Few conversations are as compelling to listen in on as those that take place between artists as they swap road tales, share career highs and lows, and dish out behind-the-scenes insight and the unknown stories behind their hit songs. Nobody knows that better than immensely likeable country star Collin Raye, who has befriended many of his fellow artists during his quarter-century-long recording career. Now, he's parlaying those relationships into a new side career as host of the syndicated country radio feature Collin Raye's Rewind Country, set to launch Dec. 5 on Envision Networks.
The daily, minute-long vignettes will feature both contemporary and classic country stars of the last 30 years sharing with Raye their untold stories. Five new episodes will be produced weekly, and Envision president/CEO Danno Wolkoff hopes affiliates will find them compelling enough to air multiple times throughout the day and recycle through the week. The vignettes are taken from interviews Raye conducts with the stars. By mid-November, he already had about 25 interviews in the can, including Confederate Railroad, Charlie Daniels, Lorrie Morgan, Joe Nichols, Montgomery Gentry, Oak Ridge Boys and Dolly Parton.
"No one has told us 'no' yet when we've approached them to do the interview," says Raye, who attributes that success rate to his personal relationships with fellow stars.
Raye landed 21 top 10 hits on Epic Records between 1991 and 2000, including the No. 1s "Love, Me," "In This Life," "My Kind of Girl" and "I Can Still Feel You." With his new venture, he joins other stars of the '90s who still have active touring careers but have embarked on side gigs as syndicated radio show hosts. They include Kix Brooks, Terri Clark and Tracy Lawrence.
Surprisingly, Raye says he came up with the idea for Rewind Country while listening to Alice Cooper's syndicated daily rock program, Nights With Alice Cooper. "I thought, 'What a cool gig that would be,' " he says. "Yes, I'm an artist and I'm proud of my work, but first and foremost I'm a fan. I love our format. I've always been very animated, very enthusiastic, and the thought of having a spot on syndicated radio has always appealed to me, but it had to be the right situation."
He brought the idea to Envision, where the executive team helped him refine the concept and develop the show over the last year-and-a-half into what Raye calls a "more marketable" format. "It's a really good partnership," he says.
Wolkoff calls Raye "one of the premiere artists and musicians" of the '90s and a still popular live performer. "He's one of the greatest storytellers, and I think having one storyteller talk to other storytellers and have them share the stories behind these fantastic songs, we couldn't think of a better scenario. He's ideal for this."
"The response right out of the bat has been better than we expected," says Raye of the fledgling feature. "I really feel like we may be onto something here. As far as the listeners out there, I feel like right now there's such a hunger for the more personal stuff [from artists]. Every big hit has a story to it: the way the songs came about, the near misses that almost cost songs being on radio or just what it meant to that particular artist or that particular writer. I love hearing that stuff … And the artists love telling their stories. They love talking about their music."
Raye is proud of the end result and says Rewind Country is "something I could see myself doing for many years." He hopes his considerable experience as an entertainer will help him pass along his passion for the material to his listeners. "I feel like I'm the little transmitter of it all," says Raye, noting that the show is designed to showcase the featured artists and songs, not himself. "Yeah, I'm an artist and have a bunch of hits too, but in this show I am basically just the host."
While he says being on the other side of the microphone - and asking rather than answering the questions - took some getting used to, he now says, "I love interviewing people … If it's someone who knows you and feels comfortable with you, they're way more apt to open up."
Wolkoff says Raye's interviews are "what separates this from other features that have been done in the past or are currently being done. There's a different relationship that takes place when you have an artist talking to artists about their music and their career, and it's a lot more relatable," he says. "They're more relaxed and they want to open up. It's two friends who are well-known, well-established musicians talking about their craft, sharing the stories. It's [like] you get to listen in on the conversation. That's a pretty cool thing to bring to radio."
For both affiliates and listeners, Raye is hoping the shortform concept will make the show an easy sell. "[We're not] talking about a block of time that they have to commit to," he says. "This is something they can hear in their car driving down the road. They know that for a minute or so they're going to be able to hear something that hopefully lifts them up, inspires them a little bit or brings back a really cool memory."
Wolkoff was thrilled to learn that Raye is willing to do custom reads for local clients of the show's affiliates. "He really understands that in order for this to work and to be successful that it's got to generate money for the local station and have advertisers wanting to be a part of it," he says. "I think it's a little bit unprecedented … and that's going to really help get this on more stations across the country."
Explains Raye: "I understand what radio needs. They're in business to make money and bring on sponsors … It benefits everybody. And I've always considered myself a pretty good pitchman, because I'm real animated."
He also sees the custom reads as a way to give back to the format that launched his career. "Country radio was really good to me over a span of about 12 years when the hits were current, and is still being good to me because so many of my songs still get played in [gold categories]," he says.
Raye hopes that one day, if his touring schedule allows, there might be a companion longer-form weekly version of the show with lengthier interviews, and he says, "I think that's a strong possibility once we get this rolling."
While he's focused on launching Rewind Country, Raye is also prepping a new album for a targeted February release. Titled The Big 25, the set will include rerecorded versions of the singer's 25 best-known hits, along with three new songs