Interview: Ty Bentli Reflects on Career & What’s Next

James Naleski Journalist
Ty Bentli, Apple Music radio host

Successful people are often defined as those who challenge themselves and others. Ty Bentli, a radio host at Apple Music, most certainly fits the mold of a successful individual. From market success to multi-format shows, Bentli proves that he is an unstoppable force. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his career journey and upcoming projects.

James Naleski: How does it feel to know that you have an audience spanning 167 countries through Apple Music?

Ty Bentli: The expansive reach of The Ty Bentli Show is strangely daunting. It boils down to wanting to connect with listeners on the most personal level possible. When I started radio in my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD, there’s a good chance I only had one listener (my friend Lexi, who would hear me do a news update at the top of every hour on the AM dial). As I grew into my career, priority #1 was to reflect the lives and experiences that my audience was experiencing. In a small community, that was fairly easy. When I got to Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, I learned to find broader connection points in our lives and lifestyles and share my experiences before asking the audience to share theirs. That continued to be my model of operation as my former morning show was syndicated across the US and then across the UK. I try to listen to the audience as much as they listen to me – offer them inroads to tell me their stories and favorite artists and what is important to them. In the age of social media, it has been amazing to receive messages from listeners around the globe (some of them are using the Translate feature to chat with me, and I do the same in return) – and whether they DM me from Israel, tweet from Belgium, or run into me at the grocery store in Nashville; I can almost guarantee that the reply they get from me will include a question about their own lives. With 165+ countries listening to the show, it’s essential that I constantly be looking for the touch-points that connect us all.

JN: What is the most prominent skill you possess that has helped you build lasting and meaningful relationships?

TB: If I have a gift, its also my curse: I’m insatiably curious and invested in people. And I don’t mean that in a superficial way – I do want to know your dog’s name and what kind of job you work, but the real interest lies in what makes a person tick. I want their most honest self, which means getting past the top layer. For most of my life, if I couldn’t have a deeper conversation with someone, I had almost zero interest in a relationship.

That meant it was hard for me to keep casual acquaintances (I would fail to keep up or invest in them). Fortunately, the result was that the relationships I do have are solid to the core and almost impenetrable. If I believe in a person and support them, I will bend over backward to help them; and I tend to be surrounded by like-minded people. 

What I’ve learned during the pandemic is that my true obstacle had always been time. I was always rushed and work-focused and didn’t value the time it would take to have a casual coffee meet-up, but I have found those minutes are worth prioritizing. I am working really hard to open up my life to more time with friends (allowing me to keep up with more people and have more of those meaningful connections). The ability to maintain casual acquaintances and many friendships is probably the surest path to happiness and success.

JN: Understanding people is an art; how would you say your exposure in the radio industry has aided in this success?

TB: I may have tackled this a bit in my previous answers. I care a lot about people, which makes me incredibly curious. I almost study people/humanity/society. There are experiences that have defined who I have grown to become, including significant moments that showed me how fragile life and happiness can be. I try to frame my approach with others through empathy (its why I want to know what makes them tick). I like to know what makes them happy, passionate, silly, sad, uncomfortable. The only way to do that is to pay careful attention at all times.

Radio has given me the gift of a constant case study! I am able to take a daily survey of how people operate. Getting calls for several hours a day on request lines means a lot of incoming data!

Listeners know me a lot better than I know them, at first – they’ve heard my life play out on-air, they’ve seen my family in pictures on Instagram, and that makes them much more willing to share their truest self with me, even in a first-conversation, which many calls to a radio station happen to be.

JN: What is your opinion on the phrase, you are the company that you keep?

TB: As I mentioned previously, I happen to be surrounded by a lot of like-minded people. The closest friends in my life can be counted on my fingers, and they are all people with sharp wit, huge hearts, and personal integrity. I sure hope they feel like I’m the company I keep because I couldn’t be prouder of the people around me.

Although… my belief that you are the company you keep often conflicts with my attempt to approach people with empathy. That empathy approach can mean that I give people “one more chance” (or two…three more) and accidentally allow a rotten apple to sneak in. Even as I answer this, though, I don’t know if I’d rather trust my gut and write people out quickly or continue to make some mistakes by being the guy who is willing to offer people a chance.

JN: In a recent interview, you said: “Someone is always watching/paying attention.” How does this influence your behaviors and daily interactions with others? 

TB: I approach life as if that’s true. I attempt to act in private the same way I would in public. If I expect you to do your job right, then I better be doing my job to the best of my ability. I don’t like to talk trash about people behind their back, even in my own house… I feel like “if I wouldn’t want someone to see or hear this, I shouldn’t do or say it.” (Almost in a ‘big brother is always listening’ way).

Looking back, there are moments that flash through my mind of times I made mistakes – often because I didn’t suspect that it was a mistake until the experience taught me the life lesson I needed. Those lessons have helped me to remain accountable to my personal expectations and to be direct with others when they deserve that respect.

JN: Living a life of selflessness is not easy. Other than your friends and family, what is your biggest motivation for living this kind of lifestyle? 

TB: Oh man, I do not deserve to be labeled as living a life of selflessness. Hopefully, I’m supportive, caring, and kind, but I am also self-aware and know when I have to hole up for some Ty-time to reset and regroup. I want people to know that I’m there for them, and I want to exhibit that behavior so that my kids can see it (and ideally, adopt the same philosophy). My motivation lies in believing that it takes everyone to make the world a better place – that probably sounds cheesy, but I mean it more as the fact that I try not to allow myself to believe “someone else will do it.” I don’t give myself a break from my obligation to be the change I want to see in the world. I have three awesome kids named Radley, Sebastian, and Teddi. It’s the cliche that I heard my whole life before becoming a dad and understanding how fundamental it truly is: I want the world to be better for them.

