April 14, 2018, marked the 35th anniversary of bluegrass radio personality Cindy Baucom’s first day “on-air,” in a radio career that has developed exponentially during that period of time. Now she is one of the most easily recognized voices in the business.
As a teenager she performed in a band with her father, as well as working in other regional bands, singing and playing bass and guitar.
She started working full-time in radio immediately following high school graduation while attending Wilkes Community College for night classes.
When Cindy first took-up a position behind the control board, she was still Cindy Brooks, a high school senior, just a few days short of her 18th birthday. She was hired by the radio station that she grew up listening to in her hometown of West Jefferson, North Carolina; WKSK.
Subsequently, she has worked towards her goal of having her show syndicated, with stints at WKBC, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and WFMX, Statesville, North Carolina.
This ambition was realized in July 2003 when Knee Deep in Bluegrass went on air with 28 network affiliates.
Some of her broadcasting highlights and favorite memories include –
- Backstage interviews at the Grand Ole Opry with Ralph Stanley, Vince Gill, and Del McCoury.
- Sitting down with Harley Allen at his home to talk about his songwriting, singing, and his famous father, Red Allen.
- Among the many interviews, other highlights include those with Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, George Shuffler, Marty Stuart, Mike Auldridge, Doyle Lawson, and Jimmy Martin.
- On-Air Christmas Shows her husband, Terry, and she have produced with Balsam Range, Steep Canyon Rangers, Mountain Heart, Infamous Stringdusters, and more.
- Cindy Baucom is a two-time IBMA Broadcaster of the Year (in 2003 and 2017).
- She has been elected to two, back-to-back three-year terms on the IBMA Board of Directors as the broadcasters’ representative, as well as one year serving as vice-chair.
- Additionally, Mrs. Baucom was producer of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 IBMA Awards Show, staged at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee.
- She has been involved with MerleFest since its inception in 1988 and started serving as Watson Stage MC in 1990. Her MC work has taken her to a variety of stages and venues over the years.
- In 2012 Mrs. Baucom was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame.
Recently, Bluegrass Today sat down with her to review her life as a radio personality.
Tell me about the influence that your family, particularly your father, had on your involvement in bluegrass music?
“My interest and love for bluegrass music certainly came from my father, Jim Brooks, who played banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle and also built instruments. He frequently had band rehearsals and jam sessions at our home, and we attended all the area festivals and fiddlers’ conventions, so I have been around the music and musicians literally all my life. Going into radio was the obvious way for me to share the music and information with a lot of people at one time. Over the years my broadcasting work has included everything from announcing, commercial production, remote broadcasts, creating marketing campaigns, and more.”
How did you get the job at WKSK, and what exactly was the role that you had to begin with?
“I inquired with station management about assisting the current bluegrass show host with music selection and information, and found out they were in search of a replacement. Because of my passion and knowledge of the genre, I was offered a position. Literally within a few days, I was being trained on the control board… and talking has never been an issue (LoL).
My plan was to go into a college broadcasting curriculum upon high school graduation, but I was offered a full-time position with the station and chose to take college classes at night directly related to the field.”
So, you moved to WKBC, North Wilkesboro, in 1988; how did that happen? What were the highlights of your seven-year tenure there?
“North Wilkesboro from West Jefferson is only about 30 minutes away. My brother was living in the area, and I was familiar with the radio station there – an AM/FM combo, WKBC. My dad’s bluegrass band, The Tarheel Travelers, used to record a 30-minute show there for broadcast when I was a little girl. So, I had been to those studios many times and felt right at home. Working there is what facilitated getting in on the ‘ground level’ of MerleFest in the late 1980s into the early 1990s. B Townes, the original Executive Director of MerleFest, would bring Doc Watson to the studio to sit in with me on the air. Doc would share stories about Merle, and perform songs in the small WKBC studio as we sat nearly knee to knee. Once, as he was leaving, he asked if I would record something for him. I wondered what Doc Watson could possibly want a recording of since he was always surrounded by songs and music. He asked for nature sound effects from our production library. He said birds, wind, rushing water—that was HIS music. Of course, I did that for him and it remains one of my favorite memories. At that time, too, the North Wilkesboro Speedway was on the NASCAR schedule with two Winston Cup races annually. In addition to on-air interviews with the drivers, I was also invited to sing the National Anthem for four events there – complete with coverage on ESPN.”
