By Steve Koehler
Phil Robinson, top sound operator for country-music superstar Kenny Chesney, has not forgotten his Ozarks Technical Community College roots.
Robinson, originally from Clever, returned to the College Monday to pick up his diploma that he failed to get when he graduated in 1994 with an Associate of Applied Science in Electronic Media Production, one of the most popular programs now offered at the College.
“Everything I know I learned at OTC,” said Robinson, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., and who has worked for Chesney for more than eight years.
The 35-year-old Robinson, who was awarded one of the first scholarships ever given by the College, received an empty diploma holder without the official document in it in the College’s graduation ceremony.
He left right after the service to go to his job in Branson where he worked for a few years as a sound engineer for a variety of shows including Roy Clark, Jim Stafford and Doug Gabriel.
From Branson, Robinson moved to Florida to work for Universal Studios in setting up sound for nightclubs there. A friend he met there went to work for the musical group Alabama and then for Chesney. The friend eventually called Robinson to go to work with him and Chesney.
As a monitor engineer, Robinson is responsible for mixing the sounds of all the singers and musicians and transmitting that signal to the earpieces Chesney and the other performers wear.
Robinson must continually monitor the sound and watch Chesney for signals to increase or decrease specific instruments or voices as the star requests changes.
“I’m proud to be a part of the tour,” Robinson said, explaining that Chesney is the No. 1 act on tour in all musical genres because “it’s all about the fact that (fans) can let go of life and their problems for two hours. They don’t have to worry about anything.”
Robinson’s return to the College allowed him to enjoy a reunion with one of his favorite instructors, Robert Gustad, who taught Robinson both at Clever High School and at the College. Gustad still teaches at the College.
“It was Phil’s personal initiation and drive that made him a success. We teach the skills and if they have the personality and drive, it will get them a job,” Gustad said.
The work can be grueling but Robinson enjoys every minute of it.
Traveling with up to 18 buses and 12 semi-tractor trailers, Robinson and the others in the crew start setting up for a show in the morning, doing sound checks about 3:45 p.m. and tearing down after the concert. They finish about 3 a.m.
The equipment is loaded and the crew hits the road, driving 200-400 miles to the next venue. The tour has played all over the U.S. and a few times in Canada and Mexico.
Because of Chesney’s popularity and success in the U.S., Robinson said the star sees no need to go anywhere else.
Robinson also travels with Chesney when he appears on television programs like “Ellen,” “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to assist with sound issues.
Robinson has met all sorts of famous people from presidents to Paul McCartney. He has been to the White House several times and got a Christmas card from President Bush this year.
The College has changed quite a bit since Robinson graduated nearly 15 years ago. The Information Commons buildings were not built yet when he attended.
“This place is huge. It has really grown,” said Robinson, who comes home for Christmas every year to be with his parents and brother, who still live in Clever.
And now Robinson has an OTC diploma, presented to him Monday by Joan Barrett, dean of students and registrar, to put under the Christmas tree this year.
“It’s kind of nice to have something actually in (the holder),” he said flashing the diploma proudly. “I’m glad I came back for it. I did it for mama and for me.”
Steve Koehler is coordinator of publications at Ozarks Technical Community College.
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Phone: (417) 447-2666