This Sunday marks the end of an era in Pennsylvania bluegrass history. Hank Janney, an icon in the Gettysburg area, will do his final radio broadcast for WGTY on August 26.
His name was nearly synonymous with the music in Gettysburg. For the past 16 years, Hank has hosted both Sunday morning and evening shows on WGTY. He has been a regular MC at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, and for 25 years ran a music store, Arrow Horse, with a grassy focus.
Now at 72 years old, he is ready to slow down and enjoy life, to “Do what I want to do, not what I have to do,” as he put it when we spoke yesterday about his retirement.
Bluegrass was a mission for Janney, who said that everything he did came from a desire to expose more people to the music. He came to both bluegrass and radio as a young man.
“I started listening to bluegrass in the 1950s. I had smashed my leg playing baseball in college, and while recuperating I came across this strange new music on the radio. It was bluegrass, and I just loved it.
Then when I heard Ray Davis broadcasting out of Baltimore, I knew that I wanted to do radio myself. Ray is an icon, and belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
Hank started out on the Gettysburg College radio station in the 1970s, with a show on Thursday nights. The radio bug bit him bad, and he has dedicated much of his life to developing a massive library of bluegrass records, tapes and CDs. He told us that he began carrying bluegrass records in his Arrow Horse store primarily in response to people asking where they could find the music he played on his program.
“I called up Rebel Records and asked for a list of their top 50 selling titles, and I ordered a few of each. Before I closed it down, we had as many as 1500 titles in stock, all bluegrass.”
Arrow Horse also hosted a weekly jam in the store for the final 15 years of its operation, before shuttering in January of 2011. During its time, they carried all sorts of bluegrass instruments and accessories, and served as the central gathering place for bluegrass fans and pickers in south central Pennsylvania.
But now Hank wants to relax and travel.
It was never about me – i just wanted to expose people to the music. I tried to play it all. I saw the two types of fans coming together over the years. The traditional fans slowly came to enjoy some of the modern music, and the younger folks drawn in by the contemporary music discovered the early pioneers.”
Program Director Scott Donato at WGTY told us that the shows will expire with Hank’s retirement, at least for now.
“In the short term we will revert that time to regular programming, with a possibility to return to bluegrass at some point. We only had a few weeks to prepare after Hank announced his plans, and we explored a few options but they didn’t go anywhere.
The thing is, Hank’s was more than just a bluegrass show. He is so entrenched in the community, and people were loyal to him as much as they were the music.
He was on during the statistically worst times for ratings, but he more than held his on in those day parts. All credit goes to Hank.
It was amazing how many national and international listeners he had online. We were mostly concerned about our local and regional market, but we always noticed how much reaction he got outside of Gettysburg.
He has been a very important part WGTY.”
You can catch the final shows on Sunday: Gospel Grass from 6:00-8:00 a.m. (EDT), and The Bluegrass Show from 8:00 p.m. to midnight. WGTY airs at 107.7, and online at www.wgty.com.
But Hank says that he won’t completely disappear from the bluegrass scene.
“I plan to continue doing some MC work, and my wife books acts into a number of venues, so we’ll stay in touch with things.”
Congratulations to Hank Janney for a job well done. Bluegrass could use a good many more like him.