On Oct. 17, 2019, the world lost one of country radio’s greatest personalities. Bob Kingsley died in Weatherford, Texas, following a lengthy battle with bladder cancer. He was 80 years old.
While many may remember Kingsley for different reasons, my memories of him are tied to his Country Top 40 show, my childhood, in a nutshell. As the old adage goes, most kids got up to watch Saturday morning cartoons; I got up to listen to Bob Kingsley.
He, along with my grandfather, were the two most influential people in shaping my early love for country music, even if my knowledge only extended to a small bracket of time. There was just something about that voice – warm, low, friendly and charismatic, like an elder statesmen of country music who, every Sunday, would invite you and I to come and enjoy not just a countdown show, but a way to hear stories; and, when the time would come, step into his metaphorical time machine segment and go back even further in country music history.
As a kid, getting up at 8 a.m. wasn’t easy, but it became my ritual to listen in, both to hear the music and to feel like I was sitting with an old friend. Sure, the actual chart information was available beforehand, but spoiling that would have been like spoiling the upcoming events in one’s favorite television show – besides, the focus was on the experience. Plus, it wasn’t just about hearing the top 40 country songs of the week. Kingsley would read letters from fans requesting particular songs, sharing a story of how that song connected with them – the essence of what country music is all about, really.
No, it wasn’t the only country countdown show, and Kix Brooks had always done a fine job with American Country Countdown; but as a kid, staying awake until midnight to hear the full-length show often wasn’t feasible. Plus, Kingsley just had that kind of voice that made greeting the new day so enjoyable and refreshing. So often, people claim that others “have a voice for radio,” but, in my opinion, I’m not sure there was a better voice for it than Kingsley.
There was one particular December where I slept in around two hours later than I was supposed to. I missed the show – it was like the end of the world. So, because my favorite show was the year-end countdown, I made sure to stay up all night the Saturday beforehand, just so I could hear that show. Of course, given that it was a four-hour show, my family would only listen with me for a little while. They’d go about their day while I’d sit in my room and listen to my radio, content with just sitting there and … listening.
Kingsley was known for so much more than one show, however. A member of the Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame, inducted in 1998, Kingsley later became the format’s fifth representative in the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2016. He started his radio career in 1959 as an announcer for the Armed Forces Radio Service station while serving in the Air Force. His early career included work at stations in Las Vegas and Tijuana, Mexico before landing at KGBS in Los Angeles and that city’s KLAC, which switched to a country format, programmed by him, in 1970.
In 1974, Kingsley became the producer of the nationally syndicated American Country Countdown, launched a year earlier by Casey Kasem and Don Bustany. He succeeded the show’s host Don Bowman, in 1978, and left in 2005, after which he began hosting Country Top 40.
For me, my formative years where I developed a love for country music mostly extend from around 2007-2010. For that time, and for a few years more until current country music and I didn’t mix well anymore, Kingsley provided an entertaining journey exploring the past and present of country music. In a year where we’ve lost too many well-known figures in country music, losing Kingsley is like losing a close, personal friend.
Thank you, Bob Kingsley.