JD Cannon is as big a part of listening to country music on central Indiana radio as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks or Miranda Lambert.
After nearly 44 years spinning Nashville's top hits, Cannon is retiring. He spent the last five years of his epic career at WHLK-FM 97.1, and his last day will be April 28.
Before joining Emmis Communication Corp.’s WHLK “Hank,” Cannon spent 32 years at Cumulus Media Inc.’s country stalwart, WFMS-FM 95.5. He started his career at a country station in Madison, Wisconsin, where he spent four years.
“I didn’t have any intention of going into country music,” Cannon said. “But they told us in broadcasting school, 'If you get a job, any job in radio, you take it.' And so I did.”
A 2004 Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee, Cannon will continue as Hank’s brand ambassador and do an occasional on-air shift. In that capacity, not only will Cannon do weekday and weekend shifts, but he’ll also appear at public events.
“I’m happy to be keeping my toe in it,” Cannon said. “I knew I couldn’t just walk away after all these years.”
Although the decision to retire was tough, Cannon, 63, said he felt the timing was right.
“May will mark 44 years that I have been blessed with this wonderful career in country music,” he said. “Lots of great memories to carry me the rest of my life. I’m so grateful, but I’m also ready to start the next chapter.”
Cannon, a native of Lansing in northeastern Iowa, said he plans to kick off his retirement with a two-week cruise that includes a trip through the Panama Canal. He also plans to spend some time on the West Coast and make a trip back home to his family’s dairy farm.
“Anytime I think the hours in radio suck, I think of my brother milking those cows twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year back in Iowa,” Cannon said. “Now that’s hard work.”
Cannon is on air from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, which is double the length of a typical on-air shift.
“We keep him on the air so long for one simple reason,” said WHLK Program Director Fritz Moser. “He’s an icon and our listeners love him.”
The search for Cannon’s replacement began this month. Moser said finding someone to fill Cannon’s void is next to impossible.
“There is no replacement for JD. They don’t make them like that anymore. If you think of country music in Indianapolis, JD Cannon is the first name that comes to mind,” Moser said. “That’s not only true in Indianapolis, but Nashville as well. He’s so well-respected. He is well-known by the heads of all the country music labels and the biggest artists in the industry as well. It just shows you how good JD is at making a connection.”
His close relationships with the likes of Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney, among others, is due to one thing, Cannon said.
“I don’t lie to them. I’m fair and honest and I’ve found that, if you treat people that way, they treat you that way in return,” he said. “I’ve spent time with a lot of artists long before they were known to anybody. They’ll ask my opinion on their music. And I tell them the truth—good or bad.”
As big as he is in country music, Cannon remains “very, very humble," Moser said.
“That’s why we haven’t announced [his retirement] on the air yet,” Moser said. “JD wanted to keep this very low-key.”
Emmis officials are planning an event in the spring to let local country music fans “congratulate JD on his career,” Moser said. Details will be announced on-air at a later date.
As for what he’ll miss most, that’s easy, Cannon said.
“I will miss interacting with the listeners the most. Those folks feel like family,” he said. “I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. I’ve really loved that interaction. And I feel so very blessed to have had that in my life.”