The Thrill Of The Airwaves: Hearing Their Song On the Radio for the First Time
The thrill of hearing your song on the radio for the first time is one that most songwriters will tell you is unbeatable. Whether you’ve called the radio station to find out when they will be playing your song, or whether you’re riding down the road and the first few notes of the next song sound familiar, it’s a real rush to hear that song for the first time. We decided to ask a few songwriters where they were and how they felt when they experienced hearing their song on radio the very first time. As with song ideas, the responses were all different, but the emotions and reactions were all heartfelt.
Liz Hengber (“For My Broken Heart,” Reba McEntire): I was completely green as a songwriter when I first moved to Nashville, and I didn’t know it. My first cut and my first single and my first number one song was “For My Broken Heart,” by Reba McEntire. I was shocked. Everybody else had heard it but me. I kept turning the dials on my car radio, and it would never come on. It was already in the teens on the charts. I had a writing appointment and I was running late, and as I parked the car it came on. So I started my car up again and drove around the neighborhood because I wanted to hear it while driving. The feeling I had was, “why does it have to be playing now when I’m late.” I shouted. I opened my window and screamed out my window and said, “Finally.”
Richard “Humpty” Vission and Pete Lorimer (“Energy,” Devone): [Humpty] The first song we actually had out on the radio in rotation was the single “Energy” by Devone. That was a good feeling! I remember hearing that song but, you know, I don’t think it was as big of a feeling for us as for the other people. We work for radio stations and just thinking about it, yeah it was cool. But it still might not be the same as someone might feel who doesn’t know how a radio station operates because we kind of know, oh it’s going in rotation, cool, we should be hearing it in about an hour.
[Pete] I was in England when I heard it, and even though I had already had a lot of records over there, it was a nice feeling being in a completely different country and hearing a song that we had written, virtually from nothing, in a studio behind a curtain in my house in Los Angeles. It was a good feeling to hear that song on the radio.
Chick Rains (“Old Enough To Know Better,” Wake Hayes): I had the radio on because somebody had told me they were playing it on this station, and I was actually asleep when I first hear it and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was kind of in that netherworld. It was a real surreal experience, but a great wake-up call. Wade’s record made the biggest impression on me, because I’d first seen Wade in a club here in Nashville, and I was involved with his career from the beginning.
Michael Settle (“But You Know I Love You,” Dolly Parton): I was on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, headed toward the San Fernando Valley. I had been listening for it on the radio for days without hearing it. My mind was on something else and the intro played, I remember thinking, that’s cool. Driving the freeways in LA takes a bit of concentration so when the voice came on, I didn’t realize until halfway through the first verse that it was Dolly Parton singing my song on the radio and LA California. The single had been out for a few weeks, but it wasn’t until that moment that it was real for me. My heart pounded, I had that oxygen high you get from aerobic exercise, and for three minutes plus, everyone else on my side of the freeway was in danger, because I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. It was a thrill I’ll never forget.
Rick Carnes (“Can’t Even Get The Blues,” Reba McEntire): I don’t remember hearing my first song on the radio. The first one I can remember hearing is Reba McEntire singing “Can’t Even Get The Blues.” I was driving my beat up old Karmen Ghia with a radio that only worked intermittently. The song came on while I was battling the brutal 90 mph Nashville traffic. Of course the radio went on the fritz just as Reba came in on the first verse. I stopped screaming at the traffic and turned my wrath on the radio, banging and kicking the dashboard. Somewhere in the middle of the first chorus the sound returned and I was able to have a blissful moment of pure egomania. It was the first time I ever thought to myself, “Hey, I might be able to afford a car with a heater.”
Bill Anderson (“No Love Have I,” Arkansas Jimmie): The first song I ever got recorded was in the fall of 1956. I was 18 years old. The song was called “No Love Have I,” and it was on TNT Records by an artist called Arkansas Jimmie. The song wasn’t very good, and the recording of it was even worse. But it was the first time I ever saw my name on the label of a 45rpm phonograph record, and Arkansas Jimmie sound like Elvis to me. The day my box of 25 copies arrived at the general delivery window of the Athens, Georgia post office, I picked the box up and literally ran all the way to the studios of WRFC radio. They had a country show from 11 am to noon each weekday, and a DJ named Red Healan was at the controls. I gave Red a copy of the record, but asked him not to play it until I could get back to my dorm room at the University of Georgia and hear it on the air. So I guess the first time a Bill Anderson song was ever played on the radio, I was there to hear it. It was a thrill I will never forget.
John Scott Sherrill (“When You Fall In Love,” Johnny Lee): I know it’s probably a cliché to say you were driving along. I guess everybody is. I was. Johnny Lee came on the radio singing “When You Fall In Love.” I was on West End Avenue in Nashville and it was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had in my life. I was trembling and shaking. I think I was on the verge of crying. I was trying to pull over so I could hear it better. There was so much traffic. I just slowed down to a crawl and cranked the radio up on my old Dodge pickup. If you cranked it up too high, it would start rattling and buzzing, but I didn’t care. I just played it as loud as that old radio would go.
