From humble beginnings at her college radio station at Western Kentucky University, Kelly Ford has made the bigtime after more than 25 years in country music radio. This three-time CMA Award winner is now in Nashville where she is the co-host of “America’s Morning Show,” a nationally syndicated program on NASH. She spent 20 years honing her craft in Denver, Colorado, on air at a country radio station before moving to New York City three years ago to start a country station there — to give some perspective, there had not been a country music station in New York City in 17 years. After introducing New York to all that country music has to offer, she got the coveted job at NASH right here in Music City. This Louisville, Kentucky, native is so excited to be back in the South. If she’s not in the studio during the wee dark hours of the morning, you’ll find her exploring the beautiful outdoors in Middle Tennessee. Welcome Kelly Ford, today’s FACE of Nashville.
How did you get involved in radio? When was your first spark of interest in broadcasting?
I love to talk. At some point during my college years at Western Kentucky University, it dawned on me that I could actually get paid to TALK! No heavy lifting! Where do I sign up? My first job was at WLRS in Louisville, Kentucky, and every two weeks I would get a check … just for talking!
When you first got a job in country music (and be honest), were you a country music fan?
I grew up in the South and my parents loved country music, so I was the rebellious kid who didn’t want to love what my parents loved. Rock/pop was what the cool kids listened to back then — Springsteen, U2 and Prince. My first year in country radio was also the breakthrough year for a new artist named Garth Brooks. One of us did very very well! He’s never properly thanked me for making his career! From Garth on, I was hooked and I still am today. Oh, and of course now the cool kids love their country too!
How hard was it establishing a country music radio station in New York City, a city where they had not had a country music presence in 17 years?
New York City and the Tri-state area is the place where the most country music is sold so we knew there was an audience for NASH. When we launched, we immediately heard from country fans who said “Finally MY music in MY city!” It was so special to be a part of launching such a unique brand and the first live voice heard on any NASH station in the country.
What’s the biggest difference in your job in New York City and your job in Nashville and what was the biggest difference between your longtime job in Denver and your job in New York City?
All three jobs are very different because every city has its own personality and I was/am at different places in my life personally and professionally. My listeners in Denver grew up with me and my family and vice versa. I recently posted a reflection about the 9/11 anniversary and was so humbled that my voice was part of their memory of that day. My listeners followed my three pregnancies and watch me change and evolve as a broadcaster, woman, mother and wife.
In New York, it was all about new beginnings. Nobody knew who I was there and I had to earn their trust and prove myself. But I was also at a stage of experience in broadcasting and life where I knew it was time to rise to the challenge. I grew to love and respect that city and the people there so much. And I feel so lucky I get to continue to experience it as a second home because our show is broadcast there.
As for Nashville, it’s like coming home. I’ve been coming here for my 20-plus years in country radio and I grew up in Kentucky so this feels right. I feel like every single experience I’ve had personally and professionally has led to this opportunity and I’ve never been more prepared and capable to take it on.
I’m sure you have a lot of stories about musicians and celebrities. Who is your favorite musician or celebrity that you have worked with? (We won’t ask you about your worst!)
I love Dierks Bentley so much I named my dog after him (Bentley). And the worst? An easy answer — this guy named Chuck Wicks.
Oh wait, nevermind. I have to work with him every day. I LOVE Chuck!
You’re a Louisville native and you are finally back in the South, closer to your roots. What did you miss the most about being gone from this area?
I missed the pace, the generosity, the charm, the characters, the barbecue, hot summer nights, rainstorms, delicious tomatoes off the vine, my sisters and my mother.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
The alarm rings at 2:30 a.m. Snooze. Again at 2:40 a.m. Snooze. Again at 2:50 a.m. Time to make the donuts! Arrive at work by 3:45 a.m. Last-minute show planning before the show starts at 5 a.m.
Show ends at 9 a.m. We plan next day’s show, meetings, record promos, commercials, etc., from 9 a.m. to noon-ish. Head home to let dogs and chickens out, nap, workout or run and/or run errands. Pick my daughter up from school at 3:15 p.m. Ask daughter if she’s done homework. Make dinner. Ask daughter if she’s done homework. Touch base with team on show. Ask daughter if she’s done homework. In bed no later than 9 p.m.
What advice do you treasure?
To put my oxygen mask on first before helping others. There’s such wisdom in that instruction.
What advice would you give to a young woman looking to get into the broadcasting business?
Be authentic, be tenacious and enlist mentors for your journey.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I can sing the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic. I collect rosary beads.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
I’m a big fan of the 12 South area. I love the restaurants and the shops. Draper James, Emerson Grace, Tatyana’s. Love Bar Taco, Urban Grub and Flip Burger. Eclectic, fun and oozing with Nashville charm.
Favorite thing to do in Nashville?
Broadway of course. You never know who you might catch performing at one of the bars. And the people watching is fantastic!
Are you a night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Early bird. I better be! Being home enjoying the beautiful woods around it is really my quiet time. Like everybody, I wish I could spend more time there.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
What are three of your favorite things right now (besides God, family and friends)?
- Exploring outdoors in Tennessee. Love to hike and wanna do kayaking. Tried it for the first time this summer and fell in love.
- My chickens: Hennifer Nettles, Reba Cluckentire and Loretta Hen.
Thank you, Kelly, for taking time out of your very busy day to speak with us. Now get some rest! And special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photos.
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