Behind The Mic with Rusty James

Rusty JamesIt’s not every day that you get to be part of the founding of a radio station. Many stations have been around for decades, and today’s focus is often on newer methods of communication and broadcasting. However, DJ Rusty James can add that milestone to his resume. In 2010, he was part of the founding crew at WDRT, a community radio station in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

While James had been part of the bluegrass world as a musician (he plays mandolin and guitar, and can sing any part of a five-part harmony), he hadn’t necessarily ventured into the broadcast side of it. However, a friend intervened. “I was no longer performing as a musician regularly,” he says, “so someone suggested that I help get this new station going by engineering. When I asked the program coordinator where he needed help, I was given three options that I would have been comfortable with.” Those options were producing, engineering, and recording and sound editing. He chose to do a little bit of all three, plus broadcast his own weekly program, The Newgrass Show. He’ll be celebrating his fourth anniversary with the station next month.

James hopes to one day expand his reach from Wisconsin to the rest of the world. His show is syndicated to one other station currently, but he would like to someday become a broadcaster on Sirius/XM. There’s also one other hosting gig he’d like a crack at. “I would like to be the host on the red carpet before the IBMA award show – like Katy Daley does now,” he says. “She does a great job and it never hurts for me to dream big, right?”

The majority of the music James plays on his show is, as the title suggests, on the progressive side of the bluegrass spectrum. Recent playlists include Matt Flinner, Leftover Salmon, John Cowan, Railroad Earth, and Frank Solivan, among others. However, listeners will also hear more traditional-leaning songs from artists like Don Rigsby, Blue Highway, and Ralph Stanley. Like his show, James’ definition of bluegrass combines the two. According to James, bluegrass music is “an acoustic style of music blending Irish and Blues together in a way that would not have Bill Monroe say “That ain’t no part of nothin’. This music structure is mostly unchanged but rather adding sophistication, continually keeping it fresh, and toe-tapping, great for listening and dancing.”

James also took the time to answer some additional questions about his thoughts on bluegrass. Here’s what he had to say.

What form of bluegrass do you most enjoy?


What bands do you consider examples of the form you most enjoy?

“The Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still, and Frank Solivan.”

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Shaken By A Low Sound from Crooked Still because 1. Aoife O’Donovan has an incredibly pleasant and gifted voice; 2. I love the sound of the cello and no one plays as awesome as the great Rushad Eggleston; 3. Greg Liszt is the only four fingered pickin’ banjo player that I know of. This group is smooth, laid back, and ever-so-stylish.”

What album is currently in your car stereo?

Oldies and Old Time by Ivan Rosenberg.”

James says that he prefers Airplay Direct as a way to access new music for his radio show, although “a physical CD is alright, especially when autographed.” Artists who would like to submit their music for consideration can mail a copy of their album to him at his radio station, although they should take note – he says he doesn’t play many ballads on his show!

WDRT Radio
311 South Main Street
Viroqua, WI 54665

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About the Author

John Curtis Goad

John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, with a Masters degree in both History and Appalachian Studies from ETSU.