KRUN radio's Jeff Smith and Landy Cason host on the red carpet at music awards
Jeff Smith is the general manager of KRUN 1400 A.M., a small Ballinger country music radio station in an Agriplex area of over 2,000 square miles. Smith, along with KRUN morning show co-host, Landy Cason, is the driving force behind taking the station to new heights.
The Smith/Cason duo, together now for three years, are stacking up honors like a cord of mesquite firewood, "I believe the station was an good operation and doing fine just being a radio station. The station was going on before I got here and will be here long after we're gone. Our goal is that we want people to know what the heck we're doing out here in Ballinger, Texas. We don't want people to think we're backwoods hillbillies. We're all people with hopes and dreams and we want people to appreciate this area. Without goals, we would remain complacent. I don't know how many people came up to us at the the awards show and said that they didn't even know that there was a radio station in Ballinger," Smith commented.
That "awards show" was the Texas Regional Radio Music Awards (TRRMA) show in Arlington from March 21-22. The show attracts the biggest names in Texas country music, such as Kevin Fowler, Randy Rogers, Mark Powell, and Brodie Lane, as well as scores of other performers, producers and industry executives. The region that the awards covers is the entire southwest region of the United States, not merely a region a Texas. As a testament to the importance of the awards, they're recognized by the Billboard Music Awards. They are the only recognized Billboard country music awards in Texas. TRRMA doesn't only hand out awards to artists, they also had them out to radio stations, executives, talent, etc. This was the 3rd year that Smith and Cason were invited to the awards show.
This year's show held some surprises for the KRUN morning show duo. Smith said that one of those surprises was him and Cason being recognized by people throughout the recording industry, "It was different this year because we walked through there and people knew who we were. We were part of the club this year. The first year that we were there, no one knew us at all." Cason said that being at the show this year was exciting, "The first year, 2019, no one knew us. Then, 2020 was cancelled due to COVID. This year it we had artists telling other artists that they have to stop by KRUN if they get out to west Texas."
Smith and Cason are putting KRUN on the radio-station map, helping to bring recognition to this area, "The fact that a little radio station, that produces less than 1000 watts of power, can go up there and get this area recognized is humbling," Smith said. Smith and Cason were nominated for an award again this year, "We were top 5 in radio shows in our category in the state of Texas. There are upwards of 500-600 stations in our category. For us to represent Ballinger and the Agriplex is phenomenal. People think that this is the Ma and Pa kettle awards but they're huge. It's Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, as well as other states. It's great that people across the state and region recognize Ballinger and the Agriplex."
The Who's Who of the radio and music industry recognized Smith and Cason, many asking about visiting the station. Smith spoke about artists and executives he'd never met coming over and talking to him, "One of the members of the State Line Band came over and said that he wanted to come hang out with us on the radio because we have so much fun. He just wants to come over. It was a great night for us." Cason commented that it wasn't just artists who talked about the Jeff and Landy Morning Show, "I had a person walk up to me and tell me that he watched me and Jeff in the morning. They told me, 'We can't hardly drink a cup of coffee because y'all have us cracking up.' This guy is a big time producer."
The show had two big surprises in story for Smith and Cason. Smith said that the first surprise was on the red carpet, "We got asked to emcee the Red Carpet introductions and interviews. We interviewed the attendees as they walked down the red carpet. It was broadcast up until the awards show. We're just a little AM radio station in Ballinger, but this national awards show asked us to emcee the red carpet. We talked to everybody. Immediately afterward, the orgaizers asked us to do it again next year." Cason said that the organizers of the show asked them to return to the red carpet next year for one big reason, "Tammy Milspaugh and Dave Smith (organizers of the chart and awards ceremony) came up to us and told us, 'What we love about you is that you treated everyone the same.' That's what we did, treated everyone equally and had a great time doing it."
Smith and Cason said that the 2nd surprise was handing out an award, "We were sitting at our table when they came up to us and told us that we were handing out an award in 5 minutes. The best part was giving the award for Live Music Event of the Year. Mark Powell from Abilene, Texas won it. We were able to hand off a trophy to one of our brethren, born in Ballinger Texas." Cason said that handing out the award was a humbling experience, "We didn't know we were going to present the award until about 5 minutes before it was to be handed it out. Giving the award humbled me. When you walk into a place and are the only two people in the place are from here, but half of the people in there know who you are, is very humbling. I'm grateful for the opportunity."
