Currently working for Radio KALW, San Francisco, Thompson marked the occasion with a program of live recordings by a few of his favorites, including the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, the Kentucky Colonels and Hazel & Alice, the Good Ol’ Persons and Hot Rize, and Mac Martin and Vern Williams.
Although he grew up quite a distance from deep rolling hills of Virginia – he was raised in Michigan – the little hairs on the back of his neck went straight up the first time he heard the Stanley Brothers sing.
Initially, Thompson was listening to wide variety of musical genres: blues, Motown’s best, rock and jazz.
During his college years Thompson spent his recreation hours recording concerts (mostly the Grateful Dead) at the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms, and making what came to be called ‘mix tapes’ of favorite songs on a portable cassette player, activities that became the basis for his radio endeavours.
It was college friend who introduced him to bluegrass music, giving Thompson a cassette copy of the Stanley Brothers’ eponymous LP (King 615). He listened to the tape repeatedly, captivated by the vocal harmonies. That experience led to an ongoing involvement with bluegrass and old time music.
He began radio work as a 28 year old at Vancouver’s (British Columbia) Co-op Radio/CFRO-FM in 1974, where he not only produced a wide variety of programs, but also served as Program Director and Music Director. It was here that Thompson recognized the community aspect of radio, providing a calendar and musical previews of performers working in the vicinity. This he continues to make a part of all of his shows.
Thompson also worked freelance at CBC Radio for many years and taught in a college media production program.
Following a move to the Bay Area, he hosted programs at KCSM and KPFA before launching Bluegrass Signal on KALW in October 1995.
When asked about the highlights of his 40 years in radio, Thompson responded with this list …
“1) Interviewing Kathy Kallick! It lead to 20-plus years of marriage and joy.
2) Forming lasting friendships with Mac Martin and Bob and Dan Paisley, both of which happened as much because of my concert presentations as radio production.
3) Working with so many wonderful radio colleagues.
4) Contributing to the development of the local music scenes.
5) Gaining rapid and widespread acceptance in the bluegrass community when I moved to California 20-plus years ago.
6) Having the opportunity to interview (and sometimes get to know a bit) everyone from Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley to Hazel Dickens and Del McCoury to the guys from Hot Rize and Nashville Bluegrass Band to Suzanne Thomas and Lynn Morris/Marshall Wilborn to …
7) Having the opportunity to hear so much great music — and share it with others.”
Since 2004 Bluegrass Signal has been syndicated on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country.
Thompson is a member of the IBMA, the California Bluegrass Association, Northern California Bluegrass Society, the Redwood Bluegrass Associates, the Pacific Bluegrass & Heritage Society (Vancouver, British Columbia) and the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music/Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, and has served on the Board of Directors for the last three organizations.
In 2013 he was awarded a Lifetime Membership of the California Bluegrass Association.
As mentioned, Thompson is married to his favorite singer, songwriter, band leader and guitar player Kathy Kallick. They live in Oakland, California.