Remembering the ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ Bill Mack

August 7, 2020

Wendy Parker

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The trucking community and radio airwaves lost one of the greats on July 31, when Country Radio Hall of Famer and Grammy-winning songwriter Bill Mack died.

“He passed peacefully, cracking jokes while we were saying goodbye to him,” his son Billy Mack said in an interview with Land Line. “He told us to pull ourselves together because we were embarrassing him in front of his beautiful nurse. That was just Dad. Always worried about how people around were feeling.”

The longtime radio personality was 91 years old when he died due to COVID-19 complications and underlying issues, according to a statement from his family.

‘The Midnight Cowboy’

It gets lonely on the road sometimes, especially in the wee hours of the morning. There’s not a driver out there who’s been at it for more than a minute that didn’t wish for someone to talk to them to keep them alert during the lull between 3 a.m. and sunrise.

Of course, nowadays there are cellphones with earpieces and headsets and geegaws that allow drivers to make a nearly instant telephone call when they’re feeling blue or need to hear a friendly voice to occupy the time and keep them awake.

When Bill Mack started his radio career, that wasn’t the case.

Mack began what would become a radio legacy in 1969 at WBAP, an AM radio station out of Fort Worth, Texas. The overnight country music show soon became a favorite of long-haul drivers rolling on when most people were tucked in bed sleeping.

Legend has it that Mack got the handle “Midnight Cowboy,” from a driver who called in. Mind you, this was back in the day when a driver would have to pull over at a place with a pay phone, find change to use the pay phone, and stand still while making the call.

Whether you knew it as “The Country Roads Show,” “U.S. 1 Trucking Show” or “Midnight Cowboy Trucking Show,” there was never a doubt that Mack was a friend of the truckers. Described as “the consummate host,” Mack also won a Grammy after penning the song “Blue,” which was made famous by LeAnn Rimes in 1996. Mack also had songs recorded by such country music legends as George Strait, George Jones, Ray Price and Jerry Lee Lewis.

One big truckin’ family

Billy’s memories of his father included more than one time in which he would visit the child of a trucker if he knew they were in the hospital.

“This was before social media – he didn’t do it for publicity – he did things like that because he genuinely cared,” he said.

“My dad was exactly in real life as he was on the radio. He shared everything.”

Billy recalled a time when his dad had called him during an airtime break. He had a flat tire, and told his dad about it.

“Of course, as soon as he went back on the air he mentioned me having a flat tire, and I’m not kidding, there were 10 drivers who called in to see if I needed help,” he said.

‘Consummate professional’

“Gracious,” “humble” and “a consummate professional” are the words Mack’s protege and eventual replacement used when describing the man.

Eric Harley began his radio career experience with Bill Mack long before they worked together.

“I grew up in Texas. I listened to Bill for years before I ever worked with him,” Harley said.

Harley was working for a rock-n-roll station when he happened to see an advertisement in a trade magazine for an opportunity to work with Mack. Harley was hired as producer for the show, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And it’s a history filled with fond memories.

“I had been listening to Bill for as long as I could remember,” Harley said. “So I was a little star-struck meeting him for the first time. He was honestly the nicest, most accommodating person I had ever met.”

Formats have changed but Harley continues to carry the torch of the overnight shift with Red Eye Radio.

Billy Mack says he and the family would love to have an all-out, big-time memorial for Mack as soon as all the COVID-19 concerns calm down.

“We’d love to see a big ol’ convoy in Dad’s honor,” he said, “that’s what we envisioned.”

We’ll continue to follow the progress of the memorial and let you know dates as soon as we do.

Rest well, Midnight Cowboy.

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