The fact that Gerry House's extensive Wikipedia entry was penned by someone in Britain demonstrates the reach of his good-natured radio voice, which has been rousting sleepyheads in Nashville and beyond (thanks to XM satellite and the BBC) for more than 30 years. After a brief stint on radio in Los Angeles, the multi-disciplinary DJ-comedian-musician-writer-songwriter, who has penned hits for Reba McEntire and George Strait, among others, returned in the early '80s to Music City and The Big 98, where his popular Gerry House and the House Foundation morning show perennially tops the charts in its slot.
If you have never peeked into the Clear Channel studio on Music Row, where House and his cohorts—Mike Bohan, Al Voecks, Duncan Stewart and producer Richard Falklen—hold court from 6 to 10 a.m., you could mistake the five-man crew for a coffee klatch of a dozen, bantering back and forth nonstop about everything from Obama's stimulus package to whether or not it's good form to eat a 100-year-old orange roughy. (For the record: House says yea, Bohan says nay.) But the extra personalities—including Homer, Makk Truk, Maurice and Montana—are all actually House, who has created a stable of alter egos that he pre-records and plays throughout the show.
It all looks playfully simple, sitting around with a bunch of coffee and Diet Coke, cracking on current events, but House is clearly a thinking man who takes his humor seriously. "I try to write 25 jokes a day," says House, a former writer for Roseanne who has ghostwritten for Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire when they hosted the CMA and ACM awards, respectively. At the end of every morning's broadcast, Falklen dutifully catalogs the punchlines, and anyone who has ever tried to be funny on command must envy the volume and consistency of humor that emerges from every four-hour session.
"We try to entertain ourselves, and hopefully people listen in," says House, whose candid commentary—more liberal than you might expect on a country music station—spawned the nickname Mr. Controversy Pants, albeit a nickname he coined himself. "We're really trying to be funny. We're not trying to be controversial. But a lot of times things come out of that."
While House might be the current-events filter for a large drive-time audience, he says he doesn't think too much about politics anymore. Since being hospitalized with a cerebral aneurysm in 2003 and surviving three subsequent craniotomies, he has tried to become more Zen about things—from politics to the future of broadcast radio to his own career. House says he's a lot less driven than he was before his brain exploded—a phrase he throws around with the same levity with which he displays a cartoon caricature of himself as a brain-trauma patient at Centennial Medical Center. He also says that he and his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife, Allyson, have adopted a mantra that they don't go anywhere they dread and they don't see people who have drama.
Despite efforts to become a "happy Buddha," as he calls longtime friend Mike Bohan, an un-driven Gerry House has more ideas and projects than the average human operating in overdrive. After waking up at 3:40 a.m. every day, logging four hours of award-winning radio time and writing the following day's show, he finds time to write songs, support community organizations from St. Jude to the Metro Police Department (he holds an honorary badge), contemplate a musical and spitball a book project. Also, once again, he's mulling over syndication.
"Sometimes I think I should just do a talk show, a political show, a show just like what we do—only without music," he says. "I'm a dinosaur in some ways. Not many guys play what they want and talk as much as I talk."
Next month, at the 40th anniversary of the Country Radio Seminar, House will be inducted into the Country DJ Hall of Fame. The award from the Country Radio Broadcasters, honoring House's contribution to his community and his industry, is the latest flattering line on a résumé that includes accolades from Radio & Records magazine to the Scene's Best of Nashville readers' poll. But House says his most important achievement is the on-air rapport he has maintained with his comrades of country comedy, with whom he has worked in the studio for decades. "We love each other, but we jab at each other," House says of The House Foundation. "We've never had an argument. Nobody's ever stomped out of the room."
Photographed at WSIX by Eric England with assistance from Sinclair Kelly
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