Bobby (Estell) Bones’ warm Southern voice is the soundtrack to millions of Americans’ morning commutes. His relaxed, down-to-earth personality has garnered “The Bobby Bones Show” die-hard fans, who follow his every tweet, Instagram post and Snapchat story.
But Bones, affectionately known as “The Voice of Country Music,” wasn’t always sharing microphones with celebrities like Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker and Keith Urban. He came from humble beginnings in rural Arkansas and defied all the odds to become one of today’s most well-known voices on radio. He’s come a long way, and much of it can be credited to his simple mantra, “Fight. Grind. And repeat.”
Bones grew up in the small town of Mountain Pine, Arkansas (population: 777). He biked to school from second grade until he turned 16, attended youth group at his church and played baseball — normal kid stuff. But other aspects of his childhood were far from story book. In his memoir Bare Bones, he lays it out for readers: He grew up poor. His dad walked out early, and his mom had a lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol. From a young age, Bones knew he wanted out of Mountain Pine. To do that, he’d need to go to college.
“I was lucky enough to know really early in life that [college] was the route I needed to take,” Bones says. “No one in my family had graduated high school, much less college, so it seemed like a crazy idea at first. But the closer I got to it, the more determined I became. I studied hard, took extra classes to learn how to take the ACT and worked a few jobs to make car payments.”
That same competitive drive led him to become the captain of the 12th-grade quiz bowl team when he was just 12 years old. Bones has considered himself a nerd ever since, and today his signature eye glasses help complete the look.
“You never really leave your nerdiness,” he says. “It’s something I’m proud of. Being a nerd wasn’t cool for a long time, but nerds rule the world. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk — all nerds.”
When it came time to apply for college, Bones’ scores were good enough to land him a full scholarship at a state school. As a die-hard Razorback fan, Bones had his sights on the University of Arkansas. That is, until he landed a radio gig at KLAZ in Hot Springs. Instead, Bones decided to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (just an hour away from the job).
“I got a job doing what I felt was my lifelong profession,” he says. “Yeah, it was tough, but I loved it at HSU.”
The decision to switch schools to pursue his dream of being on the radio quickly paid off. Just a few days before his first day of work, a weekend radio DJ was fired, which left the station in desperate need. Bones got a call saying they needed him to go on air. According to his memoir, that was the moment he chose his DJ name, and Bobby Bones was born.
Bones stayed at KLAZ throughout his time at Henderson, waking up early in the morning for his classes and working at the station from 4 p.m. to midnight. His DJ shifts were followed by study sessions at the Waffle House until 3 a.m., then he did it all over again. he eventually ran the college radio station KSWH 91.1 FM too.
Determined to make radio his career, Bones put in the long hours, plus plenty of overtime. His mantra “Fight. Grind. And repeat.” kept him on track.
“I had to pay my bills, car payment, rent, etc.,” he says. “That was my situation. I had no connections and no money. Two things that told me I needed to [start working] early.”
Before graduation, Bones begged his way into a job at Q-100, Little Rock’s Top 40 station. Once he had his diploma, Bones moved to Little Rock to work full time. In just six months, he made a name for himself beyond Arkansas, thanks to a prank he pulled on a competitor’s radio broadcast.
Bones’ sidekick Gilligan infiltrated the Alice 107.7 radio station, used the office phone to call Bones and turned Bones all the way up on the air. The stunt landed him a job offer at a bigger radio station in Austin, Texas.
Bones continued his radio pranking in Austin at 96.7 KISS FM, which helped make “The Bobby Bones Show” even more popular. He also found a few lifelong friends. Listeners of Bones’ show will recognize the names Lunchbox and Amy, his co-hosts, who all met during Bones’ time in the Lone Star State.
During his time in Austin, Bones continued to make a name for himself in radio.
THE BIG TIME
In 2012, Bones was approached by a big-time radio executive. “The Bobby Bones Show” had become a small, but syndicated company with a few affiliates scattered around the country — and fans loved it. iHeartMedia rolled out the red carpet for Bones, offering him a national show based in Nashville.
Today, the show, which is syndicated by Premiere Networks, can be found nationwide and reaches millions of listeners on nearly 100 stations, including markets such as Washington, D.C., Boston and Miami. Forbes calls Bones “the most powerful man in country music,” and in June 2017, Bones beat Ryan Seacrest to the punch when he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Bones is the youngest-ever inductee and joins radio greats like Dick Clark and Larry King.
Even though he’s made it big, Bones credits his success to that same hard work and determination that got him a full-ride scholarship to college and in the doors at his first radio gig. His advice to students is to work hard, work for free and work harder than you ever have. It’ll pay off.
“I didn’t get here because of talent,” he says. “I have a lot of friends that are way funnier, more interesting or have better voices. I just refuse to quit. My goal is to outwork everyone.”
BEYOND THE MIC
Hometown: Mountain Pine, Arkansas
First jobs: Waiter, bus boy, golf course maintenance, sales associate at Hobby Lobby
First celeb you met in radio: “Darius Rucker! Hootie!”
First autograph signed: “My aunt when I was 11. And I promised her it would be worth something someday. Still hoping that it will!”
Nicest celebs you’ve met: Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker and Dierks Bentley
Biggest career milestone: “I have helped to raise over $6 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.”
Go-to Arkansas food: Shorty Smalls, Little Rock
BOBBY BONES BY THE NUMBERS
Hourly pay for Bobby’s first radio job
Number of radio stations airing “The Bobby Bones Show” on any given morning
Number of days on-air per year
Time Bobby’s alarm clock goes off every day “And sometimes earlier,” he says, which is why his bedtime is 8 p.m.
Year Bobby graduated from Henderson State University