Kokomo — And those familiar voices singing back up is Lady Antebellum,” WWKI’s Kevin Burris says as the final notes of Darius Rucker’s “Rock Me Mama” linger off the airwaves.
Moments later: “That’s Montgomery Gentry with ‘Rebels on the Run,’ and that sound spinning in the background is a Hammond B3 organ,” Burris adds.
I always listen to country radio, specifically WWKI, and I never knew those factoids. I’d heard both songs tons of times, in fact, I knew both songs. But, turns out, I didn’t know them like Burris does – few do. The next time I heard them? I paid more attention to the backup voices of “Rock Me Mama” and I listened for the sound born by an organ in “Rebels on the Run.” Burris didn’t create the songs, but he created the context that made me think the next time I heard them.
“I try to know too much [about country radio] because I never want to say the same thing twice,” Burris said about making the notes of songs something noteworthy in the minds of listeners.
Burris isn’t hooked by the idea people know his voice; and it’s not the excitement of a new-found career—Burris has been in the radio business for 34 years, 12 at WWKI – that makes him want to get out of bed at 3 a.m. and commute from Indianapolis for his morning show. Burris never told me what made him want to split his sleep into two different nap times to deliver moments into a microphone. And I never asked, because the answer illuminated the studio that is his home from 4:45 a.m. until 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
The answer lies in the smile no one sees when Burris interviews a guest: “People can get complacent in this job, but I challenge myself to always be better at something. I told myself, ‘I want to be a really good interviewer.’ I research interviewees [to ask them questions out of the norm], I tell them, ‘Don’t worry about the microphone, it’s just you and me.’ I want them to be comfortable, I want to know different things about them; that’s when the best answers come out.”