The Country Radio Hall of Fame returned for 2022, held in person on June 30 as approximately 260 attendees celebrated at the Virgin Hotel in Nashville.
The Country Radio Hall of Fame has officially celebrated a list of new inductees, including off-air honorees Becky Brenner and Barry Tuesdayas well as the winners on the air Whitney Allen, Debbie Conner, Cathy Martindale, rachel hunter and Steve Grunwaldas good as Call Bob, a 2021 Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee who was unable to attend last year’s event.
Townsquare Media’s kurt johnsonwho is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of Country Radio Broadcaster, presented the top prize of the evening, in honor of the Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Nashville John “Espo” Esposito with the CRB President’s Award. Esposito joined Warner’s Nashville job as it was renamed as Warner Music Nashville in 2009. He also helped propel Warner artist Blake Shelton to stardom, with hits such as the Trace Adkins “Hillbilly Bone” collaboration.
“I moved here 13 years ago to see if I could help Warner Music Group put their Nashville operation back in a proud place,” Esposito told the audience. “I never tried to be the smartest in the room, I just hoped I could bring my passion, my organizational skills and my sense of humor to this town. And for the people of the new name Warner Music Nashville, I wanted to help people find joy in work.
He noted that Blake Shelton is the only artist still on Warner Music Nashville’s roster since 2009.
“The first thing I did was announce to the company that A&R was going to run the company…we’re going to win or lose depending on what they do,” Esposito told the audience. “I told the team we were going to build the business around Blake.” Since 2009, Shelton has landed approximately two dozen No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
Under Esposito’s tenure, the WMN roster now also includes Kenny Chesney, Dan + Shay, Brett Eldredge, Cole Swindell, Cody Johnson, Ashley McBryde, Breland, Bailey Zimmerman and Randall King.
Espo also touched on the recent news that he will transition to chairman emeritus of Warner Music Nashville, while Ben Kline and Cris Lacy were promoted to co-chairmen of Warner Music Nashville.
“I’m not leaving. I will be available for Warner for a while,” Espo said. “What will I do after this?” I’ll understand that… But I made too many friends [to leave].”
Trisha Yearwood was honored with the CRB Artist Career Recipient. Past Artist Career recipients include Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, George Strait and the Judds.
RC Curtisthe executive director of Country Radio Broadcasters, read the words written by the CEO of the Country Music Association Sarah Trahern to honor Yearwood. Yearwood’s sister, Beth, was in attendance, as was Yearwood’s husband and fellow country music luminary, Garth Brooks.
“She is one of the most grounded, authentic and normal performers around… she personifies class and kindness,” Trahern wrote, also praising Yearwood as having “one of the most powerful voices in the history of country music, period. The artist has also been hailed for her multi-faceted career, including as an author, actress, businesswoman (Yearwood has launched a line of homewares as well as a collection of food/accessories for pets) and host of the popular cooking show. Trisha’s Southern Kitchen.
Lauren Alaina was on hand to honor Yearwood, singing “Walkaway Joe” and “She’s in Love With the Boy.” Earlier this year, Yearwood officially inducted Alaina as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
“Lauren talked about ‘She was in love with the boy.’ She wasn’t born when [the song] came out,” Yearwood noted. “The power of that song is a testament to the power of country radio, and it’s the reason I’m still here 30 years later. To the women of the country who have won this before me, I am humbled and honored to be on this list.
The first Country Radio Hall of Fame recipient of the evening was the 2021 Call winner. During his 44-year career, Call has served as an airline personality, program manager, or market manager, with the last 41 years at KYGO in Denver. He was the first Program Director at KYGO, beginning in 1980 and was promoted to Director of Operations in 1987 and has held the position of General Manager/Market Director of KYGO since 1989.
“Whatever success I’ve had over the years has come from working with and for amazing people,” said Call, a Delaware native. He noted that he retired in December, adding, “I can only hope that I left a legacy in radio.”
“He’s the manager in me,” Call summed up. “Budget time is coming for the radios, but find a few dollars to give to a young person so that he [Country Radio Seminar]. There is nothing better than CRS.