Then you moved on to a Statesville station, WFMX ……
“The move to WFMX occurred at the start of 1996. It was a power house of a station at 100,000 watts, covering a 60-county area in a market located directly between Charlotte and Greensboro. Much of my radio work at this time was co-hosting the morning show, remote broadcasts from businesses, and special events and creating and executing marketing plans for our advertisers. This station was even bigger into NASCAR than the previous one, so more driver interviews and National Anthem singing ensued! And the annual WFMX Country Homecoming was always a highlight during my eight years at the station. This big event was held at VanHoy Farms in Union Grove, North Carolina – the former home to the famed Union Grove Fiddlers Convention. Special guests over the years included Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack, Merle Haggard, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Joe Diffie, Diamond Rio and more.
It was while working at WFMX that I was invited to start forming the outline for a syndicated bluegrass show through the John Boy & Billy Network in Charlotte. Their CEO, Ed Lowe, had seen me on stage at MerleFest and had heard me on the air (and was taking banjo lessons from Terry Baucom). John Boy and Billy had often included studio guests from the country and bluegrass world (Earl Scruggs, Del McCoury, Dolly Parton) and they wanted to be able to do more with promoting those artists through radio, but the majority of their network affiliates were rock, pop, and classic rock formats. Knee-Deep In Bluegrass was born-February, 2003, and began airing in July of that year on 28 network affiliates (we are now just under 100 affiliates airing Knee-Deep In Bluegrass each week.)
So, your time at WFMX took you away from actual radio work a lot of the time; so, did Knee-Deep in Bluegrass address the imbalance?
“I wouldn’t call it an ‘imbalance,’ as I was doing ‘radio work’ six, sometimes seven days a week. While the station already had an established bluegrass show and host, I worked directly with the advertisers of that show to create their marketing campaigns… but on the 100,000-watt FM station, I was co-hosting the morning show, as well as producing and hosting a popular weekend ‘classic country’ show. Remote broadcasts were frequent (on location at various venues and businesses in the surrounding area.) I also maintained a busy production schedule, voicing many of stations commercials. While I loved country music (and still do) my passion was (and is) bluegrass music. So, when the opportunity of national syndication was presented to me, I jumped at the chance.”
Please tell me about the link-up between Knee Deep in Bluegrass and the John Boy & Billy Network … when did that take place?
“That is a pretty interesting story, really…
Ed Lowe, the John Boy & Billy CEO, had gotten a banjo and had taken a real interest in the instrument. As a birthday present in the Fall of 2002, his wife had sent him to a ‘Bluegrass in Roanoke’ weekend presented by John Lawless, with workshops and performances. At the conclusion of the event, Ed asked John if he knew of any banjo instructors in the Charlotte, North Carolina area he would recommend. John suggested Terry Baucom and he gave Ed Terry’s contact information. When Terry started working with Ed on banjo, he made the connection between me and Terry.
Terry and I both have deep respect and appreciation of Ed Lowe, John Boy & Billy CEO and Lowe Vintage Instrument Company owner. Our association with Ed has turned into a great friendship. In addition to the radio syndication for me, Ed has negotiated some of Terry’s endorsement deals and provides the record label for Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive.”
What elements of radio work are there that makes ‘you’ someone good at your job? What routes do you suggest a budding bluegrass radio presenter should take?
“For me, the strong desire to share great music with as many people as possible, drives me to be the best I can be.
For anyone sharing the passion and wanting to pursue a similar career, knowledge of the genre and its artists is key. Observation—perhaps as an intern—would be a good first step. Education, both formal and researching on your own, is very important. Then show prep and professional execution once you are on-the-air. Make it fun for yourself and the listeners will enjoy it too. Make the recording artists and interview guests the real stars of your show and that’s when you shine!”
Cindy is married to renowned banjo player Terry Baucom, dubbed the “Duke of Drive.”
- WKSK, West Jefferson, NC 1983-1987
- WKBC, North Wilkesboro, NC 1988-1995
- WFMX, Statesville, NC 1996-2003
- “‘Knee-Deep In Bluegrass” national syndication through John Boy & Billy, Inc., Charlotte, NC 2003-present
Special thanks to Cindy for sharing these mementos of her 35 years in the business.