By David Tanner, associate editor
In a perfect world, truckers would be treated with respect and gratitude for their hard work and dedication. In a perfect world, society would see truckers as brothers and sisters, moms and dads, uncles and aunts and not just people behind the wheel of a rig.
Marcia Campbell believes such a world can exist, and is doing her best to make it so.
This Nashville radio personality, affectionately known as “America’s Trucking Sweetheart,” has come full circle in recent months. She’s back on the air with a new gig, hosting The “WSM All Nighter” on the legendary home of the Grand Ole Opry, WSM 650 AM.
Every opportunity to take to the airwaves is a chance to make a difference in people’s lives.
“My whole mission is to lighten the load, make it a little bit easier – and we can have fun getting there,” she says.
It helps to know the audience. They are the truck drivers, the emergency responders, night shifters and insomniacs.
“Some people don’t last in trucking because it’s a hard life,” Marcia says.
“But the ones that call in and want to be part of my life and just say ‘hey, we’re listening to you,’ or they make a song request, or maybe they’re just lonely and they’re checking in, that is joy for me – just to make someone else feel good because they’re out there working hard.”
Whether on the air or off, Marcia speaks with the same amount of compassion in her voice.
“Maybe they don’t feel well,” she continues. “Maybe they’ve got trouble at home. Maybe they don’t have a home, or the road is their home. So just to have that personal contact and relationship is important, for them to know it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, I’m tired, you’re tired, but we’re in this together.”
What drives this Opry square dancer, singer-songwriter and mother of two grown sons to have this much compassion and care for America’s trucking professionals?
“I love what I do so much,” she says. “If I’m not at work, I’m at home doing show prep or I’m at meetings or I’m returning phone calls. I love going to work, and I love working. … I just want to do a good job and have fun.”
Marcia has been keeping it real for the better part of 20 years. It began one day in the 1990s when she was looking through her substantial collection of bluegrass music. Marcia decided that she wanted to share her favorite tunes and performers with the community, so she volunteered to work for free at her local radio station on Thursday nights. And the rest is history.
Marcia was already an established clogger and square dancer who performs Saturday nights at the Grand Ole Opry. Her love for the Opry and the performers added a tremendous amount of fuel to her radio passion. In fact, she named her first radio show “The Muleskinner Bluegrass Show” after the first song that bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe played at the Opry.
“I created a bluegrass show just because I wanted to share the music, and I had no idea at the time that that opportunity would become a career,” she said.
Marcia soon became part of the Interstate Radio Network and had her first syndicated overnight trucking show. One of the stations picking up her show was WSM.
The affable host garnered a loyal following. And when the company that eventually became Sirius XM launched a trucking channel on the satellite airwaves, Dave Nemo and Michael Burns recruited her to join the ranks.
When Sirius and XM merged, and music became less of a priority for the trucking channel, Marcia found herself looking. It didn’t take long for her to knock on the door at WSM studios in Opryland.
That move became part of Marcia’s full circle, she says, getting back to her roots at the station that made country music famous.
Her nightly shift begins with a catchy theme song titled “All Nighter Coming,” co-written by Marcia’s pals Vince Gill, Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson. In fact, it was Vince Gill who introduced Marcia to her husband of the past four years, Billy Thomas.
The show continues with a “Salute to Truckers” that Marcia recites each hour. She promotes trucker talent and plays a song written by a truck driver. At the bottom of each hour, Marcia plays a two-minute news clip from OOIDA’s Land Line Now newscast. Then it’s time for Campbell’s Comedy Corner, making people laugh with classic comedy bits from folks like Andy Griffith or Minnie Pearl. Songs, requests and dedications make up the rest of the program.
Being around the Nashville scene and dancing weekly at the Opry have given Marcia the opportunity to cultivate some unique relationships. On Oct. 22, the stars of the Opry led by Martina McBride lit up the stage in pink to raise breast cancer awareness.
A television taping pushed The Grand Ole Opry Square Dancers to a later time slot that evening, but Marcia and her fellow dancers were ready. Taking the stage in a flourish of skirts and fast feet, the dancers drew a huge ovation from the packed house. Just another Saturday night at the Opry.
“They’re all special,” she says.
Through the years, Marcia has been personal friends with Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs and many other top-notch performers. You can actually hear her dance on several albums and songs, including Dolly Parton’s “He’s Gonna Marry Me.”
Marcia was married once before, to the late Jimmy Campbell, and has two grown sons, Brandon and Casey. She says her sons have practically grown up at the Opry at radio studios. When everyone is home – husband Billy tours with Vince Gill – all it takes is for someone to pluck a note or start singing and the family jam session is on.
Strong in her faith, Marcia takes nothing for granted. She truly believes in the good in every person, and that’s why she means so much to the truckers.
Hearing her speak about trucking, whether on or off the air, is to get a glimpse into how truly passionate Marcia Campbell is about achieving something for the greater good.
“I want people who are not in the trucking industry to take note and not just look at them as another big truck going down the highway. I want them to know that that’s your brother or your sister, and that is a mom or that is a dad, or that is an American veteran that’s driving that truck. I want them to go a little bit deeper.”
In an ideal setting, truckers would be treated like soldiers for their service to country, Marcia says. It would make for a heck of a country song.
“We constantly show our appreciation to the soldiers, and when we see them in uniform we salute them, shake their hand, and thank them for what they do for our country,” Marcia says.
“In my perfect world, it would be so awesome if the truckers could get that same recognition sometime when they’re sitting by themselves in the truck stop, when they’re eating their dinner alone, for someone to just walk by and thank them for what they do.”
Hear Marcia Campbell on “The WSM All Nighter,” midnight to 5:30 a.m., Monday through Friday on WSM 650 AM or at wsmonline.com.