CMT Radio and Hot 20 Countdown host, Cody Alan, is a well-known voice to all fans of country music. His radio shows, social media pages and hosting gigs have made him a household name amongst country music industry’s biggest stars. I chose to sit down with Cody because the man I have gotten to know and work alongside as a CMT Radio correspondent and associate producer for years is so much more than just a voice. I wanted to discover more about the hat-donning host and expose his realness, dedication and kindness.
Pour a drink and read how a small-town South Carolina boy took over country radio.
By: Marley Sherwood
Well, cheers! I have known you for almost four years now. We talk on the road, in Nashville, on the radio… but for this let’s pretend we don’t know each other all that well, cool?
Alright, Marls! I will erase all memory of you, which is very hard to do because you are a very memorable person. That’s what I love about you. Wait, is this interview about you or me?
Yes, please… let me talk. Tell me how it all started. How did you become involved in the radio industry?
It started when I was 15 years old. All I ever wanted to do was be on the radio. I thought for a moment I wanted to be a TV weatherman. I would make elaborate cardboard weather maps that I would show to my mom and dad. It would show where the fronts were coming in and I would give full on broadcasts at our house. My dad was such a fan of music — specifically radio — that I fell in love with the idea of hearing stories about the musicians and learning more about the artists. I decided radio was going to be my path. And that is how I got my first job on air in radio at 15.
This was in South Carolina, where you are from?
Yeah, it was a small station about 15 minutes from my house. Most guys are taking girls on dates at 15 years old as a sophomore in high school. Not me. I was going to the radio station. That was my girl. That was my first love. I got a call that someone on the graveyard shift was sick. I wanted to be on air so badly. I was over the moon about it. That was my first experience on the radio. I must have done well because they hired me.
What comes next in this story?
I went a few places after South Carolina. I went to Georgia, Florida and I got my first big gig in Orlando. At 23 years old I got a call from Dallas. I kind of built my way up from an overnight shift to a bigger market job at The Wolf in Dallas and was there for 10 years.
When does landing the job in Nashville, Music City, come into the mix?
I learned a lot about myself in Dallas, a lot about the music industry and I was a part of a big radio station. We all think Nashville is the center of country music — and it is — but the Texas music scene is so happening. When I was there you had guys like Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band and more. I was sort of a part of that revolution. To find those guys, put them on the air and now see them as huge stars is a big deal. The Wolf in Dallas was really the center of making some of those country artists. Those experiences really brought me to Nashville. Not only did I meet some awesome people and make a reputation for myself, I learned a lot about being on air. I learned that it could be a future in bigger ways for me, not just radio.
Was it challenging transitioning from radio to TV?
Ya know, it wasn’t a huge leap. I always felt like I could be on TV because of my radio background. Radio is so spontaneous and an everyday thing. Whereas the TV show I do for CMT, the Hot 20 Countdown, is weekly. There was a difference but it was an easy transition. I already knew how to make a connection with listeners for radio that it kind of came natural for me to take it to TV. Of course don’t forget all those years pretending to be a weatherman as well.
This year you publicly came out as a gay man. I have always known so it made no difference to me, but now you are embracing a whole new chapter in your life. What made you decide it was the right time?
I knew when I was really young that I was gay. I was drawn to Spiderman in his tights. There was something about these superheroes that I really liked. I didn’t understand why, but I knew it. I always felt like I didn’t have a choice, so for a long time I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I got married, had kids and I’m so happy I did those things. They brought me to where I am now. I wonder where I would be now if I made that choice earlier. It evolved to the point where I felt that I needed to be real. I didn’t like being dishonest. I needed to be my most authentic self. It was a step-by-step process. I told the people who were closest to me first. I knew that I needed to tell the public. I always shared so much of my life with people as a public figure on social media, the radio and TV. I shared my kids, my wife and struggles when I decided to get a divorce. I had this connection with the audience I had built, so why would I keep my secret? It was something I needed to talk about once I became comfortable in my own skin. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come forth and said nice things to me. I’ve heard stories from people who can relate with similar situations and really struggle with not knowing how to come out. Even situations that don’t deal with being gay. When you get real with someone they become vulnerable. There is a realness that happens that becomes a stronger bond. I have experienced this with my audience and it has been a really great experience overall.
