Monday, August 31, 2015

Regional Radio, Where Art Thou?


roger miller crochet Jenny Hart These days you might drive across six Southern states and never hear one song by Roger Miller on the radio -- until you get west of Little Rock. A few weeks ago I took a trip across six southern states in as many days. I logged 2,000 miles alone in my rental car, just me and the FM radio. Where I come from in Wyoming, one can hit a car radio’s Seek button and enter a trance as the digital numbers fly from 88 to 107 without alighting on any sonic islands. Knowing I would need to rely on barrels of Diet Coke and constant radio chatter to keep alert on this long trip, I decided this was an opportunity: to discover if regionalism were still alive in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas or Arkansas, at least on the airwaves.

Working from left to right on the dial, as the days rolled by I noticed the lower numbered stations tended to be public and community radio stations. Somewhere in Texas I learned about Gender Identity Disorder: that if young boys played with Barbie dolls and didn’t get along with older brothers, they may be on their way to homosexuality. While in Mississippi, I listen to a public radio call-in show called “Southern Remedy.” It was hosted by a doctor who, on this day, was joined by a charming pediatric specialist. I learned that in the South, babies who throw up frequently are known as “spitters” (oddly comforting to know this behavior has such a quaint name).

In the middle of the dial I found mostly Top 40 country music stations. Toby Keith was topping the charts. I must have heard his “American Ride” a dozen times between Marked Tree and Paducah. Justin Moore and others reminded me that the ideal man is from Small Town, USA, wears boots, chews Copenhagen, drives a tractor, flies the flag and enjoys a cold light brew on a Saturday night at the local dance hall. Carrie Underwood taught me that the ideal woman loves her man and is ready to slap down any woman (or the man himself) who gets in the way.

From about the middle of the dial to the far right there’s rock music. The breakdown into music categories here is more granular than in country. Rock is carefully compartmentalized, it seemed to me, as Oldies, Classic Rock, Top 40, Hip Hop/Urban, and Loud Generalized Screaming. From this music, no single portrait of the ideal man or woman emerged – maybe because very few of these songs are actually about people, ideal or otherwise. I found myself hitting “Seek” just a few seconds into any one song, unless Steely Dan or the Beatles captured my ear. The singer/songwriter indie rock loaded on my iPod was nowhere to be found in FM rock radio-land.

texas highway AARoads FM radio is now a generic as the Federal highway system, public stations on the left, country in the middle, and four species of "rock" on the right.

The question I posed as I began this experiment was in danger of being answered depressingly in the negative. Other than the southern pediatrician and a few regressive social theoriticians, I’d heard very few local voices. Perhaps that is because few radio programs are locally produced. Instead, most are received as though through mystical communication with a distant satellite. I had a gasp of hope in Arkansas when, not too far from the Tennessee border, I heard blues-tinged gospel music on the “Praise Hour.” And in north Texas I heard some Tejano music complete with accordions,  fading into the static west of Paris.

My last night in the South took me along Highway 30 from Texarkana to Little Rock. I was out of Diet Coke, it was raining, again, and the radio was seeking seeking seeking something I would enjoy. I think it was tired of scanning and wanted to please me. Then faintly, just past Hope, I began to hear bluegrass music that sounded like it was broadcast from a radio station deep in the Ouchita Forest. Markey’s Mountain and Bluegrass Music was the program, and I had literally not heard anything like it before. Sure, we have bluegrass and old country music back in Wyoming, but this DJ was pulling material out from the 1950s and 1960s that I had never heard.
kabf bumper sticker Hibblenradio KABF out of Little Rock, Arkansas, is an oasis in a broadcast desert.

Thank you KABF radio, transmitting from Crystal Mountain. Finally, I wasn’t just in Arkansas. I was in my idea of Arkansas. And the best thing about it – those great regional sounds of that little community radio station stream live over the Internet. It’s like Roger Miller sang: “If I was a tree and you were a flower, what would we do? I guess we’d wait for the power of reincarnation.”


There are others

Sorry you missed WDVX in Knoxville, TN and WMMT in Whitesburg, Ky.  You may never have left the listening area.

How to demand more local radio now

Call your Representative and ask for a vote in support of the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. (It's coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives any day now.) Learn more in an earlier Daily Yonder piece, then go to to take action!

and in Central Texas

I recommend KULM 98.3 FM out of Columbus, TX. "Polka Party Time" 7-9 am Saturdays is dynamite.

And let's not forget the AM dial -- KVLG out of La Grange has Larry Sodek's fab polka show on Sunday afternoons. 

terrestrial radio is dead

Local radio has been killed by corporations. Sattelite radio, SiriusXM, is the answer if you want decent programming - including bluegrass - especially on a roadtrip. Yes, it's money to another corporation, but they're losing money, if that helps, and the music is commerical-free.

Roger Miller

You have the picture of Roger Miller.  It is too bad that you did not travel through Oklahoma.  You could have stopped in at the Roger Miller Museum in Erick, Oklahoma on historic Route 66.  Erick is the home of Roger Miller.

Yes, there are others

WETS (89.5 FM) public radio in Johnson City, TN, on the ETSU campus has a program of area Americana, Folk and Bluegrass weekday afternoons from noon to 4 pm.  It's called "Roots and Branches".  

local radio

Asheville, NC and Western NC have some local AM and FM radio. WNCW 88.7 is a local community college station that caters to Western NC bands and Western NC music. WWNC 570 am has a local talk show daily at 3:00 pm which centers on local and state politics. They also feature local sports.

You may be right in that this is an endangered species. But if you want local radio, then the community has to support it. It takes money. So support the local advertisers, pledge your part to local public radio.

And let your local rock or country station know that you would like a real local news broadcast. Tell them to focus on local government, not just auto accidents.


Local Radio

I just joined and this is my 3rd try to post a comment. Hope it works.

Western NC has some great local radio. I'm going to comment on two that I think stand out. First, WNCW, 88.7 fm, supports local music in many ways. One is playing recordings of local bands as part of the music mix. A second way is inviting local bands into their studio and letting them play live on the air.

Another example of our local radio is WWNC, 570 am, which broadcasts a local talk radio program at 3:00 pm. This talk radio show is centered on local and state politics.

These radio stations are successful because they are supported by the community. Listeners pledge support and/or patronize local business that advertise on these stations.

If you want to get better local radio I would suggest contacting your local country or rock station and let them know that you want better coverage of local events, local music, local news. Tell them you want coverage local politics, not just the police reports. Ask them to play local bands: tell them which bands you like.

But you may have to enlist the support of four or five local businesses who would advertise in such a format. The local radio station may not have a studio large enough for a band. You might have to find another location and do a remote broadcast. If you want local radio, you will have to work to get it started.