotic style, but across the country they are listening every morning and participate just like they are all just a bunch of friends sitting around a table or at a bar.
“I loved Gerry House so much,” said longtime WSIX listener Christy Pratt. “Now someone new came along I had to adjust to new voices and new personalities. It was like starting a new friendship – you just don’t really know them. Eventually though, through the personal stories they shared, I grew to know them and the friendship grew.”
“Friendship sounds strange because it’s ‘just’ a radio show,” she admitted. “But these people are there every morning, so a friendship is exactly what happens. Even though they don’t know me, I know them.”
That is exactly what Bones wants listeners to feel. As one of the earliest on radio to embrace social media, Bones is still a heavy user of it to communicate with listeners, often talking with them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, while also encouraging them to also call in and participate as well. Not only that, but he invites them to sit in studio even. There is a couch in studio, just for fans who want to come in and watch the show for a little while. During commercials, Bones and the rest of the crew will even take time chat for a while and take pictures.
That engagement with the listeners has also allowed Bones to do a lot of good – a whole lot of good. After tornadoes devastated Moore, Oklahoma Bones was able to raise over $135,000 dollars from his friends on Music Row and listeners. It had nothing to do with marketing either; The Bobby Bones Show wasn’t even on in Moore.
The show has also raised over $65,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, $40,000 for tornado relief in Arkansas, over $150,000 for 30Abes which is a charity started by co-host Amy to benefit the Maison Des Enfants De Dieu orphanage in Haiti, while also organizing over 2,000 volunteers and setting the world record for most hunger relief meals packaged in one hour.
It is not always about just raising money for Bones either. In what has now become an annual tradition, Bones and his crew host “Joy Week” where they encourage everyone to just simply be nice to those around them. They do this by choosing and spreading joy in honor of people that are prime examples of making a conscious effort to not let hardship or difficulty cause them to lose hope or positivity in their lives. They call it ‘Pimpin Joy’ and it has caught on with fans of the show and stars across the country music industry who line up to be a part of Joy Week for free.
“I never knew that I’d be able to make such an impression doing what I love to do,” Bones humbly said. “I could lie and say I just wanted to do good things on radio, but when we started I just wanted people to laugh. Then I realized as the show got bigger that I could do more.”
On air is not the only place Bones has raised money either. His band, yes he is in a band too, ‘The Raging Idiots’ have raised over $300,000 playing free concerts around the country. The band, which plays parodies and cover songs accept no money for any of the shows, donating all the money to charity.
Bones also gives of his own time. He often speaks to kids who are growing up in situations similar to his as a youth, or kids in juvenile detention centers, encouraging them to keep chasing their dreams. He wants them to know that it is possible to overcome tough situations in life and still succeed.
“I wouldn’t say it’s gratifying, but it’s been fulfilling to know that I can do stuff to help. It is something I didn’t expect, but something that makes the job just that much more worthwhile.”
As the show continues to prosper, locally WSIX has quickly become not just the top country station in Nashville but the top station overall. The show is also continuing to pick up affiliates across the nation, which has not gone unnoticed by Clear Channel. It recently inked a new five year deal to keep The Bobby Bones Show long term and also expand Bones’ exposure on different platforms.
As part of the deal, Bones will also continue hosting his weekend national sports talk show on FOX Sports Radio. It started as one he hosted with friend and tennis star, US Open champion Andy Roddick. They had a goal of it becoming a weekday show, and that opportunity came from FOX Sports, a week before the deal moving Bones to Nashville. He had to make up his mind, but there wasn’t really much to consider between the two. He moved to Nashville and Roddick became an analyst on FOX Sports 1.
“Sports are my hobby. I can do that with zero preparation, I’m such a sports guy.” he notes as beloved Arkansas Razorback memorabilia adorns the walls of his office next door.
The weekend sports show, which airs on nearly 250 FOX Sports affiliates nationwide, is just like The Bobby Bones Show in that it is him and friends talking about sports. Bones, Lunchbox, show producer Ray and Cruz (his longtime friend, Navy veteran and now head of security) get to talk about whatever they want and everything happening in the world of sports.
Also included in Bones’ newly signed deal is an increased reach into television. For the Arkansas kid who growing up, often not having a bedroom, and would sleep on a couch in the living room watching his idol host The Late Show with David Letterman, this is the fulfilment of a dream.
He has already done a good bit of local television, including hosting his own show in Austin, and even multiple cameo appearances on ABC’s NASHVILLE, but in recent months he has appeared live on NBC presenting at the iHeart Music Awards and at the CMT Awards.
That’s not it though; similar to when he first started his own radio syndication, Bones just launched his own television production company in July. With the support of management this time, in conjunction with Clear Channel, the company named ‘Right Side Blind’ because Bonds can’t see out of his right eye, Bones is developing two television shows already and the ultimate goal for him is not just to be on TV but to also have a successful production company.
When asked where the drive to do so many different things comes from, Bones had a simple answer.
“Not wanting to be poor again and to make people laugh,” he said without hesitation. “There was never really an option not to succeed, so I’ve just kept working hard, showing up on time and being someone that people can rely on.”
With that genuine and heartfelt desire to make people laugh and have those around him feel as if they are one of the friends sitting around the same table, it is likely that having the largest national country radio show won’t be the biggest thing Bobby Bones does in his career. Those in Nashville, and listeners around the country, are definitely already taking note of what he is doing in the industry. They might just even be witnessing the next big thing.
The humble Bones would never say he was the next big thing, but does admit, “This is going better than anyone thought it would, myself included.”