By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Visit any area honky-tonk or college-town pizza joint and ask five people what "Texas country" or "Texas music" is. Chances are, you'll get two thoughtful answers describing the way in which the artists that fall under the nebulously defined category are linked by spirit more than sonic similarities, one blank stare and probably a couple of replies that go something like this: "Willie Nelson?"
KHYI-FM 95.3 The Range program director and morning show host Chuck Taylor has been asked that question countless times. While his voice soars along the airwaves of North Texas from studios that overlook the High Five interchange in Dallas, he's well-known around the state as the host of Texas Countdown, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with this weekend's show. For Taylor, the definition of Texas country or Texas music is about emotions and not a narrow list of elements that tie a typical genre together.
"Someone from Alaska asked me what my personal definition of Texas music was when the show first started airing up there," Taylor says over the phone from his home and sometimes studio in Keller. "I told him that if you love music that speaks to you from the heart and if you love music that can move you to tears, then to laughter, then to banging your head, then you're going to love what Texas music is all about. There's a lot of passion involved and that's what people respond to."
Beginning in 2002, from the studios of KOUL-FM 103.7 in Corpus Christi, the radio veteran developed an appreciation for artists such as Pat Green and Jack Ingram. It didn't take long for Taylor to realize studs like Green weren't what most people considered mainstream country. While Green and Ingram were on the verge of landing on the mainstream charts, there wasn't a countdown show devoted to the music Taylor knew was more substantial than a simple, flighty trend.
"After a year in Corpus Christi, I realized there were barely any shows dedicated to Texas music, and there wasn't any countdown shows for Texas music, only for mainstream country," Taylor says. "I called the folks at Shane Media and asked if anyone was planning a show around their Texas music chart, and there weren't, so we agreed to let me shop the idea for a show in May of 2002."
While his own station wasn't hot on the concept, Taylor found plenty of other stations were more than interested. In fact, demand began before he even had a full show recorded. A basic demo and the accompanying vision were all it took to get the ball rolling.
"The station I was working for wasn't convinced the idea would work," Taylor says. "Even though I knew that interest in Texas music wasn't going away, they told me they would only add it once a couple of other stations picked me up. Very shortly after putting the demo out there, I got a call from KBAL in San Saba on a Tuesday afternoon. They wanted to put the show on the air that Saturday and needed it by that Friday in order to run it. I had basically sold them the idea of what I wanted the show to be. On June 23, 2002, the show debuted with its original name, The Texas 25 with Chuck Taylor."
KOUL became the third station to carry Taylor's new two-hour show, and by the end of 2002, only six months after first airing, 12 stations were carrying the countdown on the weekends. In 2005, with 26 stations in various parts of the country now broadcasting the show, it was time for Taylor to seek friendlier airwaves for a daily radio gig. He found those in one of the friendliest spots on earth, Fort Worth. As evening DJ for KFWR-FM 95.9 and host of the weekly Ranch Roadhouse show, Taylor continued to carve a niche for himself as a top personality in the world of Texas country.
In 2008, Texas Countdown was getting picked up by more stations, but a change in management at 95.9 brought about a change in playlist philosophy, and Taylor was again looking for the next microphone. From 2008 until May of 2010, when he began at KHYI, Taylor booked, produced and sold Countdown out of his home studio, where he grew his number of affiliates to 43 terrestrial stations and three (soon to be four) Internet stations.
Given that his show is the longest running of its kind anywhere in the states, it's not surprising that some pretty cool things have happened. Guests ranging from Reba McEntire, Todd Snider and Toby Keith have swung by, as well as local artists such as Mo Robson. Even Willie Nelson has been a guest on Taylor's Countdown.
"A few years back, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Cory Morrow were scheduled to come in and record some stuff for the show," Taylor says. "When they showed up, they had this guy named Hayes Carll with them. No one outside of other artists knew about him, but I put him on the air and he got some of his first radio exposure to several stations at once."
The length of time on the air as an industry insider has also allowed Taylor the chance to be surprised or just plain off-base when artists he didn't see much future for end up becoming big deals.
"There have been some surprises. He and I are friends now and hopefully he won't be upset by this, but when Casey Donahew first started, I just didn't get it. I love him now, but a few years ago, I just thought he'd be in a bar band and that would be it. When he began to sell out Billy Bob's, I was shocked, and had to admit I was wrong."
Of course, Taylor caught a glimpse of artistic promise from his platform before most people had heard a note of a young performer's work.
"In 2002, I felt as though I was on the inside, as I got to watch Randy Rogers get his start," he says. "That's when I was in Corpus Christi, and I know no one outside of Dallas/Fort Worth knew about him. Finally, his first album came out and he would barely hit the 30s on the chart, and look at how huge he is now. Randy will tell you that I was one of the first people to play his music regularly."
For Taylor, the Texas Countdown is merely an extension of a passion that's only grown deeper over its decade-long run. That passion has created a simple but meaningful mission.
"I guess I just want people to be touched by this music in the way that it's touched me."