Brooks & Dunn have been apart professionally for more than four years, but that doesn't mean they aren't keeping up with country music.
In Kix Brooks' case, he's doing that visibly -- and audibly -- as host of the weekly, syndicated "American Country Countdown" radio program. Aired since 1973, that show now has a spinoff event: Fox televises the inaugural American Country Countdown Awards Monday night at 8 from Nashville's Music City Center.
Nominated for six of the honors themselves, the duo Florida Georgia Line will host and perform at the ceremony, and Brooks will preside over a "social bar" as celebrities pass through. He'll also present the NASH Icon Award to an enduring country artist.
"I took on the hosting duties eight years ago," Brooks says of the radio show, "and I've gotten a little better over the years, but I think the audience has cut me some slack because I come from sort of a unique perspective. I don't think past countdown shows have been hosted by somebody that's actually been on tour with most of the acts they interview. And if I haven't toured with them, I know what they're going through."
Other nominees including Luke Bryan (with seven bids), Jason Aldean (four), Brett Eldredge (two), Carrie Underwood (one), Eric Church (one) and Miranda Lambert (in the running with three, as is her husband, Blake Shelton) also will perform on the program that bases its awards on radio-airplay charts and statistics.
Set to receive the first CMA Foundation Humanitarian Award in January, Brooks appreciates extending his radio venture's brand while honoring the country-music industry overall.
"I really do love our business," he says, "and it's fun for me to be back in the middle of it. I think when you're a touring act, especially working at the level that Ronnie [Dunn] and I did, you sort of take care of yourself. You get focused on what you're doing, and that's a full-time job and then some . . . but before I met Ronnie, when I was just writing songs, I got very involved in everybody who was coming on the scene.
"You were constantly watching the charts to see who was doing what, because that was important to you, so it's fun at this point in my career to have my cake and eat it, too. I get to sit down with a lot of the young acts and find out where they came from and sense the excitement they're going through."
Brooks surely knows that excitement, given the 20-year run he and Dunn had with hits such as "My Maria," "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You" and "Red Dirt Road." Also factoring in their shared awards that include two Grammys plus 16 ACM and 14 CMA wins as top vocal duo, the question of a possible reunion lingers.
"There's always talk," Brooks says genially but noncommittally, "as much talk about us reviving the duo as there was about us breaking up. It just goes with the territory. We didn't say, 'When hell freezes over,' or any of that stuff. We just needed a break."