For over 45 years, Karl Shannon has been one of the most recognizable voices on the radio airwaves. With his legendary career, he could write multiple books on what he has seen and heard behind the microphone.
It all began when Karl Shannon left college after one year and took a job working at WSAC at Fort Knox in 1972. That first job would help land a lifelong career in broadcasting.
According to Karl, his love for acting got him into radio broadcasting. “In high school, I did all kinds of stuff – sports, and I was in the band,” Shannon recalls. “I was also in drama and I loved acting in high school plays. I did all of that and then when I got out of school I was going to go to college. The only thing with theatrical arts I could take was in the third year and I only wanted to go to two. So I went to college for a semester and just hated it. I saw this ad for a radio broadcasting school. I thought, ‘well that’s kind of like acting.’ So I went there and took about a six month course. I got out of school on a Friday and I had a job on the first weekend in Fort Knox at WSAC.”
Karl Shannon has worked for several stations, including the legendary WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He was known as the announcer of Bill Monroe’s last show on the Grand Ole Opry before his passing. He also gained many friendships over the years including Vince Gill and Garth Brooks, both of which have made a name for themselves.
During his time at WSM, Karl remembered a young artist that left a memorable first impression. “We had Faith Hill on a show that we put on every year during the radio seminar. We teamed up with Warner Brother Records for a show at the Opry House. We had her and it was her first show. They would bring the artists into the studio and she was so shy and nervous. There was something about her that made me think that this girl’s going to be big and a huge star. It ended up that she was. I interviewed her a few years back and she remembered,” said Karl.
Karl reflected on pushing folks to sign a new singer in Lexington making a scene at Austin City Saloon. That singer would be John Michael Montgomery. “I kept telling these record label people that someone needs to come here and hear this guy,” Shannon said. “So finally after 6-7 months, somebody did and they signed him to a record deal. I knew the first time I saw him. This kid is good looking, a killer guitar player, and great singer. He’s the total package of what they’re looking for. He’s done quite well for himself.”
While working at WINN radio station in Louisville, Karl Shannon was approached with a once in a lifetime opportunity. After going to about a dozen shows, Waylon Jennings asked Karl about going out on the road with him for a couple of weeks to see how things were run.
“Waylon asked me to come out on the road and I told him that I’ve got to work. He said, ‘let me call your boss.’ So he calls my boss, Moon Mullins, and said that I was going to go out on the road with him, but he would pay to have someone work for him. I got to go and hang out and do shows. It was amazing to ride on the bus. It was pretty awesome. I got down to Texas and he flew me back to Nashville to get my car and I went on home. Even though he had the outlaw image, he was just a good guy,” Karl Shannon reflected.
Karl Shannon would soon return back to Central Kentucky to host morning shows for various stations. As radio changed formats, those stations would soon rely on national personalities not broadcasting live in the Lexington area. However, Hank 96.1 offered him a new home, much to the delight of radio listeners. With his knowledge of music legends, as well as respect by many, Karl Shannon was the best fit for the job. His wit, wisdom, and love of the area is showcased each day with his broadcast.
Not only is he involved in radio, but Karl Shannon LOVES classic cars. Many will recall his popular charity car show events, providing funds for charities. Josh Turner performed very early in his career, as well as many others. Alan Jackson and others allowed their personal classic cars to be on display. There would also be silent auctions to help with the charities. Lately, the shows have been held at Waveland Historic Home just outside of Lexington. Waveland is a place dear to Karl as he gets to showcase his acting talents as the Ghost of Christmas Present with their holiday play production.
In speaking with Karl, one thing that excites him beyond music and classic cars is talking about our Veterans. “I’m a military brat. My dad was retired from the Army and loved the Army,” said Shannon. “He passed away when he was 83, but if they had called him at 83 and said ‘Sarge, we need you to come,’ he would have been there. He just loved the Army. He wanted me to enlist when I turned 18, but that was during Vietnam. I already had 3 or 4 friends go over there that didn’t come back. I told him that my draft number was 340, so I felt pretty safe. I told him that I was going to take my chances on this. If I get drafted, then yeah I will go. With everything going on, I didn’t want to join the Army even though the Army has been really good to us.”
For ten years, Karl Shannon had a Veterans Appreciation Picnic at Thomson-Hood Veterans Center thanks to the idea of the late Rodney Parsons of Equipment Sales and Rental. He approached Karl with a two week timeline to start it. That first year started with 20 cars for the residents to be able come out and look at them. Chic-Fil-A and Ale-8-One donated lunch each year and silent auctions helped raised funds for Thomson-Hood for items such as exercise bikes or other items needed.
Karl recalled the picnic by noting that, “each year it got bigger, that by the tenth year, we had probably 200 vehicles. We had Black Hawk helicopters fly in and military displays. We had music and it was so much fun. It was all to show thanks to our Veterans. If you were a Veteran, you got to have free lunch.”
One moment that stood out with the picnic was handing out trophies. “Every year, I would have ten trophies and have the residents go out and give them to the cars they liked. There’s no judging and I think in 10 years, I got one trophy. It is the most cherished ones I’ve gotten because it was picked by a Veteran.”
One year, Karl Shannon met with a Veteran who mentioned that he sure would love a trophy. Karl promised him one and had one made that thanked him for his service. In turn, he reached out to others that may have trophies they no longer needed. They fixed them up and handed them out to the Veterans as a thank you for their service. For some, this was the only honor outside of their medals of service they had ever received.
This Friday, September 14, 2018, Karl Shannon will be sending his final farewells on the radio as he plans to retire. Our morning commutes won’t be the same without his voice over the air. However, he does plan to continue his voice-over work for clients, as well as keep busy with a few other projects. As always, he will be helping Santa Claus throughout the year and reporting on who is naughty or nice!
As Karl Shannon and I ended our conversation, we began reflecting back on his career and how he would best be remembered by. For Karl, he wants to be remembered, “as a good guy. I always try to be nice to people. I’ve tried to be respectful to people that I’ve met, not only artists, but listeners. I would always try to do something to make them think that I’m one of them. I want to be known as a good guy who loved his family, loved my wife, and that others enjoyed listening to on the radio.
On behalf of radio listeners and musicians, we want to personally thank Karl Shannon for entertaining us with music, trivia, news, laughter, and even letting us know “is there skool today?” reports. You taught us all that kindness goes a long way in this community and how we should honor and respect our Veterans. You will be missed, but we look forward to seeing you shining up your classic cars for one of the many car shows!
A few more photos of the past courtesy of Karl Shannon:
Jessica Bray is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.