This is the brief tale of three Alberta bluegrass radio hosts, one failed, one successful, and one nearing status reserved for legends.
About six weeks ago, I received a call out of the blue: would I be interested in auditioning as host of CKUA’s long-running bluegrass program? My immediate reaction was, Yes.
Years ago I had hosted a bluegrass radio show on an area commercial country station, and while I was never very good at the job, I was persistent; when I listen to the recordings of those shows, I frequently cringe, but not so much as to distract from what I thought was a good representation of bluegrass music.
In receiving the call last month, I was pleased that the work I had done (and continue to do) on behalf of bluegrass music in Alberta was deemed significant enough to be asked to audition. For the next several days following the phone call and bubbling with excitement at the possibility, I scrambled to put together an audition recording (What the heck should be in that?) using my vaguely remembered knowledge of Audacity and my even more limited understanding of file-sharing. This was truly professional broadcasting: the music wouldn’t be the problem: trying to have a natural-sounding conversation with non-existent listeners from my basement would be.
My second reaction when called was, What about Darcy?
Ultimately, the station’s management decided to go with Darcy Whiteside, a veteran of Alberta’s bluegrass scene as a banjo player, singer and front-man for the Bix Mix Boys, and a much more experienced radio host than me. Whiteside is hosting CKUA’s The Bluegrass Show at noon (MST) on Sundays, and four weeks in is presenting a nice cross-section of the music: his latest show featured the McCormick Brothers, Laura Love, Town Mountain, Front Country, Boone Creek, the Dead South, Joe Val, and Larry Sparks, as fine a blend of the music as one could hope for within the constraints of a 60-minute broadcast.
I am confident I was up to the task, but knowing how much CKUA means to the province I also believe I have some knowledge of the pressure that comes with hosting such a show: maybe I’m better off without it! Or, as my father-in-law observed, with a shake of his head, “So, you recommended the guy who beat you out?” Naturally. (And, for all I know, I could have been fifth on a three-person list.)
This last week, SiriusXM was again offering a free taste of their wares; as a result, my car was tuned to Bluegrass Junction, broadcasting out of the northern Alberta studio, over the extended (American) Thanksgiving weekend. The opportunity to again appreciate the venerable Chris Jones has solidified my opinion that there is no finer bluegrass broadcaster.
Unlike some who make themselves the center of attention or ramble while delivering little substance, Jones always maintains a conversational tone in his broadcasts, letting the music speak for itself as often as interjecting his own insights into the songs. And when he does share an extended anecdote, you can be guaranteed it is relevant and informative, not self-serving or artificial. I can think of no better voice bringing bluegrass music to listeners.
With folks like Darcy and Chris bringing bluegrass to the airwaves-broadcast, online, and satellite-listeners are being well-served.
And, when the opportunity next arises, I hope CKUA again give me a call!