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Maine gets Rowdy! “The Original Country Gold” with Rowdy Yates embodies the Maine lifestyle

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Maine radio listeners have a wide variety of options on Saturday night, but for a significant number of them, there is only one show and one voice - “The Original Country Gold” with Rowdy Yates.

The syndicated classic country hits request show airs on WQCB Q-106.5 from 7:00 p.m. to midnight each Saturday and has become a destination program for countless listeners in the car, those sitting around a campfire with friends and listeners at home who like to get a little Rowdy every weekend.

So how is it that a radio program that originates in the Lone Star State, and airs on 120 radio stations around the nation, has become so closely linked to the lifestyles of listeners in Maine? Q-106.5 program director Scott Miller has a few theories.

Miller’s radio career began in Canada and has taken him from town to town, up and down the dial, to markets small and large, including stations in Toronto, Chicago and Detroit. He believes “The Original Country Gold” with Rowdy Yates connects so well to Maine listeners because Rowdy is practically one of us.

“Even though Rowdy is a Texan, he lives the lifestyle of a Mainer,” said Miller. “All of his personal appearances here have been huge. He’s a very likable guy in person and on the radio. It’s the state of Maine – Saturday night, fire pits and Rowdy Yates.”

And that is very much a both-directions affection, as he made crystal clear during an in-depth interview, Maine and its people are very dear to Rowdy and his wife, Kim.

“Just under 50% of all radios within a 90-mile radius of Brewer, Maine, are listening to ‘The Original Country Gold’ on Saturday night, and that is staggering,” Rowdy said of his epic Maine listenership. “Those people are fans of mine, but I’ve become good friends with many of them over the years.”

Rowdy says the deep connection he has with listeners became the catalyst for him giving up local radio and putting all of his energies into syndication work. With more time in his schedule to travel, he has more opportunities to get face to face with the listeners of his program, and he has a message for listeners in Maine:

“I’m coming back, so you’d better be ready.”

Rowdy Yates was drawn to radio naturally at a very young age as the son of a Texas radio legend.

Joe Holstead was a highly respected broadcast journalist in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for 30 years. The young Rowdy Yates (his birth name is Josh Holstead - the name he used on the air until 1993) would often accompany his father at the radio station and on the news beat, when Joe would investigate a story.

Joe Holstead was selected by Paul Harvey to be the substitute host for his daily “News and Comment” program on ABC Radio during the 1980s and 1990s, heard by 24 million listeners.

“I wanted to be like my Dad from the beginning,” Rowdy told me. “I loved the excitement and immediacy of radio, and I loved that he drove a big, loud car with the radio station call letters painted on the side with a big light on top. He had radios in the car so he could talk to police officers throughout the state.”

Rowdy says he and his siblings often provided a cover for his father when the newsman would do some investigative reporting, saying “Nobody suspected that a man who was dragging along four little red-headed kids would be chasing a story.

When Rowdy was five years old, his father was news director for KLIF radio in Dallas, the most listened-to station in town and the most imitated in the nation at the time. While the senior Holstead was in the news room banging away on a typewriter with a cup of coffee in one hand and an unfiltered Pall Mall in the other, young Rowdy would peek into an adjacent studio to watch the disc jockey at work.

That was the scene one early morning when the sound of kids running down the hall, laughing and yelling, broke the newsman’s concentration, causing him to get up from his swivel-chair and investigate the source.

“They were causing a commotion and opening and slamming doors,” Rowdy recalled the scene some 45 years later. “Dad thought they were random teenagers that had snuck in through an unlocked door and were trying to meet the DJ, which was not an uncommon thing.”

Young Rowdy thought he recognized the noisemakers and tried to intervene, but his father wouldn’t hear of it. “He glared at me and I went silent,” Rowdy said. “My father rounded them all up and tossed them out a side door onto Commerce St. on a cold Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m.”

Ten minutes later, the newsman had resumed typing when the disc jockey popped his head into the news room and said “Hey Joe, just curious, but did you happen to see where the Osmond kids went?”

“Dad took Donny, Marie, Jimmy and a couple of their siblings and threw them onto the street,” Rowdy said with a deep laugh.

