This story was originally published March 27, 2006 in the Fort Worth Business Press
Thunder. Lightning. Hail. Tornado warnings. Your basic Texas Old Testament plague-and-apocalypse weather.
Such was the welcome that Texas gave Nan Kingsley on her first night at a new home on a hilltop south of Weatherford - a night to remember.
"It was my first night here,' Nan recalls. "Bob wasn't here, and it was the night of the hailstorm that nearly destroyed Mayfest … I had never seen anything like it in L.A."
Kingsley. Bob. Sounds a whole lot like the name of a legendary announcer in country-and-Western radio. Would that be the Bob Kingsley?
A move to the 146-acre Bluestem Ranch, out west of Fort Worth, heralded big changes for Nan and Bob Kingsley. The mass-media professionals had traded temperate Los Angeles for the unsettled climate of Parker County.
The official reason? ABC-Radio's country-music programming system was headquartered in Dallas, and Bob Kingsley's Country Top 40 had become a key attraction.
The real reason? Cutting horses.
"When I met Bob, he said he liked horses," Nan recalls. "I never dreamed it would lead to this."
Bob, the influential disc jockey and host of Kingsley's Country Top 40, has been instrumental in the establishment of any number of hit recordings. If a disk has been a country-music chart-climber over the past 30 years, Kingsley will have spun it on the air and likely gabbed with the artist responsible.
"I love to hear their stories," he says. "If there is one secret to my success, that's it. I love the stories."
Stories, in fact, are a key component in the Kingsleys' contributions to the community. Each year, they produce a fundraiser for the Bluestem Foundation, an organization the couple set up to help out other charitable organizations in Parker and Tarrant counties. A Bluestem event involves a guest songwriter, singing and telling stories - a traditional sort of presentation in down-home Southern and Western music. Last year's guest songwriter was Jeffrey Steele, who has written such songs as "The Cowboy in Me" for Tim McGraw, "Unbelievable" for Diamond Rio and "Big Deal" for LeAnn Rimes.
"The first year we did it, people didn't know what it was," says Bob. "But once they sat down and listened to the songwriters tell their story and sing their songs, we've had to turn people away. It's very popular."
The Bluestem Foundation provides funds for such organizations as Campbell Health Care Systems, Cancer Care Services of Texas, Child Protective Services of Parker County, the Doss Heritage & Cultural Center and the Parker County Committee on Aging.
The Kingsleys have harmonized with the community in other ways, too. Nan is a member of the board of directors of Weatherford National Bank and chairs the Parker County Child Protective Services board. Bob was named Citizen of the Year in Weatherford in 2002.
As passionate as he is about country music, he is equally enthusiastic about cutting horses. The art of cutting involves a horse's ability to single out one cow from a herd - requiring a keen sense of communion between horse and rider.
"It's addictive," Kingsley says of the sport. "It was for me, and the same thing happened to [entertainer] Travis Tritt when I brought him out here. He immediately wanted to get into cutting horses."
The deejay rode his first cutting horse in 1993. By 1995, he had resettled in Weatherford and was busy raising cutting horses. In 2004, Kingsley won the Non-Pro Classic Challenge on Little Pepto Gal.
"I'm constantly amazed at the sport," he says. "These horses are amazing, and I just find the sport captivating. It's like something you can't ever master. Every time you think you have it figured out, there's some new aspect to it. Most of the time I just do my best to stay out of the way, and the horse does the work."
Kingsley's career as a top-notch country deejay is equally amazing.
His start was less than promising. Anyone aiming to be a superstar in country-music radio probably wouldn't start in Iceland - specifically Keflavic, Iceland.
While stationed with the U.S. Air Force as a motor-pool grunt during the late 1950s, Kingsley leapt at the chance to swap a greasy jumpsuit and an outdoors assignment for a microphone and an announcer's chair, in a nice, warm studio. His first attempts at radio were about as well received as drums at the Grand Old Opry.
"I murdered the copy, absolutely murdered it," he recalls. "I'll never forget it."
That first attempt mattered not one whit to the 18-year-old Kingsley: "I wasn't very good, but I was hooked," he says. "Hands down, I loved it."
Returning to the motor pool, Kingsley would sneak away at night for some much-needed studio practice.
"I did it because I fell in love with radio, absolutely loved it," he says. "After I got comfortable with that - running a board, all that stuff - I said to myself, 'This is my life's work, this is what I'm going to do.'"
Today, his voice has grown as comfortable and inviting as an old rumpled coat. That quality has come with experience, including stints at radio stations in Nevada, at Tijuana, and in California. On the West Coast, Kingsley worked at such celebrated stations as KFOX, KGBS and KFI before landing a berth as program director at KLAC.
