Terri Clark is a big fan of ’90s country, and not just because most of her own hits occurred during the latter half of that decade. She calls the era’s music “pretty amazing,” noting, “They were still writing songs about stories and life” in those days.
Those are some of the many reasons why she’s delighted to be taking over from Alabama frontman Randy Owen as host of Westwood One’s syndicated classic country show Country Gold, which airs on more that 100 radio stations nationwide. Along with the new host — who begins her job with the program set to air the weekend of April 9-10 — the long-running show will also make some programming adjustments, refocusing primarily on those ’90s hits. Clark says the music mix on the four-hour weekly show will now be about 50-60 percent ’90s and 30-40 percent ’80s, with the balance being older tunes.
“I am just so excited to get to sort of be a spokesperson for my era,” says Clark, describing herself as “giddy” over the opportunity to spotlight not only her artist peers, but the elder acts that influenced her musically, like Reba McEntire and Ricky Skaggs. “If I wasn’t doing this show I would be listening to it,” she adds.
Clark, a Grand Ole Opry member, has notched 10 top 10 hits on Hot Country Songs since making her U.S. debut in 1995, including the No. 1s “You’re Easy On the Eyes” and “Girls Lie Too.” In her native country she has won eight Canadian Country Music Assn. entertainer of the year awards and five female vocalist trophies.
In 2013 Clark embarked on a new phase of her career when she joined Cumulus’ America’s Morning Show as part of a Blair Garner-led cast that included fellow artists Chuck Wicks, Sunny Sweeney and Lee Ann Womack. Only Wicks now remains on the syndicated show with Garner.
Clark says she left the show after a little less than two years by “mutual” decision. The full-time, five-day-a-week gig proved very challenging for her. “The artist part of me had a really hard time with the schedule on weekends,” she explains. “I was trying to do tour dates. There are some clubs that don’t want you onstage until 10:30 p.m. So to have to flip my clock back around to getting up at 3:30 a.m. again on Monday morning was difficult.
“Blair knew that it was hard on me to do both. I think that show takes somebody who is dedicated to that 100 percent and willing to pretty much give up everything they’ve got going on for it,” she continues, while noting with admiration that Wicks has managed to find the right balance. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy. I enjoyed it, but I feel like this [weekly] show is a much better fit for me. Face it: Morning shows don’t necessarily need five artists on them.”
Despite the challenges, Clark still loved working in radio, so when Cumulus programmer Charlie Cook came to her with the Country Gold opportunity, she jumped at it. “This is the kind of show I was hoping the morning show would eventually lead me to do,” she says, adding that it was her “ultimate goal” to do a program exactly like this one.
She learned a lot about how good radio is made while working on the morning show and plans to apply that new skill set to the job. In particular, she cites pointers picked up from Garner about doing compelling artist interviews since she hopes to have plenty of stars dropping by her show.
“There are a lot of artists from my era doing new music,” she says. “I want people to be aware of them. They’re still touring and making new records … I’d love to have people bring their guitar in and sing some acoustic versions of their past hits or new music. There’s all kinds of stuff that we can do to make this interesting.
“I don’t want it to be a show about me telling stories about me,” she continues. “I’m like a walking jukebox, especially with ’70s and ’80s country, and the ’90s was my era. I know a lot of these artists personally, so I’ll be able to interject facts and stories where I can about the artists as we’re going into songs.”
Clark believes artist-on-artist interviews tend to have a different feel than those conducted by a full-time air personality, and she plans to capitalize on that. “I think there is a trust factor, a loose factor that goes along with that,” she says of the peer-to-peer conversations. “Everybody knows I’m one of the guys, so it’s going to be fun. I’ve been on the road with a lot of these people. I still do shows with a lot of them.”
She has about 80 concerts booked this year, including a not-yet-announced fall tour, and plans to use some of those opportunities to grab interviews and audio of backstage banter with her fellow artists for the show. But she’s making sure to carve out plenty of time in her schedule to devote to the show in-studio as well.
“Touring and singing and playing is second nature to me,” she says. “This [radio] thing is a little bit newer, so I really want to make sure that I’m focusing on what I am doing here on this show and not rushing it.”
Although Owen hosted Country Gold for four years, Clark says she deliberately chose not to listen back to any of his shows to help prepare. “I do not want to bring in any preconceived thing to it. I want this to be fresh to me and make it unique and make it my own if I can. I know a lot of people will miss hearing Randy, but hopefully they will stick around to hear what we do.”
Even before officially starting the gig, however, there’s one thing Clark knows about it for sure: “I’m going to have a blast. No doubt about that.”