Originally published in the March 4, 1997 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Holly Dunn’s launched a new career in country radio, but she’s not burning all her bridges behind her.
In fact, as the Grammy‑nominated “Daddy’s Hands” singer warms up to her new full-time gig on morning radio, she’s anxiously awaiting the release of a new album.
“My new album is called Leave One Bridge Standing,” Holly told COUNTRY WEEKLY. “It’s a fortuitous title now that I’m living in Detroit and working in radio. I titled it last year before I had any idea about this!”
Holly’s a morning show co‑host on powerhouse country station, WWWW. When COUNTRY WEEKLY visited just a few days after her radio debut, Holly looked right at home in the crowded W4 studio, bantering easily with co‑host Jim Bosh and news anchor Toni Miller.
“This opportunity came completely out of the blue,” Holly explained. “Late last November I was planning my tour for this year, thinking about which songs to keep and which to throw out and all that stuff. Then I got a call from T.K. Kimbrell (manager of Sawyer Brown and Toby Keith) telling me that W4 wanted to add an artist to their morning show and wondering if I would be interested.
“I was like ‘What?! Has anyone ever done this before?’ and T.K. said it hadn’t been done before. It sounded interesting, so I flew up here to meet with Mark Hamlin (Program Director) and Peter Connolly (General Manager). Their enthusiasm, professionalism and willingness to work with me just won me over. They were so accommodating.”
“Holly was our first choice for the job,” said Hamlin. “When she said she was interested, we didn’t approach anyone else. When we did our call‑out research, we asked our listeners about a number of artists, including Holly. We were looking for familiarity and popularity and Holly scored extremely high in both.”
Holly grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of a minister. She moved to Nashville in the early ’80s with a degree in advertising and public relations, and worked as a receptionist and staff writer at CBS Songs.
Before she became a recording artist, Holly had already made a name for herself as a songwriter, writing hits for the likes of Louise Mandrell, Cristy Lane and the Whites. She released her debut album on MTM records in 1985 and has scored two No. 1 hits and nine Top 10 singles for herself, including the megahit, “Daddy’s Hands,” which she penned for her father.
Holly seems to be fitting right in with the morning-show crew. “Jim is certifiably nuts,” Holly said laughing. “He is probably one of the most brilliant and creative people I’ve ever worked with. He’s really fast and you have to hang on for dear life when you’re with him because his adrenaline is just cranking and you’ve got to stay up to speed with him. He is incredible.
“Toni Miller is also wonderful. She has been at the station for eight years. She has survived so many managerial and ownership changes because she is one of the best radio news women around. She’s very solid. And she has been so sweet and very gracious about allowing me to sandwich myself into the middle of this team.”
Morning-show disc jockeys keep hours unheard of in the world of country music artists, but Holly is up to the challenge. “No one is on the streets before 10:00 am in Nashville,” Holly said with a laugh. “This is a strange schedule because I get up at 2:45 in the morning and have to be here by 5:30. Then I have to be in bed by 7:00 every night. I miss all my favorite morning news shows on TV and all my favorite night time shows. My VCR is whirring away!
“I do feel a little unsettled. My body has that weird physical feeling like I just got off a long overseas flight. But I’m feeling more rested and stronger every day so I think I’m getting used to it.”
She may be tired, but Holly looks fabulous and sounds like she’s been doing this radio thing forever as she fields calls from excited listeners welcoming her to Detroit. “The people here are so friendly,” Holly declares. “They go out of their way to be helpful. It has been really wonderful to feel so welcomed.”
Her new WWWW family made sure Holly became part of the community right off the bat. “The week before I came, the station had listeners call and tell them why they wanted W4 to bring Holly Dunn to visit them. They picked four winners at random and we went out to see them on my first day,” Holly explained. “First we broadcast the morning show from a Holiday Inn and they called it the ‘Holly Day Inn,’ ” Holly said with a laugh. “Then we went out in this humongous tour bus with a police escort and the two station vehicles with flashing lights at the head of the motorcade. I felt like a visiting dignitary or something.
“It was incredible ‑- absolutely awesome,” Holly declared. “One of our four winners was Washington Elementary School in Warren. The music teacher had worked up ‘Daddy’s Hands’ with the kids and when we got there, the entire school sang ‘Daddy’s Hands’ to me. They had a karaoke machine playing the music, and they all sang. It was just killer. It was so touching. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”
Holly also visited a fire hall, a bowling alley and a local business. “We just tried to cover the town,” Holly explained. “We went a couple of hundred square miles and it was really fun.”
As she settles into her new home, she’s already found a favorite grocer. “Vic’s is this incredible gourmet grocery store,” Holly stated. “Instead of three hot sauces, they have like 45 hot sauces from all over the world. They have all kinds of cheeses, a great coffee selection, wines, a great deli. This place is so cool. I don’t think there is anything like it in Nashville. I’ll be spending a lot of time there!”
Support of Holly’s new career doesn’t end with the Motor City. Plenty of her peers from Music City are thrilled for Holly. “After they got over the inital shock I think they are all happy for me,” Holly said. “Kathy Mattea called on my first in‑studio day and I think she was a little jealous! Being a disc jockey has been a secret dream of hers, and if anyone could do it, it’s Kathy. She is very articulate.” WWWW listeners heard Terri Clark, Toby Keith, Ricochet, Rhett Akins and other country stars call Holly with their best wishes on the air. “I think we are modeling this here,” Holly said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see another artist do radio somewhere else.”
While Holly is settling into her new job, Nashville’s River North records continues plans for the release of Holly’s new album — her ninth. “This is a great album,” Holly remarked. “It’s funny it should happen now because it’s the record I’ve been waiting to do for a while. Don Cook and Chris Waters produced it, and it’s killer stuff.
“My only concern about moving to Detroit was that I can’t tour to support Leave One Bridge Standing and it really deserves that. But, I’ve been on the road for 10 years and there are very few places I haven’t been in the country market. Hopefully we’ll be able to roll on without the tour support.”
In the meantime, Holly will continue to write songs when she’s not out familiarizing herself with Detroit. “I plan to get out and really get to know Detroit,” Holly said. “If they are nice enough to have me, I should at least do my part to learn about the people and the area so I can speak with knowledge instead of relying on Jim and Toni’s Detroitese.”
photos by Hugh Grannum