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Country Radio Hall of Famer Rusty Walker Dead at 59

Rusty Walker

A man every bit as important to country radio as country music’s biggest stars has died. Rusty Walker — a Country Radio Hall of Famer and industry veteran admired by everyone he helped — passed away in a Tupelo, Miss. hospital on Monday morning after suffering a heart attack over the weekend.

Walker was just inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in February. Since founding Rusty Walker Programming Consultants in 1983, he’s helped over 500 radio stations shape their sound. With a small tweak here or a slight shift there, his team of consultants turned pedestrian stations into sharp, award-winning country powerhouses. If they were already powerhouses, Walker took them and made them unstoppable community forces.

Including his career as a deejay and programmer, the veteran worked with over 750 radio stations across the country. There is little doubt that the majority of country radio listeners and Taste of Country readers knew nothing of this man, but he certainly knew all about you.

For seven consecutive years, Walker was Billboard’s Consultant of the Year. His station roster included WQYK in Tampa, Fla., KFKF in Kansas City, WQDR in Raleigh, N.C. and many, many more major market radio stations (the writer worked with Walker for five years at WQDR).

Radio and music industry professionals are united in grieving the loss of such an important figure. Even Reba McEntire tweeted well-wishes to Walker before learning of his death.

On a personal level, Walker was a charismatic and endearing presence who brought life and a few good stories from his hometown of Iuka, Miss. with him wherever he went. He made time for everyone — from the new guy in the building to the most seasoned programmer. He loved to brag on his daughters and was quick to share their wedding photos. Sadly, Walker lost his 17-year-old daughter Kinsley in March.

Country Aircheck was first to report his death. Walker is survived by his wife Teresa, daughters Beth and Nikki and an extensive and loving family. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made public.

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