Chuck Wicks is getting the hang of this radio thing. Almost three years into his gig as a co-host of Cumulus’ nationally syndicated America’s Morning Show, he says, “I feel like I’m getting better. When I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I was learning and trying to figure it out.”
He learned from watching the pros — host Blair Garner, and new co-host Kelly Ford — in action. “I had to learn fast how to be a radio guy,” says Wicks. “I had to learn how to interview people. I had to learn how to not just say something, but say something that matters.
“I sat back and I watched Blair, and I watched Kelly, and I learned,” he continues. “I was always taught to surround yourself with people that are better than you and people that are succeeding in what you want to do, and you will then succeed with them.”
For Wicks, succeeding needs to come on two fronts. In addition to his radio show, which is heard in more than 40 markets around the country, he’s also a recording artist busy promoting and touring behind his sophomore album, Turning Point.
To make both sides of his career work, he has mastered the art of juggling. When he started on the show, he was already two years out from his record deal with RCA and focused solely on songwriting. Now, he’s signed to Nashville indie Blaster Records, which released Turning Point on Feb 26.
“Three years deep into this, I have a better understanding of what that balance is and what it takes to make it work. And what it takes is time management, really,” he says. That, and naps. He jokes, “I carry my little blankie around so I can take naps on the spot.”
“I think my mother is still in shock at how responsible I have to be to make everything go around,” adds Wicks with a laugh. But he says the two sides of his career “support one another.” Having a national radio show has given him a whole new group of fans, and his station affiliates help promote his tour dates when he comes to their markets.
RCA released one Wicks album and five singles between 2007 and 2010 including the top five hit “Stealing Cinderella” and the top 15 follow-up “All I Ever Wanted.” During that time, he also made a high-profile appearance as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars, his second reality series after the short-lived Fox docu-soap Nashville. He was working on a second album for RCA when the label dropped him in 2011.
He concentrated on songwriting at that point, and had songs cut by Jason Aldean, Frankie Ballard, Steve Holy and the Swon Brothers. But he worried that “people are going to think I retired or I fell off the face of the earth as an artist … I knew I had to find another deal somewhere or I might have been washing dishes the next day.” So he recorded and released the independent EP Rough in 2013. That’s the project that caught Blaster’s attention, and his new full-length includes remixed, remastered and (in some cases) rerecorded versions of the EP’s five songs, along with six new ones.
Wicks says the new project reflects how far he’s come since his RCA debut album, Starting Now. “When I put my first record out in 2008 I was just happy to have a record deal,” he says. “I was greener that you could ever imagine. I was happy to just have songs on the radio, but I still really didn’t know who I was as an artist.”
Since then, he says he has been through a lot of lows. Getting dropped is “a big learning curve, and you figure stuff out quick or you’ll really just get lost. When I started figuring it out and knew I had an opportunity, a second shot with this record, I was excited to share everything that had happened. That’s what Turning Point is all about.
“I’ve just been champing at the bit, waiting in the wings to get new music out, especially a full body of work, because I have changed and grown so much not only as a person, but as a songwriter, as a vocalist, as just an overall artist,” he adds. “I know who I am, where I want to go, what I want to say, how I want to say it.”
He has a lot to say on the radio too. “I love people. I love talking about country music. I love gossip just like the next person, and I love just having fun,” he says. When the show originally launched, Wicks was one of four country artists teamed with Garner as co-host. Over time the others — daily contributors Terri Clark and Sunny Sweeney, and weekly contributor Lee Ann Womack — have all departed, leaving as Wicks the last artist standing.
But with the addition of Ford in January, he says the show’s new team has jelled quickly. “Between myself, Kelly and Blair, we all bring something different to the table at a high level. That’s what’s making it work.”
One place where the two sides of Wicks’ career come together is the popular radio show feature “Fake-a-Song Friday,” where Wicks pairs with a recording artist guest to compose a song in 15 minutes incorporating four random words drawn from a basket. The idea originated from a bit that Wicks and former touring partner Craig Morgan used to do onstage, where they would ask the audience to shout out words, then make up a song on the spot. Among the artists who have participated in the radio feature are Vince Gill, Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett and Brothers Osborne.
“The cool thing about ‘Fake-a-Song Friday’ is that it gets the artists out of their shell,” says Wicks. “Anybody can come in and sing their single or talk about their record coming out, and that’s fine.” But he says fans want a glimpse into unguarded and even goofy sides of celebrities, and the feature provides that opportunity.
For Wicks, revealing those sides of himself on a daily, four-hour radio show has changed his touring experience thanks to a newfound connection with fans. When he was putting out two singles and year and visiting a market on tour maybe once a year, fans didn’t really know him. Now, he says, “the minute I walk in the door in their city to do a show, it’s like we know each other. It’s such a cool feeling. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Despite having to do a lot of juggling, Wicks is enjoying having two complimentary careers. “I know when it’s time to be an on-air personality and I know when it’s time to be an artist, but they honestly go hand in hand,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m entertaining. Whether it’s speaking or singing, it’s still just a form of entertainment.”
This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.