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Trucking songs: hey Mr. DJ won't you play a real country song, part four of four

By Jon Johnson, September 2000

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Sommers, host of the Truckin' Bozo Radio Network, concurs. "It'll work for a small segment, but you're going to alienate a larger segment."

The failed bluegrass portion of his show notwithstanding, it quickly becomes apparent that Nemo still loves hosting his program, even after almost 30 years. Nemo regularly conducts surveys to find out more about his listeners and experiments with different ingredients in the show's mix. Some - such as bluegrass - don't work out, though he has recently begun adding a little rockabilly to the show, which he says has worked out well so far.

As one would expect from three shows aimed at the same audience, there are definite similarities, particularly since Sommers, Mack and Nemo all focus on traditional-sounding country music. In addition, all three are eloquent speakers with rich radio voices of the old school while being careful, thoughtful listeners.

But if one was to isolate a single difference in all three shows, it's in the way their hosts approach programming. Whereas Nemo conducts surveys in addition to listening to feedback via phone and e-mail, Mack relies almost exclusively on what listeners tell him, either on the phone, through e-mail or at his numerous personal appearances throughout the year.

Perhaps most unusually in today's radio environment, Sommers depends largely on gut instinct.

"Researchers have put more radio stations out of business than you can count. I rely on feel," says Sommers. "That's the best way I can describe it. The only things I walk in there prepared with (are) my weather, the news items and the trucking and transportation news that I've gotten. Because you just don't know. You might hit on something that seems totally superfluous, and the phones will go nuts. And you might end up talking for five hours and never play a record. Other nights you can't get anybody to call."

Sommers has been in the radio business for over 40 years now, and though his Truckin' Bozo show has been heard in the Midwest since 1984, its national syndication happened much more recently.

"I worked with the CEO of the company (the mammoth 1,100-station-strong Clear Channel Communications) when he was just a program director, and we started doing a thing called The Afternoon Bozo in Kansas City. Then, in '84, he decided that he wanted to put a truck show on overnight in Cincinnati, and he said, 'Let's call you the Truckin' Bozo.' It stayed just on WLW in Cincinnati until 1997, and then we started syndicating it at that time."

"One of our trademarks from the very outset of the program was that we took all of the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton songs out of the studio. Our feelings were that these truckers are driving along during the daytime hours and they're changing stations every 50 or 60 miles, so they'd hear the same damn songs they just heard 2 hours ago. But if you turn me on and I play a song that you haven't heard in 30 years that reminded you of a neat time in your life, I've got you."

All three men are excited about the future. The new digital satellite radio systems will eventually give all three shows expanded mobile coverage and greatly improved sound quality. And internet broadcasting, though still by and large tied to modems and cable lines - and therefore not much good to truckers on a 2,000-mile run - have given all three shows growing worldwide audiences.

"I don't think we've even scratched the surface yet with the internet," says Sommers. "There are a couple of companies in Australia and New Zealand who tell me they get the show on the internet and put it on the PA system out in the loading docks."

Brian Stein, a 38-year-old Canadian living in Edmonton, has taken full advantage of internet broadcasting with Gear-Jammin' Gold (summit-solutions-ltd.com/truckstop/webcast.html), a web-based radio station hosted by live365.com that plays nothing but trucker country music from the '50's through today.

"I noticed a void," says Stein. "After seeing Red Simpson perform down in Bakersfield, I came back and started working on it (in early 1999). I was in radio back in the '80's, and I used to slip in truck drivin' music and bend the format a little. Through my website, I met Jeremy Tepper (founder of Diesel Only Records) and about a year ago, he suggested that I should set up an all-trucking internet radio site."

The service started operations in July as an outgrowth of the Virtual Truck Route (summit-solutions-ltd.com/vtr.html), Stein's website dedicated to trucker music and culture, and currently boasts a playlist of about 200 songs, allowing Stein to program about nine hours of music without repeating any songs. Stein adds that he has plenty of room for growth with live365.com. He says he's constantly adding new material to the playlist and is particularly eager to add more international recordings - such as those by Australia's Slim Dusty - to the playlist.

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