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JN: Your legacy thus far is comprised of selflessness and adoration for others. How else do you intend to shape your life to ensure that you are leaving a lasting impact for generations to come? 

TB: I want you to know how much this means to have you say that. I find it impossible to affirm it (the whole “I’m not worthy” thing, which is true), but that you see those qualities being part of my character is a massive compliment. It validates my reason for trying to live up to those qualities – because I believe others will notice and be encouraged to exhibit that behavior as well. Sometimes it is as simple as seeing someone else acting the way you’d like to act and knowing you’re not alone.

Moving forward, how will I shape my life to make a lasting impact? This question has become a dominant focus in my life. Actually, I’m on an airplane heading to a meeting to discuss exactly that. And there’s not a clear answer here yet. I do have more resources and strengths (and network) than I’ve ever had and believe this is the time to find a means of contributing to the world in a lasting way. I know it is a daily struggle for me to feel that I am productively doing what I can for others outside of my family. Being a dad is enough of a legacy, as long as my kids realize how loved they were and are at least kinda proud of me. That said, if there’s more I can do and can do in a meaningful, impactful way, I want to find it and do it.

JN: People often believe and are sometimes told that they aren’t good enough. What piece of advice would you give to people to instill confidence in themselves?

TB: First, it’s not all on each individual to instill confidence within themselves. Confidence can be built early. Hug your kids hard, hold them accountable and let them know it’s because you know they’re capable, and let them feel deserving of good things because of the kindness and abilities they possess.

We all end up having insecurities and questioning ourselves (whether we admit it to others or ourselves is another story). Confidence comes from having the right friends and family around you – people who don’t need you to be great at one specific task or skill but just love you for the package you are. Confidence comes from knowledge – gain as much understanding and education as you can about a subject, and it takes away the power of the unknown. Sometimes confidence comes not from knowing you are the BEST at something but simply knowing where you stand.

Last resort, let confidence come from watching others who are confident and realizing that they probably aren’t a super-hero. You might not know of the hidden struggles they face or have overcome. The strengths and weaknesses may not be the same as yours, but they have both, just like you… and yet they walk through the world boldly; maybe you should too.

JN: Building impactful relationships is a vital part of your career. How have these relationships influenced your decision-making when it comes to your business and philanthropy work? 

TB: My relationships are primarily with people who inspire me—the ultra-creative, ultra-compassionate, and ultra-wise. I call on them to guide me at times and watch them as inspiration at all times. I think “what would ___ do” a lot, and also “what would ___ expect ME to do?”

JN: There is a phrase that says much effort, much prosperity. Do you agree with this phrase, and would you consider it applicable in your own life?

TB: Tricky question! That is a core principle belief that has been ingrained in me by my family in the Midwest. Hard work will pay off. Put your head down and do the work, and do it right.

…except… maybe that’s not all of it, or perhaps that has evolved. Now it is also essential to make sure that a lot of the effort goes into building a network of people. A strategic network of people (it sounds misguided, but if you’re truly curious about everyone, why not focus your investment in people that surround you in ways that offer a prosperous path and the tools to help better the world of others and yourself). 

Effort is probably the key, but a couple of other things to keep in mind include: 

  • Know yourself – its the only surefire way to know where to direct your efforts. Getting tabs on your own identity is WAY harder and way more important than it seems.
  • Know your audience – don’t direct your energy and effort in a fruitless direction. Instead, find the people that will play a role in moving the ball forward.

JN: What influence does an established community have over radio stations, record labels, and even recording artists? What suggestions do you have for a radio host looking to cultivate an influential community?

TB: The community of music fans has become the loudest factor in music, once again. Platforms like TikTok have given fans the ability to stand behind the music they love & share it with their friends. As a result, they have become one of the most important voices in music discovery for their personal community. Next in line is the digital streaming platform (like Apple Music), where the fans go to dig into more music and create playlists. As a host on Apple Music Radio, I’ve had a chance to play an even more impactful role in supporting artists that fans are reacting to (and since I count myself as a fan, I also play songs on my show that I know others will want to hear).

This opportunity for a vocal community to take away the control that was formerly held by radio stations and the influence labels had on them allows the artists to be a more honest and creative version of themselves! They can just create art and not worry that it is what their record label will want to promote or that they are stepping on the toes of a similar artist on the radio station’s 40 song playlist. It becomes a fight for the best art, not the best PR.

It’s insanely exciting! Especially for someone like me, a kid who used to sneak out of his room after bedtime to call KTWB, my local country radio station, and whisper a request for Randy Travis’ “Heroes and Friends”… the same kid that grew up to learn that the radio machine almost never plays requests from listeners. The same kid that grew up strategically sneaking artists into his studio as the “house band,” just so he could introduce new music, is now a household name. With an internationally-syndicated morning show, listeners are as close as Kentucky and as far as Paris, allowing him the opportunity to meet new artists all available on Apple Music! 

As we wound down, I asked Ty about his recent advocacy and events he’s been hosting in support of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. An organization that continuously strives to conduct research and provide resources to those diagnosed with these diseases. Please take a few moments to visit their site and learn more about the organization that has helped advance more than 85% of blood cancer treatment since 2017!