Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Media: January 2015

| January 2, 2015


In 2014, country music surpassed Top 40 as the top radio music format in the country, and that country music audience is younger than ever. One person who isn’t surprised by that development is US-99‘s (WUSN-Chicago) morning man Ramblin’ Ray Stevens.

“When you go to our concerts and look around you see how young the crowds are,” he says. “Country music is as cutting edge as any music these days. You can intertwine a lot of our music with pop music right now, and you could hardly tell the difference. There’s a lot of melding now. The guys coming out of Nashville these days aren’t necessarily guys that grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry. They’re young kids who have always known computers and the internet, and they listen to hip hop and rap too. There are a lot of guys bringing that sort of sound to country too, and it’s cool. It’s relevant. If you’re a country purist you may not like it, and I hear from a lot of those people – believe me, but you have to evolve along with it.”

Stevens has been evolving as the morning co-host at US-99 now for more than twenty years. For the past six of those years, he has shared a studio every morning with Lisa Dent. (“Six years more than we thought we would last,” he jokes.) Ray and Lisa have a simple philosophy when it comes to the show.

“People are working hard out there,” he says. “They’re heading to work, often to a job they don’t like, and it’s our job to keep them entertained, and give them a laugh. If I can do that, I’ve done my job. Our job is sell blue skies and sunshine and make people feel good about themselves.”

One of the reasons Ray connects so effortlessly with the hardworking fan base is that he knows what they’re going through – he was once one of them.

“I grew up working for my mom and dad in the sheet metal company, and I remember specifically the year I figured out I didn’t want to be a sheet metal man. I was on top of McCormick Place. It’s a big building, and I know exactly how big it is because I went all the way around that thing on my knees. You didn’t have a Walkman or a cellphone to keep you company in those days. You had nothing but your thoughts up there. I remember looking back at the city and thinking, ‘You know, I wonder what’s it like to work in the buildings instead of on them.’ When it’s ten degrees and you’re on the side of a building, you really want to do something else. I never forget what got me here. And to think I now have a chance to do what the guys I loved – Brandmeier and [Steve] Dahl and Bob Collins and Spike O’Dell – did, and that people are still giving me a chance to continue doing it – you got to respect your opportunity.”

Ray grew up in the Chicago area, knows the city’s history, and the morning guys who came before him. He learned a valuable lesson from one of them. “My dad would come home from work and talk like he worked with Wally Phillips. That’s no joke. It was like he considered him a friend – that’s about the best compliment any radio guy could get. I never forgot that. And I hear things like that now from people who listen to our show they feel like they know me, they’ve been listening for fifteen years.”

And odds are, they may have actually met Ray too. He’s out in the community all the time. “When you work in this country format, you have the chance to really help people. You may not read about it in the [Chicago] Tribune, because we don’t do it for that reason, we do it because it’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s the culture of this radio station. We’re always doing something for the veterans, we’ve raised tons of money for kids. Lisa Dent is on the board of the American Cancer Society. I’m a Ronald McDonald Children’s Ambassador. When you start putting all these things together, we’re raising millions of dollars for charities, and that’s what being part of country music is all about. Luke Bryan is our entertainer of the year. He’s building houses for veterans at every tour stop.”

Ray recently took that idea of service to another level when he debuted his syndicated show “Serving Our Country.”

“It’s radio with a purpose. When I was a kid I listened to Steve Dahl, it made me laugh – because he was anti-establishment. While that was entertaining at the time, I’ve kind of grown up and I want to tell good stories for a change. I want to give back to community. I still like to be edgy and I do piss people off sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re just trying to raise our kids and make our house payments, and there should be some sort of entertainment that reflects that.” The show airs on Sunday nights on US-99, and in nearly 70 markets nationwide.
Ray Stevens and Lisa Dent can be heard every weekday morning on the same station, selling blue skies, sunshine, and America’s most popular music.

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Monthly

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