Frank Myers (“You and I,” Alabama): The first time I heard “You and I” my wife Belinda and I were driving down West End Avenue in Nashville. Of course we turned the radio up loud and I remember getting a feeling like I never had before. I just couldn’t believe my ears!! My dream was coming true after years of hard work as a guitar player. I was on cloud nine and stayed there for quite some time. It’s funny though, I’ll never have that exact feeling again. Anytime I hear one of my songs on the radio (which is kind of like watching a child grow up), I get a feeling of great accomplishment and reward. But more than that, it’s still amazing to me how a song affects people’s lives and emotions. I’ve been blessed by being able to touch their lives through a song.
Brent Maher (“Work On Me,” Ike and Tina Turner): I was cruising’ to work one morning, radio blasting, and the next record that came on was a song I’d written for Ike and Tina Turner titled “Work On Me.” Hearing her voice come through that little speaker rocked my world to say the least. What a buzz.
Bob DiPiero (“I Can See Forever In Your Eyes,” Reba McEntire): I remember exactly what I was doing. I was vacuuming the carpet in the living room. I was much more domesticated back then. I was listening to the radio and I heard the announcer say “Up next Miss Reba McEntire.” I had known my single was coming out. It was the first song I had gotten recorded called “I Can See Forever In Your Eyes.” So I turned the vacuum cleaner off and stood in front of the radio like I was going to see something. I was just watching, and I remember the song started and I remember the Whole intro going by and her first vocals going by before it actually started registering it was my song and I had written it. It was very dreamlike. No one was home. I wasn’t with people. I couldn’t say “Hey, that’s my song. That’s me.” I think it must feel exactly the same way as when someone hits a hole in one and no one’s there to see it.
Antonina Armato (“I Still Believe,” Brenda K. Starr): I was on the 405 Freeway (in Los Angeles) headed east, I’d just passed Robertson I remember specifically, and it was “I Still Believe,” and it was the Top 8 at 8 on Kiss FM, and it was the number one most requested song and I started to cry. It was awesome. And I was on my way to my almost-fiancée’s house at the time-it was the most amazing moment. Not just so much that it was on the radio, but that it was like the number one requested song of the evening. I didn’t expect it and I almost had to pull over. It was such a neat thing. I guess that was kind of like your first kiss or whatever.
Max T. Barnes (“Way Down Deep,” Vern Gosdin): I was driving home when I first heard Vern Gosdin sing “Way Down Deep.” I can’t remember where I was driving from or what I’d been doing. I guess all that was forgotten in the excitement of the moment. And I literally had to pull off the road until the song was over. It was like winning the lottery, not so much from the money point of view, but just in the awe of having something I’d done validated on the radio.
Steve Seskin (“Wrong,” Waylon Jennings): The first song of mine I heard was Waylon Jennings’ “Wrong.” I was driving down Highway 1 in northern California when I heard it. I just felt like screaming out the window to all the other drivers, “Turn to 97.9. They’re playing my song!”
Mark Selby (“Deja Voodoo,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd): I was driving along in my car and I hear the opening to a song and I thought, “Sounds pretty interesting, like the way I would approach something.” So I’m turning up the radio and I realize it is something I wrote. It’s Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s recording of “Deja Voodoo.” I nearly ran into a billboard.
Terry McBride (“Every Step Of The Way,” McBride and the Ride): I was living in Austin, Texas in 1990. The first single for McBride & The Ride was out, a song I co-wrote called “Every Step Of The Way.” My wife and I were leaving some friends’ house one night headed home when the single came on an Austin radio station. My wife and I were so excited! We cranked the radio up. I definitely wasn’t thinking about anything else at the moment including the speed limit. The next thing I knew the blue lights were flashing. I tried to tell the officer that I had just heard myself on the radio for the first time and how excited my wife and I were. The cop looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, I’m Johnny Cash and here’s your ticket!”
Susan Gibson (“Wide Open Spaces,” The Dixie Chicks): I think that first time I heard it on the radio, it had been out for awhile, but I hadn’t heard it. I was at home, and I just turned up the radio. It was just so neat, to be in my familiar surroundings, at home by myself with my dog. It was a really sweet feeling, what a rush! I couldn’t believe that it got sandwiched in between Garth Brooks and Shania Twain! I thought “There’s my song right between their songs,” it was a trip. A really good feeling. Everyone should get to experience that feeling in some capacity. After it was over I called David Preston at BMI and said, “Hey, I just heard Wide Open Spaces – I want to make sure you guys recorded that one!”