The Osmonds are apparently a forgiving bunch. Donny and Marie even made an appearance at one of young Rowdy’s birthday parties, something he thought happened to every kid.

“I really did,” he said. “These were perks that my father shared with his family. I threw a cream pie at Peter Frampton and had an endless supply of free movie tickets and passes to Six Flags. Radio was very different back then, but it was so exciting and I couldn’t wait to be part of it.”

Rowdy landed his first on-air job at age 15 and soon secured a full-time gig in Bridgeport, located about 50 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

Strategic career moves took him to stations in New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Houston, where he spent 16 years on the air at 100,000-watt country powerhouse KLIT Radio. During Rowdy’s tenure there, his ratings dwarfed the competition, leading to his first nationwide syndication deal as host of “Country Gold.”

A 2013 Academy of Country Music Award radio winner, Rowdy was the youngest broadcaster ever inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, at age 38. His father was a charter inductee.

In 2012, Rowdy was in the midst of a very successful run as host of the Saturday night “Country Gold” request show when a sudden network merger shockingly resulted with him being replaced by Randy Owen, front man for the band Alabama.

Rowdy was without a radio job for the first time in his professional life … and “Country Gold” listeners were not happy with the new show.

“Randy Owen belongs on the radio as a personality about as much as I belong onstage as the front-man for Alabama,” Rowdy quipped.

Rowdy’s return to radio was temporarily prevented by the network’s enforcement of a contract clause, he says.

“They continued to pay me to keep me off the air. They knew I was going to come back, and when I did, I was going to kick their ass.”

A couple of months after Rowdy had been removed from “Country Gold,” I reached out to him and asked if he could explain the situation to his listeners in the pages of The Maine Edge. The interview answered a lot of questions for fans of the show.

“My confidence was greatly boosted – and I’m not blowing sunshine up your nose here – when the story of what happened appeared in The Maine Edge and then went viral,” Rowdy said. “Listeners and fans started sharing the story like crazy online, and then started to go after the network at the heart of this debacle. That was a great reinforcement for me, and I felt a profound obligation to get back on the horse and make another run of it.”

Nine months after being set adrift, Rowdy rose triumphantly with a new show, a new name – “The Original Country Gold” – and a new distributor in Compass Media Networks.

During Rowdy’s first week back on the air in 2013, he took 36 stations away from the Randy Owen-hosted program, which had already lost more than half of its affiliates since Rowdy left.

Rowdy says he believes the Alabama singer was oblivious to all of the network machinations going on behind the scenes and says relations between the two were very friendly when they bumped into each other in Las Vegas two years ago at the ACM Awards.

Each Saturday night on “The Original Country Gold,” Rowdy is behind the mic, taking requests, giving away prizes and blasting vintage country hits from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, on stations from coast to coast.

Rowdy’s show originates from a state-of-the-art studio in his home, where he is visited on occasion by a couple of guests who prefer to make requests in person – his dogs, Clyde and Pepper.

“If you listen carefully, you’ll hear them once in a while,” Rowdy said with a laugh. “Pepper is especially fond of chiming in on the show.”

2013 is a year that Rowdy Yates will never forget. He had built his own wildly successful syndicated radio show from scratch. Life was good.

It all changed in an instant. Rowdy’s world was shattered when his beloved wife Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“That will change your life and your perspective on things,” Rowdy told me. “You’ll find out really fast what’s important, and what can be put on the back burner. I’m 6 feet, 5 inches and weigh 300 pounds. I’m a big, strong, strapping, rugged guy. I walked out into my backyard and cried every night for a month when that s--t started.”

Kim’s cancer had been discovered during a simple annual checkup. Had she waited one more month to be checked, Rowdy says, the diagnosis would have been much different.

She was given a handful of choices, including radiation and chemotherapy. The lifesaving option in Kim’s case was double mastectomy, as it meant there was a 99.9% chance the cancer would never return.

“She made that choice and I supported her in that decision,” Rowdy said.

Rowdy and Kim were living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Rowdy was doing a morning show on KVOO. It was only after Kim’s diagnosis that he realized why the couple had moved to Tulsa. It wasn’t for the job. Rowdy wasn’t a particular fan of the station owners or management.

