Bluegrass radio and PBS pledge week

Goin' Across The MountainIf you enjoy programming on public radio or television in the US, you will have noticed that both are currently in the middle of their annual campaign to attract donations from viewers.

Well… at least the TV side is. Public radio stations don’t always coordinate the same time frame for their pledge weeks, though many are just closing theirs now. And it’s public radio and their support for bluegrass music that I want to discuss this morning.

Bluegrass on public radio has always struck me as a double-edged sword. On the plus side, these stations tend to be very professionally run, boast strong transmission signals (often with multiple repeaters), and in many areas of the country, serve as the sole radio outlet for bluegrass and traditional string music.

But on the other side, bluegrass, old time and hillbilly music got its start as commercial music. It was played (often performed live) on radio because people wanted to hear it. Sponsors lined up to be associated with string bands of every sort, and it was radio that propelled now-household names like Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs and Reno & Smiley to long careers in music.

Of course, times and realities change, and radio has become a far more competitive business with national programming for sports and talk edging out music stations in many markets. Still, I hate for bluegrass music to ever give off the air that it can’t compete commercially, an unfair knock that may be implied by its being closely associated with public radio.

But there is one way that the commercial clout of bluegrass can be demonstrated on public airwaves, and that comes in the form of donations during pledge weeks. While speaking recently with Dennis Jones at WNCW in North Carolina, he related the fundraising totals from the extensive amount of traditional music programming they have on the schedule.

Dennis said that with less than 20 hours each week dedicated to bluegrass, they raised 30% of the station’s total pledges. Weekend shows Goin’ Across The Mountain generated $27,462 over 8 hours, with The Gospel Truth pulling in $12,419 in 4. Mountain Mornings listeners pledged $2,792 over 5 hours during the week.

“That’s a total of $42,673 for traditional bluegrass, both historical and contemporary in 17 hours out of $139,341 raised on air over 8 days. Big numbers for bluegrass and very, very humbling.

Real bluegrass works.

We have the greatest members in the world.”

Go bluegrass – and WNCW! You can listen to their signal live online.

If any other stations have similar stories to tell, we would love to hear them.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.