With this being the duos third trip to the awards, Smith and Cason were asked if it was just as exciting as their first time attending the show, "It was a bigger thrill this time. Hosting the red carpet and handing out an award were incredible." Cason agreed that it was a bigger thrill this time, "When you walk in and people hug you and people know who you are but you don't know them, it's incredible. Since when does a person with a million record sales ever care about coming out to Ballinger? We had producers from Houston sitting at our table and talking about our little station."
Smith said that some of the artists that the guys met in Arlington are coming out to KRUN, "We've got some big names coming into the studio. Trent Willmon is coming out here. He is an icon in the industry. He helped build Cody Johnson, the first unsigned/independent artist to play to a sold out crowd at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Trent is the equivalent Dean Dillon, who helped build George Strait and is his go-to songwriter and producer. You never know, one of the artists or producers might come here and fall in love with the area. It could help the economy by bringing folks in. Hadon Hadek who won New male artist of the year is coming to KRUN in May."
While the trip was fun and thrilling for the two morning show hosts, Smith said that it also held importance for another reason, " It legitimizes what we try to do out there. No matter what happens, the station will be here. Next year will be the station's 75th year. We're still achieving goals that we've never achieved before. We're reaching folks that we may have never reached if we hadn't decided to go in the direction that we've gone in." Cason offers some additional insight, "It puts our footprint out there in the wet cement. Once our footprint is out there, people all over Texas know who we are. People' we've never met about us, KRUN, and this area.
The KRUN morning show is more than just local entertainment, they're known across the country and internationally, as Smith points out, "I can say this, between our show, our FB live, and our KRUN.com, we are verifiably in 34 different states as well as 5 different countries. We have a guy and his buddies in Poland listening to our show."
The show's roots go back to well before Smith ever took the helm at KRUN. Smith said that the foundation on which he and Cason build their show started almost 2 decades ago, "You never know how life is going to go. The story is basically that we were waiting in line for tickets for a concert. It was a Wednesday night when we were in line. I was 12 or 13-years old. My mom was there and met Jacklyn (Casons' wife) and Landy in line. My mom could engage anyone in conversation so she, Landy and Jacklyn talked while we waited in line. We were going to spend the night to get tickets the next morning because they expected the show to sell out quickly. We all started talking that evening and over the years we've kept that friendship going. When I heard that Landy opened a shop in Ballinger, I got excited. When mom's health start failing, I knew that I had to do something. I went to Landy and asked him if he wanted to join me for a morning show."
Cason said that deciding to join the morning show wasn't hard, "After we met Jeff and his mom, we kept in touch. Over the years we drove to Ballinger to watch Jeff play high school football. When he called me and pitched the idea of the morning show, I told him that I only wanted to do positive things on the radio. I came out here on a Wednesday evening and we started on Thursday morning. Now, I've been here for 3 years. I could live anywhere, but I love living here. I choose to try and do good to help this community as best I can."
The show has a decidedly positive theme, but they've also covered some of the hard topics. Smith said that covering some of those subjects is difficult, but he feels a duty to keep the community informed of what is going on, "We've covered some negative issues, but we look at them, try to take them on, and move forward. We don't hold any ill will towards anyone. We report with facts and then move on. Me and Landy have to have the tough conversations and talk about negative stories before we discuss them on the air. We're both residents of this town and we want the best for it. Sometimes people get upset, but people should know that we want to do what is right for Ballinger. When Tommy Turney was city manager and issues popped up, people on both sides stood firm. They were passionate, doing what they believed in. Regardless of which side you were on, you had to respect people for not bowing out or dropping something that they believed in.
The morning show has themes, such as Firearm Friday. They also have members of the Ballinger ISD administration in from time to time to discuss what is going on with the school district. Smith talked about wanting to showcase the good in the community and in the world, "We talk about local events and the importance of people getting out and supporting the events. We have a stupid criminal segment because it's funny to see some of these moments. We end every show with positive news because we feel like people don't get enough of that in today's media. We goof off on the air, we address serious issues because that is our duty, but we always end each show on a positive note. We want to pull back the veil and let people see that there is still good in the world.