Kix Brooks thought he wouldn’t last a year as host of American Country Countdown. “There’s no way that I didn’t get fired the first year,” he says with a laugh. “I sucked so bad.”
Today, Brooks is celebrating not only his 10th anniversary as host of the nationally syndicated radio show, but also a multiyear renewal of his deal with syndicator Westwood One and parent company Cumulus Media. At the same time, he’s happily relinquishing his weekday overnight show, Kickin’ It With Kix, admitting that the program was something he “never aspired to.”
Brooks got off to a rocky start after taking over for Bob Kingsley a decade ago at the helm of American Country Countdown — then syndicated by ABC Radio Networks and owned by Citadel — despite the company sending him to “interview school” at the ESPN campus in Connecticut.
“God bless these affiliates that inherited me, and a radio network that really stuck their neck out and hung in,” he says of those early days. “It was really a huge learning curve ... I was out there in the deep water just paddling for my life.”
Having never done radio before, other than being on the other side of the microphone during his years as half of the superstar country duo Brooks & Dunn, Brooks says he had to learn how to host a prerecorded show. “In my own arrogant stupidity I thought I could just be myself and talk off the cuff all the time and that would be fun and would work, and it doesn’t.
“The timing is so important. Obviously people want to hear music, but it’s not a morning show where you’re live and you just talk and take callers. It’s really got to be tight,” he continues. “Writing radio is really different than just riffing for two or three minutes at a time. It’s got to be quick, concise, and the things you’re talking about have to lead into that music in a certain way that’s compelling. It took a long time to figure out how that delivery worked ... I would listen back and go ‘I’ve lost these listeners.’ ”
He eventually developed a successful technique where he writes down everything he wants to say during each show, then uses those notes as a guideline rather than a hard-and-fast script. That allows him to ad lib and keep the show loose while still giving it the continuity it needs. “Hopefully it sounds like it’s all fun and easy,” he says, “but it takes a lot of prep to get to that place.”
All along, though, Brooks had a secret weapon. As the only country star hosting a countdown show, he has a rapport with fellow artists that gives him an edge in understanding their world. “Obviously Ronnie [Dunn] and I ... climbed a pretty tall mountain and got to look at the world from the top,” he says. “Without bringing any kind of arrogance to that, I feel like my perspective is unique and I do know what these artists are going through.” He adds, “I really enjoy our business and visiting with people, so it’s very rewarding to me in a lot of different ways.”
His techniques are clearly working. Brooks has won the Country Music Association’s national broadcast personality of the year award three times.
A recent restructuring at Cumulus finds him stepping away from his overnight show to make room for air personality Blair Garner to create a new program in that spot, a move the singer supports enthusiastically.
“When the Dickey [brothers] bought Citadel, where the countdown was, and redid my deal, the overnight show came with the deal,” he says of adding Kickin’ It With Kix to his workload nearly four years ago. “It was pretty much a take it or leave it. [I was told], ‘If you want to keep doing the countdown, we need you to do overnights.’
“Quite frankly, it was nothing I aspired to do,” he continues. “I did the best I could, and I think we put a pretty good show together. But when [Cumulus executive] Mike McVay told me he was going to move Blair back into overnights, I was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ Blair is great at overnights. That’s his world. I’ve certainly encouraged him and congratulated him. I said, ‘Go get your real estate back.’ So I’m looking forward to just focusing on the countdown again.”
Outside of radio, Brooks remains an extremely busy man. He will once again team with Dunn and Reba McEntire for a new leg of their joint Las Vegas residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace beginning in November. He continues to operate Nashville-area winery Arrington Vineyards. And he will publish his first cookbook, Cookin’ It With Kix: The Art of Celebrating and the Fun of Outdoor Cooking, on Aug. 30 through the W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.
The cookbook was actually an outgrowth of an autobiography that got written, then scrapped. Brooks sat for weekly interviews with a ghostwriter, sharing stories about his life, upbringing and things that were important to him. And while he liked the finished autobiography, he says in a “rare moment of humility” that he questioned whether anyone would care to read it, and ultimately “put this book on the shelf.” Yet many of those same stories and anecdotes found their way into the cookbook, written with his longtime radio producer and friend Donna Britt.
Brooks previously hosted a one-season Cooking Channel show called Steak Out With Kix Brooks, and while he says that he’s “not a chef and never claimed to be,” the program helped him realize he actually had quite a bit of expertise in the food area.
“I’ve been running a grill all my life, or a boiling pot of water or hot oil, or shucking oysters. It’s just been a part of where I came from,” he says. “[So] I thought maybe I’ll just combine some of these stories about my life, some of my cooking experiences and fun recipes I’ve run across and just throw them all together and have a fun cookbook, not some pretentious, big-[name] chef thing. It was a good time putting it together. I did it for myself, for my family and for anybody out there who is not a chef or cook.”
Don’t be surprised to find Brooks putting those culinary skills to use on TV again in 2017. He’s working with a New York production company to develop a new show that he says will go “a little more in depth with culture and food” than his previous program. The Louisiana native plans to head to his home state to film a episode that focuses on fine Creole cuisine, backyard Cajun cooking and the local music that ties them together.
“I’ve got all this free time,” he jokes. “I’ve got to do something.”