Kix Brooks Moves Into a New Studio Space for American Country Countdown

Kix moves into his comfortable new studio space and keeps his solo career rolling.

Originally published in our August 5, 2013 issue featuring our 50 Greatest Songs of Summer list.

Kix Brooks looks quite comfortable in his new studio, seated behind a large trunk-shaped wooden desk where he is tapping on the keys of his Apple notebook. Located in the still-under-construction Cumulus Radio offices in the Rutledge Hill area just south of downtown Nashville, the singer and American Country Countdown host’s new space is warm and inviting, bathed in earthy tones, leather and eye-catching cowboy artifacts. It’s the kind of place you might like to kick off your boots, pour a scotch and settle in for an engaging chat with one of your buddies.

Which is exactly what Kix, who has hosted the long-running countdown show for seven years, had in mind when he took over the program from radio legend Bob Kingsley. “Radio studios in general have somewhat of a dentist office attitude. [A] lot of Formica and that’s kind of it,” he says. “Having done a lot of interviews as an artist in those environments, it’s just chilly in general. So I was determined with my first studio to create a living room/cowboy vibe, where people walk in and drop [their] shoulders a little bit.”

Maybe it’s that casual, conversational atmosphere that helped Kix win the CMA’s National Broadcast Personality of the Year Award in 2009 and 2011, which he considers a “great honor,” knowing his radio peers voted for him to win. Kix’s method is merely to make his guests—many of whom are friends and tourmates from his days in Brooks & Dunn—feel comfortable when they visit. “We always sit down and just start talking about family or kids or whatever,” he explains. “I’m always rolling tape. The last thing they always say when we’re done is, ‘When are we gonna start?’” he says with a hearty laugh. “I’m like, ‘We’re done!’ I always tell them, ‘If you say anything that you’re not comfortable with, just give me a call if it comes into mind and don’t worry about that.’ As a result I’ve got a lot of really candid conversations that are special.”

Kix admits that when he took over hosting duties in 2006 with the blessing of previous host Bob Kingsley, he had a lot to learn. ABC sent him to ESPN’s interviewing school, where he picked up some important tricks and methods for talking to his guests. Even still, he says, those early days were a bit touch-and-go. “I just cringe at the thought of even how bad it was when I got started. I didn’t even recognize my own voice on the radio!” he says, shaking his head. “And I was doing everything wrong, everything you can think of—every bad way of speaking, so much nervous energy that it was just out of control.
But they stuck with me and I really worked at it, listened to myself a lot, airchecked constantly. I’ve gotten
better, and I’v
e still got a long way to go but I want to be good at this.”

Asked if that’s strange for him, listening back to himself on the radio, Kix says pretty much always. “It’s not unlike singing, when you hear yourself sing in the studio,” he muses. “You think you really killed a take singing and you listen to it and go, ‘Ugh.’” He lets out a laugh, adding a mock-disgusted “‘Gotta do it again.’”

The way Kix sees it, the key is just paying attention to his guests and letting the conversation go where it will. “The most important thing about it all is just learning how to listen,” he states, recalling an experience from interviewing school. “You watch so many interviews, and people just had questions on a page and they weren’t listening to what the person was trying to tell them. It’s helped me because I love to talk,” he pauses, laughing at his own expense, “so it’s helped me to sit back and shut up a little bit and to take in what an artist is trying to say and what they’re trying to tell me. Then I may have some questions that are totally different than what I intended to ask originally.”

It’s certainly a craft, like songwriting or playing guitar, that requires practice to master. And Kix, who is still touring and working hard on his post-Brooks & Dunn solo career (see sidebar) as well as being part owner in the Arrington Vineyards winery, has his hands in a lot of pies, so it’s sometimes very difficult. “I’m really jealous of radio personalities who get to do it every day, because I do a weekly countdown show,” he admits. “I still have my job as a recording artist, and I still tour and do other things. I realize when I sit back in that chair that I gotta get my legs back under me. I really respect the people that are great at radio and it really makes me want to be better at it.”

It might be stressful, if Kix didn’t love doing it all so much. “Everything I’m doing right now, I’m doing because it’s fun for me,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and just smile at all the stuff I’m gonna get to do every day. I pop that calendar open and it’s a full schedule, but I’m like, ‘OK, OK.’ It’s all good stuff.”

With that, he returns back to his desk, looking comfortable as ever as he bangs out another e-mail.

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