Blair Garner recently surprised both industry and listeners last June by announcing he would host the soon to debut America’s Morning Show on Nash FM 94.7 in New York City, 6-10 a.m. weekdays. Garner is nationally known for hosting syndicated country music show After Midnite for over 20 years and will be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago on Nov. 9. He also was honored by the Academy of Country Music with its National On-Air Personality Award in 2004, 2006 and 2010.
To launch the New York venture, Garner assembled a cast of co-hosts which includes Terri Clark, Sunny Sweeney, Chuck Wicks, Lee Ann Womack and HLN news anchor Robin Meade. Heather McBee completes the AMS roster as the show’s Operations Director.
The NASH FM entertainment brand was created by Cumulus as a multi-platform channel to serve the country music lifestyle. As a result many observers speculate that America’s Morning Show is earmarked to be syndicated across many of these newly branded NASH FM Cumulus radio stations in various cities. Garner speaks to that below, explains the strategy behind assembling his unique cast and discusses what it takes to “get ready” each morning… (Follow him on Twitter @BlairGarner )
NEKST: What made you decide to take on this new challenge and how’s it going?
Blair Garner: I’m loving it. It’s like the early fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants days of After Midnite when everyone reacted in real time. Anyone who wants longevity in the business has to be willing to risk it all. You have to reinvent yourself. We lovingly refer to Reba as the show’s “patron saint” because professionally and personally she sets the bar. She’s seen enormous success as a solo singer, but yet goes to Broadway, TV, tours, comes back to record and then lands another sitcom. She is the role model for what it means to be willing to change. People keep asking me, “Why?” And the answer is, “Why not?”
NEKST: Have you created your own blueprint in assembling the cast?
Blair Garner: It doesn’t feel like we’re blazing new territory because among the best-of-the-best morning shows there has always been a genuine camaraderie and kinship that lives outside the studio. During my years hosting After Midnite I really clicked with some people that came through the door. So I liken putting this cast together to throwing a dinner party and inviting the right mix of interesting people who can laugh and feed off one another. It was also important we feature people that are authentic to the country format. If the experience in that studio isn’t honest, country listeners will sniff it out faster than you can imagine. Terry Clark, for example just returned from playing with Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Luke Bryan. She’s pressing the flesh with the country life group and then bringing those experiences back to the studio. With our cast it isn’t theory, they know the country fans. A lot of morning shows get the basic mechanics down, but also critical is how two personalities mesh, or in our case four or five. It’s kind of funny, but for us from day one it’s been like capturing magic in a bottle.
NEKST: Can the show help win over new country fans?
Blair Garner: New York has been without a terrestrial country station for 17 years and so much has happened in our format during that time. For example, Nashville, the TV show, has done a great job portraying country’s sexy side. We hope America’s Morning Show will further communicate that country is a dynamic, ever-changing mainstream format and make it more accessible to those on the periphery. If someone is scanning the dial and lands on Taylor Swift’s Red they may stick around for the next song and hear FGL “Cruise.” Well they know that song too. And then there could be a song after that by Eric Church say “Springsteen.” Suddenly you are developing a P3 listener that we can convert into P2 and then if we do our job well, convert them into a P1 which becomes part of our core. Reaching out to new and younger fans is a fabulous opportunity for country.
NEKST: How do you prepare for the show each morning?
Blair Garner: I go to bed at 6:30 each night, before my kids do and wake up at 1 a.m. Then I spend about 3.5 hours blocking out the show and trying to distinguish between the perishable and non-perishable topics that will most interest the NYC crowd. A perishable topic is highly time sensitive. An example this morning might be the story about Alex Rodriguez and his baseball suspension. Given he is such a force in NYC makes the story highly perishable.
NEKST: How many stations currently air the show and what is the plan with respect to other Cumulus/NASH format stations nationwide?
Blair Garner: A lot of people have speculated about our show being on multiple stations, but the answer is very clear—we are a New York City morning show. New York is the No. 1 media market—not only in the U.S.—but in the whole world. If I can’t focus solely on the millions of people in New York, then something is wrong.
NEKST: But aren’t there other Cumulus stations that are part of the NASH brand?
Blair Garner: There’s a clear line of delineation between America’s Morning Show and the NASH brand. NASH happens to be the name of the station I’m on in New York and Cumulus has branded some of their stations as NASH FM, but that is distinctly separate from our show. It’s just by happenstance our show airs on one of the NASH stations.
NEKST: Is it true your love of automobiles drove you into radio?
Blair G: Yes, it’s an addiction and I owe my career to a love of cars. I bought my first car when I was 12 growing up in a small town in Texas even though I could only drive it up and down the driveway. At 15 I formed my own corporation and had four college kids working for me doing auto detailing. Down the street was this guy who owned the local radio station with a peacock blue ’57 Ford Thunderbird I wanted to buy. He called me one day to sell the car I thought, but when I arrived with my checkbook, he offered me a chance to do a trial radio shift instead. The morning after my first 6-12 pm shift suddenly I was the cool kid at school and I was hooked. Three months later a PD in Dallas offered me a job and amazingly I moved from market 135 to No. 10. To this day I still have a deep passion for radio, and it continues to fund my car habit. Since those days I’ve owned over 190 cars.