One of the things I admire about you is that you and your ex-wife are still the best of friends. You have a partner, she has a new man and you all vacation and have family dinners together. You have maintained being a family with a bit of a “Modern Family” twist.
Honestly, I was so scared about talking to my kids. You just don’t know how kids will react. Luckily, mine are old enough that I could share this and they understood. I think the generation now is so different from those in the past. To them, being gay is like your hair color or eye color. It’s just the way you are. Kids understand that. When I was a kid our generation didn’t. I spoke with my kids and my family was so wonderful. My ex-wife was pretty disappointed at first, but she has been incredibly compassionate, kind and understanding. She knew from the beginning that this was not a choice. Nor, would I reveal something so personal to her unless I really meant it. We came to an understanding and decided we would not hate each other. We still had a really great relationship that went beyond anything else. We have kept that alive to this day.
You have worked with about every country star there is. What has been one of those moments you will never forget?
I remember Dolly Parton coming into CMT. An iconic figure, literally and figuratively. I had seen her on TV, in movies and of course her music is so good. So this legend walks into CMT and I was so anxious that day. I was so nervous I didn’t even know what I was even going to wear. She was so wonderful and kind… exactly how you would want her to be. I remember saying to her that I had been watching her videos on YouTube preparing for my interview and it came out, “I have been watching your videos all day on YouBOOB.” She thought it was hilarious, but it was definitely something I will never forget.
How do you like to prepare for an interview?
I prefer to be really prepared. I want to know the artist well enough to have a great conversation. I think sometimes if you do not prepare you will end up saying things that don’t go together. I want to be able to listen and not worry about what I am going to say next. You want to have a real conversation with someone.
Working alongside you for so long I will vouch for that. You are always prepared, but I think you are forgetting one Cody Alan pre-interview ritual…
Yes! Ha, you are so right. They get my blood pumping, I get in my zone.
Who was the last person you texted?
Well, you on the elevator on my way here. Let me look quick. Ah! It was my mom. I told her I had this interview.
We are lucky to work alongside country artists daily and attend their concerts for work. Who is one artist that you would still buy a ticket for their show?
That is actually a long list. I am a fan of so many artists. [I’d say] Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, One Republic and Toby Keith.
When an artist leaves an interview, how do you want them to think of you?
First of all, I want them to have a great time during our interviews. Look, what I am doing is not serious, it is not rocket science. I want them to have the same kind of experience during an interview with me as they would if they were on Jimmy Fallon. I want to be a likable, friendly guy who treats people well. I want them to think, “He asked the right questions and we had a great time together.” That is what I would want them to take away from our interviews.
So, do you keep your email inbox clean or unread?
Oh, I have to read them all. I delete a lot of them. Mostly the ones from you! I am joking, but I have to have my inbox clean.
What is your favorite part about Nashville?
Besides you and this rooftop? I love that Nashville is a small town in a “city.” You can drive five minutes and see cows and yet it is a huge entertainment hub. Being a part of all of this— two worlds of city and country colliding — is pretty awesome.
If you could give any piece of advice to an aspiring journalist, what would you tell them?
First of all, work hard. Nothing can ever replace hard work. Prove yourself over and over every single day. Broadcasting is about an everyday experience. Nobody cares about the show you did yesterday or today really. It is about tomorrow. You have to deliver tomorrow. Secondly, dream. Never stop dreaming. Visualize exactly what you want in your head, over and over again.
How many hats do you own?
Too many. I don’t even count anymore. I need a closet just for my hats. The truth is I wear the same ones over and over again. For a long time I thought being bald was scary. I was pretty young when I started losing my hair. I never thought I could be on TV without hair so it became a staple I guess.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
When I was young I would come home from school and I would watch Oprah at 4 p.m. every day. I always thought she was such a curious person. I love how she interviewed people. I took a lot of notes early on about how she spoke to people, how she cared about others, how she gave back and I have always admired her a lot. I would love to sit down with her. I also love how she built an empire from humble beginnings, being an underdog her entire life. She had to prove that being herself and having her weaknesses— being an African American woman on TV, overweight at times — was actually her showing strength. She related to people and I feel like I have resonated with her story a lot.
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