Charlie Cook On Air: Rusty Walker

I was not going to write anything about Rusty Walker’s death this week. There will be many words written, Facebook posts, emotions expressed and hugs exchanged that will be more eloquent than anything I can say. That is still true but this is a small fraternity and I want to thank Rusty for being who he was.

This is all about recollections and it is going to come from my perspective. I read some things this week that kind of disappointed me. Not anything about Rusty but about others making it about them. Then when I sat down to jot some notes for this column I realized that writing from “my” perspective is the only way you can do it. So excuse me. This is not a eulogy.

Like so many of us in the industry, I have known Rusty for 20-plus years. I never worked with Rusty at a radio station but I have worked with him on CMA projects as committee members and I saw why he was so successful at his radio stations. He was focused. He could see through a problem and he saw all angles of the issue.

When the committee assignments come out at the beginning of the CMA term I know that everyone looks for their name. But honestly I look for others on the committee just as quickly. I was always excited to be paired with Rusty. I knew that the committee was going to get things done.

Last summer, while in Chicago for a CMA Board meeting, Rusty, Lon Helton, Jaye Albright and I had dinner at Lon’s favorite Italian restaurant. Lon paid. Rusty was Rusty. He knew the history of everyone he ever worked with, and maybe ever met. It was great to hear his stories. It was great to learn about how he moved people around and built more careers than Monster.com.

I know because as I try to staff radio stations for West Virginia Radio Corp. and consulting client stations I see Rusty’s name as a reference time after time. People were proud to include his name on their resume because they knew potential employers were aware that they got first class training and coaching as part of their work life.

In fact, while chatting about Rusty with Lon this week, I mentioned that what is lost, along with the obvious, is that history. Lost is a chronicle of Country Radio in the southeast United States over the last quarter century. Nothing can ever replace this.

Rusty had his hands on almost every move over that period of time. There is an army of Rusty protégés that will keep him alive at radio and we are fortunate for that influence.

Luckily for me I was seated next to Rusty at the CMA Awards show for the last three years. We sat together for three hours commenting on performances and artists. We would discuss the strength of a record as a recurrent or oldie at client stations. Think about that for a second. Carrie Underwood would blow away the crowd with an amazing performance and we’re discussing whether the song should be a Power Recurrent or just a Recurrent.

We would notice if an artist thanked Country Radio during their acceptance speech. That was filed away by both of us. We would discuss the business for three hours, most likely being pests to those around us but Rusty saw everything as it impacts radio listeners.

I can tell you that Country Radio got better in heaven on Monday. Let’s see how Rusty incorporates the required harp music into the playlist.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)

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