the little river boys of alleghany county, nc, c.1960
wiley maxwell, jr (b), cleve andrews (f), estal bedsaul (g), paul joines (g)
The radio show that folded last May has been in my mind today. It's not something I think about. When I wonder why, I realize a great deal of disappointment accompanies thoughts of the loss of that hour a week when mountain people of the county could hear their own music. The loss I feel has nothing to do with me being involved in it. I started the show because nobody else was doing it, and I believed it essential in a mountain county with an AM station that at least an hour a week go to local music, which is hailed all over the rest of the country as the Source.
At home, management pretended FM nucountry (rock&roll) in a county where the people wanting to hear the new Nashville (Motown) sound were listening to it on FM, not an AM station that can't be picked up very well and nowhere outside the county. The people that listened to the station did not like rock&roll, even if it was from Music City. It was a county specific station that over the last 20 years ran off its listeners, then the advertisers, with its only purpose being a tax writeoff. Everybody associated with the station had zero interest in mountain music. Before that time, WCOK played music to the people of the county, served the county as a center for information and had live mountain music on Saturday mornings, Jeff Michael, fiddle, vocal and songwriter for Big Country Bluegrass, the MC.
I dove in because nobody was playing local music on the station, which I believed was a natural necessity in a mountain town with its own AM station. I spoke with management. "Good idea," and went to Dudley Carpenter, fairly new here at the time from Washington DC, where his career was in broadcasting. He taught me how to operate a radio show. I'm of the belief that when I see something I believe needs doing, it's not right to suggest somebody else do it, but do it myself. I knew I had the love for the music to at least play good music. My own talking I found too boring, and I am not a folklorist. I knew my listeners, mountain people, didn't want to hear talk. They wanted to hear music. I identified every individual musician playing in whatever band, told where they were from and that was all the talk. Never let a song go by without identifying it, was my number one rule. It was from respect for the musicians. And respect for the listeners in that I didn't want to bore them. I wanted to keep it in the foreground that these people, the musicians, live all around us.
For me, personally, the part I loved most about the show was my listeners. Had very little feedback, but when it happened, it was real and it was the best. In mountain custom, you don't be flattering people--it goes to their head. The only thing I wanted from the show was that my listeners connect with the music and love it. I didn't care if there were 5 listeners or 500. I never imagined more than 3 people listening until it had been going about 5 years when I started finding out a relatively large number of people were hearing it and making it a point to listen every week. I sat in the station on Saturday mornings with my listeners. They came to life for me, and in some cases particular people, ones who had spoken to me in the grocery store or someplace about the music. I played their music to the people of the place I call the home of my soul. The musicians were friends, relatives and neighbors of the listeners.
The honor for me was that I had never dreamed I might one day play mountain music to mountain people on a local AM station in a Blue Ridge Mountain county adjoining WPAQ's county in NW NC. That was the greatest accomplishment of my lifetime, and I didn't even see it coming. At first, it was difficult to imagine anyone at the other end of the black mic I spoke into. As time went by, the listeners became my focal point. I knew when I spoke into the mic that at least certain people were listening. I spoke to them, the people in my mind's eye who had told me they listen, 20 or so, thereabouts. They loved the music too. I shed quite a lot of tears of joy in the studio playing songs I knew for a certainty the listeners were loving, like anything by Ralph Stanley, Stanley Brothers or Carter Family. These were the ones everybody loved like crazy. The Stanleys and Carters only lived a 3 hour drive from here in the Clinch Mountains of SW Virginia. In those years my respect for the music grew to adoration.
Toward the end of the seven years I found some music by the band in the picture above, which I never imagined I'd ever hear, and put them on a cd with some others of Jr Maxwell, Art Wooten and Wayne Henderson, had a hundred copies made to give to listeners, 23 by call-ins and the rest I gave out individually. Thought I'd do this once a year. Next year make one of Howard Joines, music found by him. Also had a dozen coffee mugs made for the radio show and gave them out on the air. These were gifts to my listeners in appreciation. Then, POOF, it all went away. For myself, it means I don't have to make it to the station every Saturday morning no matter what the weather or my own circumstances. The show must go on. I was relieved of that, which was not a problem. But I miss playing mountain music to the people of the county, and I feel sorrow they have no one playing their music to them. It's like that something-nothing they call Progress.