Doug Rice, president of Performance Racing Network, inducted Martindale, who began her country radio career in 1974 at KSCS in Dallas, as PD, APD and MD. In 1983, she started working at WSM AM/FM, a position she held for 17 years, working mornings, afternoons and even as music director. She also became the first woman to win the #1 ranked driving time show on Nashville radio during this time. From 1984 to 1994 she hosted the Nashville Network and in 1993 began co-hosting Racing Country/Racing Country Classic. Martindale is also a three-time finalist for CMA Big Market and/or Union Personality of the Year and is a member of the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.
Martindale remembers having to rely on a tank of oxygen to breathe as a child and being told she wouldn’t live to be 21. “I wasn’t supposed to be here,” she said. “I had 17 jobs before I got into radio, where I could be whoever I wanted to be. I was the link between a fan and their heroes. After 48 years, I’m still thrilled to be the first to hear this new music.
“Most of us here didn’t have female mentors because we were the pioneers, so I have a lot of guys to thank,” she said. Martindale thanked radio luminaries including Ralph Emery, Ed Salamon and Charlie Chase.
Conner’s radio career began in 1966, with time spent at KHAK/Cedar Rapids, WMPS/Memphis, WSAI/Cincinnati, WCAO/Baltimore, WYCT/Pensacola and WIL/St. Louis, where she spent 12 years. She previously served as a midday host on the Sirius Satellite Roadhouse channel and has hosted Country Oldies Hall of Fame segments since 2014. Conner has also progressed in her career while being a single mother of two.
“I was told that I was accepting the job of a man, a man who had a family to support. Well guess what, me too,” she said. She also noted the naysayers she encountered at each step of the radio ladder. “I was told, ‘They’ll put you in at night, but you’ll never be put in in the evening or in the afternoon.’ I was the first woman to take afternoon walks in Cincinnati,” she said, later adding words of gratitude to radio executives who opened doors for her to advance to the radio.
“Kenny Rogers once said, ‘The saddest thing is being a former artist.’ You took me from a former radio personality to an eternity,” Conner concluded.
Chairman of the Country Radio Hall of Fame Committee Joel Raab honored Mardit, who spent 47 years in the radio industry, including WEEP in Pittsburgh and WWWW in Detroit. He spent 12 years with WWWW and earned honors from Billboard, CMA and a NAB Marconi Award.
Mardit shared several stories from his career, including when a competing radio station first acquired a copy of Kenny Rogers’ “Love or Something Like It.”
“There were no MP3s, no wave files,” he recalls. “I said, ‘How about putting that on a Greyhound and I’ll have it tomorrow morning. That’s how we got the song on the radio. I waited at the terminal until 3am and he didn’t arrive until 5am but we got him on the radio… It’s a whole different world [now].”
NDE Jackie Stevens honored Allen, recalling the story of how Allen’s parents bought her a red transistor radio when she was five, something that started a lifelong love of radio. Allen began her career in 1979, moving to country radio in 1982. During her career, she worked at KCBQ in San Diego, Top 40 Pirate Radio in Los Angeles, and KIIS. She joined the national union After Midnite in 1995 and was hired at KZLA Los Angeles in 2003. She launched “America’s Hot List” in 2005 and branched out into shows such as “The Big Time” and “Big Time Saturday Night”.
“I never expected this. I’ve never dreamed so big, and I’m dreaming big enough…thank you for this incredible honor,” Allen said.
Brenner, currently a consulting partner at Albright & O’Malley & Brenner Country Radio Specialists, previously spent a combined 26 years at KMPS in Seattle, where she handled everything from broadcasting, promotions, programming and directing operations. She has been a CRB board member for 20 years and past president of the organization and has served on the board of the Country Music Association since 2005.
“I’m a huge country fan and music means more to me than anything,” Brenner said, also noting the satisfaction she’s received from being able to help the greater community through her work in radio.
“There are so many stories to tell about the impact of radio,” Brenner said. “Organizing the United Cerebral Palsy Marathon, being able to collect bikes for the kids at Christmas, raising money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Radiothon…it’s so rewarding.”
Audacity Tim Robert inducted morning show hosts Audacy for WYCD Detroit, Hunter and Grunwald. They went from top 40 to country in 2005, the same year Carrie Underwood won american idol, and around the same time, Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift were just starting their careers. Rachel and Grunwald received the NAB Marconi Award in 2012 and 2016.
At the end of the evening, video tributes for Hunter and Grunwald poured in from Keith Urban, Bryan, Underwood, Chesney, Little Big Town and Gary LeVox, thanking the radio duo for the lasting impact they had on their careers. .