In the radio business in those days, a firing was sometimes more a badge of honor than an impediment. Employment came to a halt at one station when Kingsley did the unthinkable in the eyes of management: He interviewed an up-and-coming Buck Owens, one of the architects of the so-called Bakersfield Sound - as in Bakersfield, Calif., a style distinct from Nashville-type country music.
"I was the overnight engineer, and Buck called up and said he wanted to come over after his show and visit on the air," Kingsley recalls. "I told him to come on, and we spent two or three hours on the air, playing and talking about music. The next morning, I got called in and sent packing because I was just an engineer, not a deejay."
But the encounter helped to establish a style for Kingsley, who has developed an easygoing, conversational approach to interviewing. Since then, he has interviewed plenty of stars - from still-standing legends such as Merle Haggard to current superstars, including Tim McGraw. Along the way, Kingsley has garnered a wall full of accolades that adorn his small studio in Weatherford. In 1998, he was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame.
The appeal of Kingsley's countdown can exert a particular impact upon artists struggling to make their way in a notoriously fickle and impersonal business. Texas artist Jack Ingram recently scored his first Top 40 country hit, "Wherever You Are," and got to hear his name on the show.
"I was always impressed with the care Bob took with new artists," Ingram says. "Just the way he talked about their music and what they were doing … made me want to be a part of that."
Not that the musician always admitted as much to himself or to his bandmates. Ingram recalled listening to Kingsley's countdown program with his band and saying that he didn't care if he ever made it onto the countdown - he just wanted to play for his fans in Texas.
That wasn't quite true, however.
"In the back of my mind, I really wanted it," Ingram acknowledges. "I waited for years to hear Bob Kingsley say my name on the radio. When it finally happened, my record was No. 40, and it was a very special moment. It made me believe that dreams really do come true or whatever cliché you want to insert there, but it was true."
While it may sound as it the Kingsleys have settled into a comfortable country-music niche, nothing could be farther from the truth. They have recently accomplished the building-and-remodeling of their home at the top of a ridge, and they are venturing into uncharted territory by producing Kingsley's countdown show on their own.
Nan's background in media sales and promotion has come in handy as the Kingsleys have set up their own production company, KCCS Productions, to package and syndicate the four-hour, weekly Bob Kingsley's Country Top 40, along with a daily show known as Bob Kingsley with Today's Hit Makers.
"At first, I'd thought [the self-syndication process] might be a little difficult to get used to, but in reality it's great," says Bob. "We have more control of what we're doing, and we're using the same great writers. We've just got great writers. It's really great starting over. We probably should have done it sooner."
Kingsley used to be the host of American Country Countdown, which aired on 96.3 FM KSCS, until the switch over in January 2006. KSCS still has its countdown, featuring country music star Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn as the host. More than 300 stations that carried American Country Countdown with Bob Kingsley are broadcasting Kingsley's new program, including 99.5 FM, a local station known as "The Wolf," and stations as far away as WMZQ-FM in Washington, D.C.
The Kingsley's ranch property is new, for the most part, although the Kingsleys have kept a structure called the Bunkhouse, from earlier construction. The 3,000-square-foot Bunkhouse had been a guest-quarters site for the previous owners. A large, open room; it impressed the Kingsleys as ideal for banquets, impromptu concerts by visiting C&W royalty - any gathering that requires a bit of space.
The house is located south of Weatherford, where Parker County makes the transition from a virtually treeless prairie to a series of butte-like hills covered with cacti, mesquite and oak. Like the rest of house, the Bunkhouse leans heavily towards Western-legacy designs. Many of the furnishings come from Western Heritage Furniture & Accessories, a Weatherford retailer that specializes in custom designs. For example, sets of old theatre chairs have been re-upholstered in fabric featuring Western-movie themes, for a seating area in the Bunkhouse. Prominent throughout are paintings by Bill Owen, a contemporary Western artist and a member of the Cowboy Artists of America.
The porches are also ideal for small gatherings. The Kingsleys recently had some friends over, including the entertainer and cowboy poet Red Steagall.
With Comanche Peak rising nearby against a dramatic sunset, Steagall recited his "Comanche Moon" to enthralled listeners.
The verse tells of a tense encounter between a troupe of Charles Goodnight's cowboys and a band of Comanches:
All the boys were spoiling for a fight.
But I think deep down
I wished them varmints had escaped.
I sure weren't keen on fighting 'em at night.
Recalls Kingsley: "One of the men there was from New York, and he called me three days later just to tell me that he was still haunted by the experience."
The Kingsleys say they never planned to end up in Texas, but both say they now feel comfortably at home.
"I surprised myself the other day when I was watching the Rose Bowl - and here I was, a California boy, screaming my lungs out for Texas," says Bob. "I thought: 'Wait a minute. What's going on here?' Then I realized, 'Oh, yeah, I'm a Texan now.' That's how it happens, before you know it, you're a Texan."
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