Brent Lane's Cat Pak Rises to the Top and Shines
The Pensacola radio station has even been recognized by the CMA.
photo by Steven Gray
“The theory of radio is that you’re always talking to one person at a time. I’m never talking to y’all, I’m talking to you. When you listen to me, it’s like we’re having a conversation inside of your head.” - Brent Lane, Co-host, “Cat Pak Morning Show”
For many, the last place you want to be at 5 in the morning is at work, answering phones. But when country music legend Keith Urban is on the other end of the line saying your radio station has been named the 2017 Country Music Award (CMA) Station of the Year, you tend to perk right up.
Brent Lane, who co-hosts the Cat Country 98.7 “Cat Pak Morning Show” with Candy Hollerton, said it’s a conversation he’ll never forget. Mainly so, he joked, because the recording of him “screaming like a 9-year-old girl” at the sound of Keith Urban’s charming, Australian twang still serves as blackmail fodder. (You can hear it here.)
“You have to remember, we’re locally owned and only doing what we do in Pensacola,” Lane said. “I’m not a nationally syndicated guy. I don’t have to talk about what’s happening anywhere else, so receiving national recognition with the CMA is the biggest compliment. It tells me we’re doing a good job of reflecting our community.”
For Lane, personal connection to listeners is what radio’s all about.
As a child in Modesto, California, Lane would stay up past his bedtime, hiding under the covers to listen to the local Hot 104 station. With non-stop tunes and humorous banter, the radio broadcasts felt like a perpetual party between him and the hosts.
“The theory of radio is that you’re always talking to one person at a time,” Lane explained. “I’m never talking to y’all, I’m talking to you. When you listen to me, it’s like we’re having a conversation inside of your head. It fosters a friendship unlike any other kind of media because it’s so interpersonal. It was the coolest thing to me as a kid and still is today with my current job.”
Learning from the pioneers
Lane was first swept into the airwaves at age 14, when he landed a gig with Modesto’s classic country station. It happened to be the area’s lowest-rated broadcast. Though the town enjoyed a booming agricultural industry, its citizens had little love for the boot-stompin’ ballads of country music.
Never before exposed to the genre, Lane, a historian at heart, started at its beginning and grew to admire country artists such as Waylon Jennings, Jim Reeves and Dolly Parton. He also drew inspiration from pioneers of radio.
“I would listen to Amos ‘n’ Andy and Buck Rogers on old radio cassettes my parents would buy me,” Lane said. “The way they used to set up radio serials fascinated me. When you don’t have a picture, you have to create everything through Foley sound … through theater of the mind. That’s greatly influenced my work today.”
For the past 15 years, his work has earned him recognition at the American Advertising Foundation, the Academy of Country Music and the local folks at the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, where he was named Professional Leader of the Year in 2013. Though much is owed to his craft and charisma, it’s through off-air endeavors that Lane is a true star.
“My secret sauce,” said Lane, “is success though service.”
In fact, service was a prerequisite for joining the Cat Country family. Owners Mary and Dave Hoxeng made it clear that their station is community-based above all, and its country music format is secondary. Lane said he’s proud that Cat Country differs this way from most stations, which are owned by conglomerates without local interests.
In March, Cat Country sponsored Spring Jam, a concert headlined by Granger Smith that raised more than $14,000 for the Santa Rosa Kids’ House. The jam attracted more than 3,000 people to Navarre Beach, and the station anticipates hosting another in 2019.
Meanwhile, Lane looks forward to Cat Country’s annual winter holiday charity event, A Miracle on Palafox. Hot country performers such as Scotty McCreery and Josh Gracin rock the Saenger Theatre, with proceeds benefitting United Way to supply underprivileged children with gifts from Santa.
Lane is serving his third term on the board of the Manna Food Pantry, which works to combat hunger in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Both Lane and his wife, Angela, volunteer with the American Cancer Society, and he still finds the time to serve on the Visit Pensacola Marketing Committee to boost tourism.
And every morning, his voice is the robust cup of coffee that caffeinates commuters without fail.
‘The reason I own boots’
Asked to name his most memorable guest interview, Lane instantly answered, “Garth Brooks.”
The two met five years ago, when Brooks had just returned from a hiatus and was wading back into the public scene through a series of radio interviews. “I told him he was the reason I own boots,” Lane laughed. “I saw him back in Sacramento, at the Arco Arena in ’92, when he was still swinging out from the stage on a rope. Garth was the man! He told me he remembered that entire show and we talked all about it.”
Two years later, their paths crossed once more in another interview. The first thing Brooks said?
“Brent! Arco Arena, ’92, one of my favorite shows!” Lane impersonated. “It’s like someone’s always whispering into his ear. He remembers everything.”
Lane even attended Brooks’ CMA after-party last year, which took place in a Nashville hole in the wall called The Gulch. Brooks was happy to see him and let Lane’s daughter pose with Brooks’ CMA award in a group photo.
“It made me feel special … and every encounter with him has stuck with me. The old Maya Angelou quote is true. “People will always remember how you make them feel.’”
Feelings to remember are what Lane and the Cat Country team aspire to create. Twenty years from now, Lane hopes, listeners will recall with nostalgia: There was this radio station when I was in Pensacola …
“If we can go every day as that station, then we’re winning,” Lane said. “It doesn’t really matter about ratings. If someone can remember us in 20 years, then we have succeeded in creating an experience that’s truly special.”