“I think God put us in Oklahoma because of the incredible treatment Kim received there. She couldn’t have had better care anywhere,” he said.

Rowdy says that Kim is in great health today, and that both count their blessings on a daily basis. The outpouring of love and support from listeners of his show is something he says will stay with him for the rest of his days.

Rowdy says he couldn’t have gotten through Kim’s cancer episode it if not for her strength – and if not for the love and kindness of people the couple had never met.

“The ones that got me the most were the ones who took the time to seek out an address where they could mail a physical letter, note, card, or gift. They came from all over the planet …”

Rowdy paused to collect himself.

“To know that we were part of their lives,” he continued, “and they cared so much to go to that kind of effort … it meant the world to us and still does.”

Kim has accompanied Rowdy on each of his visits to the Bangor area, and she’ll be with him later this year when Q106.5 is expected to bring Rowdy Yates back for another personal appearance that is still in the planning stages.

Rowdy’s first appearance here in 2015 at Spectacular Event Center was a standing-room only affair. Every room in the building was packed with fans of the show.

“We could have filled a venue twice the size,” Rowdy said, as he remembered how jammed with fans the building became. Before he made his presence known, he had some fun walking around the crowd – most of whom had never seen his image.

“I was right out there with everybody soaking it all in,” he said. “Some people think I’m this larger-than-life figure waiting for you to kiss my ring. Not me, I’m coming out to your camp to drink beer with you and you might be sick of me by the time it’s all over.”

He’s not kidding. Well, he is larger-than-life, but real talk – Rowdy might come to your house. During his subsequent Maine visits, he did exactly that.

Rowdy had promised some fans he would visit them in person, but they didn’t expect he would actually show up.

“I grabbed my friend J.R. Mitchell – the former radio stud, now a TV star (ABC 7 and Fox 22 Bangor) – and he joined Kim and I for a trip to Dover-Foxcroft to this beautiful homestead,” Rowdy recalled.

Rowdy had only one request: No social media.

“I said ‘No tweeting, texting or Facebook,” he said. “I just want this to be about you and your buds, just like when you call me every Saturday night.”

Rowdy says his Maine hosts were still in disbelief that he was actually there.

“When we showed up, you’d have thought they were looking at aliens. They were so uneasy about it, I told this guy ‘Look, we’re going out to the liquor store, and we’re going to get fifth of Jack Daniels, and we’re coming back to open this bottle and have a party.’”

Rowdy says his friends at West Lake are a small but mighty group of listeners who never fail to call him on Saturday night.

“In all of the years that I’ve hosted this show, and the previous incarnation, they’ve always called me. We go to their place every time we come to town,” he said.

A few of those fans traveled to Texas recently and stayed with Rowdy and Kim. Rowdy expects them to return in the spring when they’ll all attend a concert together.

“They’re not my fans, they’re my friends,” he said. “Every time we come to town, we go to their place.”

Q 106.5’s Scott Miller says Rowdy has the time of his life experiencing what the Maine lifestyle is all about.

“He’s a down-to-Earth guy who relates well to the average person, but also to corporate America,” Miller said.

Details are still being ironed out for Rowdy’s next visit, one that he calls a “Rowdy exclusive event,” which means the event will be focused on him and his show, instead of piggybacking his appearance with a concert or other event.

“You know it will be a party and we can’t wait to get him back here and get everyone together again,” said Miller.

Rowdy has more breaking news for fans and he chose The Maine Edge as his medium to reveal it: “Let’s just say that those who sinned with me on Saturday night will be saints with me on Sunday morning. That’s all I’m going to say about that right now.”

Rowdy is speaking of a new Sunday morning show that would complement “The Original Country Gold,” but could also stand on its own. Look for a launch in the spring. In the meantime, you’ll hear him on the show Saturday night.

“It’s absolutely incredible how ‘The Original Country Gold’ has become so ingrained in the lives of Maine listeners,” Rowdy said, disbelief in his voice.

“In a lot of markets, we would call that appointment listening, but in Maine, the show has actually become part of the lifestyle, and I couldn’t be more proud of that. I want to be the thing people look forward to on Saturday night. If I’m remembered for nothing else, that’s what I want people to remember me for – the fact that it was the highlight of their week.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 January 2020 09:10

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