When expatriate Australasian superstar Keith Urban attained the ultimate accolade of his peers and industry last week it was a far cry from his visit to Nu Country FM last millenium.

Urban, 38, was voted entertainer of the year and best male vocalist at a star spangled prestige 39th CMA Awards in New York City.

For the gregarious guitar slinger and celebrated singer-songwriter it was the peak of a mountain after a long journey from Caboolture in Queensland with many hurdles.

Urban debuted in Melbourne as a solo artist in 1991 with a meagre crowd at Prince Patrick Hotel, Collingwood, before an interview on RRR-FM country show High In The Saddle.

On Urban's return to Melbourne in 1998 with U.S. band The Ranch he demonstrated why he was destined to succeed despite radio rejection here.

Nu Country FM - then an aspirant broadcaster operating from humble digs at the top of Beer Can Hill in Northcote - was off air during Urban's return.

But Keith, accompanied by U.S. bassist Jerry Flowers and Australian drummer Peter Clarke, parked in Northcote Leader car park and climbed a balcony to do an acoustic set, station promos and an interview.

Although The Ranch only released one album before the Nu Country studios burned down, Urban thanked station volunteers on air when interviewed live at the new digs at the Paris, Texas, end of Collins St in 2001.

Now, that didn't earn Urban airplay on commercial corporate chains in the unlucky radio country but it demonstrated the loyalty and character of the man and why he deserves his latter day success.

The singer has topped U.S. Billboard charts for six consecutive weeks with latest hit Be Here and sold more than seven million albums.


And, equally importantly, when Urban won his awards last week he paid tribute to the genre's roots by praising fellow multi-award winner - unsung Texan singer Lee Ann Womack.

"I hate it when there's just a contemporary bent," Urban said of Womack, 39, whose stone country seventh album There's More Where That Came From was snubbed by radio.

"Sometimes radio doesn't play enough traditional music. Hopefully, tonight the traditional is coming back in and the contemporary can stay where it is as well."

Ironically Womack won one of three awards for stone country tune I May Hate Myself in the Morning and performed a live version of her cheating song Twenty Years And Two Husbands Ago that she wrote with Dale Dodson and Dean Dillon.

The CMA Awards Show is repeated on Australian Pay TV Channel CMC at 7 p m on Tuesday November 22.
Urban's major print media exposure here for his awards and reported romance with Nicole Kidman may prime the sales pump ignored by radio.

And with supreme irony while Urban was winning awards another older roots country pioneer, now living in New York, was performing in St Kilda.

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