Country Music Moguls

Photo provided by Gerry Ackerman and John Marks

Photo provided by Gerry Ackerman and John Marks

Michaela Fath

Gerry Ackerman, a 1985 Ohio University graduate, has made a name for himself in the ever-growing country music industry. In fact, it’s a different name: Ken Tucker.

Ackerman, known professionally by the radio name “Ken Tucker,” is the current vice president of promotion for label imprint Wheelhouse Records. Although he proves on paper to have a strong background for the business side of country music, Ackerman did not always have this career path in mind.

While starting his academic career at OU, Ackerman planned to study radio and television, involving himself in organizations such as WOUB and ACRN. He soon realized he didn’t mesh well with his classmates’ personalities and decided he needed an immediate change.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be around people like that for my whole career,” Ackerman says. “So, I was taking an introductory course in hearing and speech pathology to ful ll some requirement, and I just decided that was going to be my degree.”

After graduating from the university with a degree in hearing and speech sciences, Ackerman moved to Parkersburg, West Virginia, accepting a position as a speech pathologist. Although he says he loved teaching and helping others, the thought of a role in the television and radio industry lingered in his mind.

It wasn’t until a co-worker directed Ackerman to her husband, an employee at a local country music radio station, that his career in the music business began. While working as a speech pathologist, Ackerman added a weekend job at the radio station to his weekly agenda.

Then, in 1987, the radio personality Ken Tucker was born.

Ackerman soon gave up his career as a speech pathologist to begin a full-time job at the Parkersburg country music radio station.

“I had fallen in love with country music, even though it was not what I grew up on in Cleveland, Ohio,” Ackerman says. “Then, I decided I wanted to move to Nashville.”

After three years with the country music station in Parkersburg, Ackerman moved to the country music capital: Nashville, Tennessee. He worked for Radio & Records, an industry trade publication, for four years before moving to Warner Brothers Records to work in radio promotion.

While at Warner Brothers, Ackerman was in charge of calling radio stations across the country, asking if they would play certain songs on-air. At the time, he says he was working with artists such as Faith Hill, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis.

In 2002, Ackerman left Warner Brothers to pursue a writing position with Billboard Magazine,where he showcased his writing background. He later shifted to consumer publication Country Weekly, serving as the managing editor.

“I never had a concern [about working in the music industry],” he says. “I guess over time I realized that I could do different things. I’ll credit my education at Ohio University for making me a well-rounded graduate who had the ability to write well and speak well.”

As technology evolved, the music industry drastically changed, replacing CDs, records and cassette tapes with streaming services. In 2014, Ackerman helped a group launch their own streaming service, Beats Music, a sister company to the Beats Electronics brand.

Beats Music was soon bought out by Apple, later turning into Apple Music. At Apple Music, Ackerman was responsible for creating and updating theme and mood-based playlists and radio stations for country and christian music.

Over time, Ackerman and his fellow programmers created thousands of playlists. As Apple Music grew, it increased their focus on curating playlists.

The major portion of his job at Apple Music was staying up-to-date with the newest artists in the country music world, some of which he notes were not signed to a record label.

“There’s a place for those people who aren’t signed with today’s technology,” Ackerman says. “You can make great records without a huge budget and through social media, you can build a presence and fan base.”

With experience in a number of music industry jobs, Ackerman took his knowledge to the classroom, teaching public relations in the music industry as a professor at Belmont University in Nashville.

Ackerman is not the only OU graduate with experience in the music streaming service industry. Radio personality John Marks is the global senior editor and music programmer of country music for Spotify.

Marks began his involvement in the music industry at a young age, beginning at his local radio station at the age of 16. After completing two years at a local college, Marks enrolled at OU to nish his undergraduate degree and start his graduate studies in business and broadcasting.

“I already had a little bit of experience with local radio at the time that I joined the OU campus,” Marks says. “I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to pursue, and it was fairly easy choosing OU because they were known for their broadcast journalism areas.”

With their overlapping similarities, Marks and Ackerman have known each other for years. The two met while attending the annual Country Music Seminar in 1988, Marks evaluated one of Ackerman’s on-air sessions, providing critical feedback to his fellow alumnus.

“I’ve known John for many years and years through various jobs I’ve had,” Ackerman says. “Nashville is a big city, but it really is a small town in terms of the music business part of it.”

This year, Ackerman made the decision to leave his position as Apple Music’s Nashville-based music programmer and return to record promotions at Wheelhouse Records. He says he is pleased with his decision and has the opportunity to work with former co-workers as well as former Belmont University students. Wheelhouse, he says, is a family.

Ackerman plans to continue working for Wheelhouse Records and says the environment is respectable to both employees and artists.

The music mogul who was once a speech pathologist proves that successful careers can be full of a number of twists and turns, and can lead to a variety of experiences in different fields.

“I just always felt like classwork is important, but if you want to get in a field, find ways to intern or get involved,” Ackerman advises students. “It gives you a different perspective.”