When most folks think of the Armed Forces Radio Network, the first thing that likely pops into their head is Robin Williams shouting “Good morning, Vietnam!” in the movie of the same name. Although the movie is a fictionalized version of the radio service, there are some pieces of truth in it – including rock & roll music being frowned upon.
Iowa-based DJ Uncle Billy Dunbar is now firmly entrenched in the bluegrass world, with shows airing on three radio stations and online at World Wide Bluegrass, but he got his start much like Williams’ character, while serving in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. Dunbar was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, and began working part time for American Forces Radio and Television Network in 1967. He did play some country and bluegrass music back then, but also had a second radio gig doing something a little different.
“I also did a two hour radio show on civilian stations in the Philippines,” he says. “AFPN did not allow any rock & roll so I provided it.”
Dunbar worked for Armed Forces Radio for two years, and after returning to the US, began hosting bluegrass shows on commercial radio stations in the Midwest in the mid-1970s. Since then, he has worked at several stations throughout Iowa, Nebraska, and other Midwestern and western states. He has also been active in regional bluegrass music associations, helping to start the Great Plains Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association and more recently, the Bluegrass Music Association of Iowa.
Dunbar has even stepped into acting during his long involvement in the entertainment business, making appearances in several movies which are likely familiar to bluegrass fans. He’s had parts in Where the Red Fern Grows and The Apple Dumpling Gang, among other films.
Bluegrass remains his main focus, however. “There is no limit to bluegrass music,” he says. “It is our heritage.” And he’s firm on how it should sound. “One thing I surely believe is that it should stay acoustic. That is what’s drawing the people to it these days. The young folks like honest and pure sound of the original sound.”
Dunbar recently took the time to answer a few questions about some of his favorite things in bluegrass music. Here’s what he had to say.
How would you define bluegrass music as a genre?
“Mountain music and ole time country.”
What form of bluegrass do you most enjoy?
“All of it.”
What bands do you consider examples of the form you most enjoy?
“Del McCoury, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Grascals, Junior Sisk, Missy Werner.”
What album is currently in your car stereo?
“The newest Seldom Scene.”
If you could only listen to one album or artist for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
“The Dreadful Snakes.”
Artists who are interested in submitting their music for airplay consideration can send a physical copy of their album to Dunbar at:
551 Long Street
Patterson, IA 50218
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