From roofer to radio personality.
Station-surfing in my car recently, I stopped at 96.3 FM, Star Country. The DJ was talking about growing up as a "food-stamp kid" in a trailer park. He had a soft Southern drawl and recounted details about his mother's substance-abuse problems, explaining why he'd never had a single alcoholic drink in his life -- and might never have one. A group of his friends were in the studio, too, chiming in with their takes, laughing and joking. It was like wandering by an open door and hearing strangers having a lively, free-ranging conversation at 8:30 a.m. Songs eventually got played, but it was clear this wasn't the mindless happy talk and hype you often hear on local radio.
As it turned out, it wasn't local radio. It was The Bobby Bones Show, a nationally syndicated country radio program originating from Nashville and broadcast here Monday through Friday from 5 to 9 a.m. On the air for about a year, the program is now broadcast in 65 markets and is rapidly turning the 33-year-old Arkansas native into one of the nation's most popular country DJs. When Keith Urban or the Band Perry are in Nashville, they make sure to chew the fat with Bones and his ragtag radio crew, many of whom are longtime friends he brought to Nashville.
To celebrate his one-year anniversary on 96.3, Bones, his comedy band the Raging Idiots, and Nashville recording artist Maggie Rose will perform at Gray's Tied House in Verona on Friday, Feb. 28. The event is also a benefit for Underdog Pet Rescue of Wisconsin.
"I wouldn't say we're mediocre or bad. We're a step below that," Bones jokes about his band.
Humor like this complements group discussion and personal reflection on Bones' radio show. This combination didn't occur by accident. Bones says he wanted to be a classic golden-throated pop-music DJ but simply didn't have the goods.
"I tried, but the big voice just never came," he says. "I realized if I'm going to make it, I need to be funny and I need to be honest. The more honest I can be with my listeners, the more they will accept me."
Bones is keenly aware that country music is hot right now, and he couldn't be happier about it -- or feel luckier. More country music awards shows and summer festivals are popping up, and touring country acts are making bank while drawing big crowds. Bones is riding that wave, but he also knows trends and interests change.
"Things are cyclical, and right now people want honesty and transparency, which I happen to do," he says. "But when people don't want that anymore, that's okay. I'll go back to what I was doing before, which was working golf course maintenance and roofing houses."
In the meantime, he's quietly building a small radio empire and can probably keep the roofing kneepads in storage for quite a while longer.