Some old records, a game of hide and seek, and a rusty banjo string first set broadcaster and businessman Terry Herd on the path towards the world of bluegrass. What began with a love of sharing music with friends reached a pinnacle yesterday as Herd was named an IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award recipient for his role as CEO and co-founder of Bluegrass Today.
Herd didn’t have much bluegrass in his life while growing up in rural eastern Oregon. His dad had a few old Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs 78’s, as well as old banjo stored away in the bedroom. One of Herd’s first bluegrass-related memories is finding that banjo while playing hide and seek; he tried to pluck a rusted string, which immediately broke and scared him away for several years. In high school, a teacher sparked his interest in the five-string and Herd eventually learned to play his dad’s banjo, diving full force into bluegrass.
“After years of playing banjo and coming to the realization I was top drawer mediocre, the thought occurred to me that finding a way to bring people into the room, rather than run them out, might be a more productive way to spread the bluegrass love,” said Herd. He enjoyed sharing his favorite bluegrass records with friends who visited his home, and that informal DJ-ing eventually turned into him hosting his own radio show. “Looking back, that’s really all I wanted to do anyway – share this great music with as many who will listen,” he said.
Though he has spent time as everything from a dishwasher to a ranch hand to a computer salesman, Herd’s life’s work has been in bluegrass. He jokes that although he owned and operated a printing firm for a while, he got out of it due to health reasons – in other words, he was sick of it. “Eventually I decided to focus my sights on the long term goal of building a business and future in bluegrass music,” he said. That truly began with a move to Nashville in 1996, which put him right in the midst of the music business.
Not long after his move to Nashville, Herd was invited to build, manage, and host a new Bluegrass Channel for what was then Sirius satellite radio (now Sirius/XM). He assembled the original on-air team for the station, now known as Bluegrass Junction, which included some names that are probably very familiar to bluegrass fans: Chris Jones, Ned Luberecki, Joey Black, and Kyle Cantrell, all of whom still host for the channel today. While Herd was still with Sirius, his own syndicated radio show, Into the Blue, was picked up by WSM, something he said was “a dream I’d had since the inception of the broadcast.”
Herd still hosts Into the Blue, now part of his Bluegrass Radio Network and a weekly fixture on over 130 commercial radio stations in North America. In 2011, he co-founded Bluegrass Today, and currently oversees operations for the website, with a focus on marketing and sales. He also maintains the website’s weekly and monthly airplay charts, which incorporate data reported by broadcasters each week.
Herd said that he is honored to have received the Distinguished Achievement Award, but he jokes that he wasn’t sure the announcement of the award was correct. “I was pretty sure somebody, somewhere made a mistake,” he said. “And frankly, I just wanted to get the plaque before they realized they actually did!” In all sincerity, though, he is very appreciative of the recognition. “It warms my heart to know that somebody, somewhere appreciates our work,” he said. “In a word, I feel a strong sense of gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve the bluegrass community, and I hope I can continue doing this for many years to come.”
He urges those just getting started in bluegrass to not expect quick success, even if they’ve found success in another genre or even in another career. “If you’re serious about a career in bluegrass, check your expectations at the door,” he said. “There are many people who are doing the same thing, and most have been here longer than you. Relax and settle in for the long haul – that means years. Earn your place through hard work, talent, perseverance, and commitment to excellence.” Perhaps the most important advice he has to offer? “Never stop improving at what you do.”
So what’s next for Herd? An outdoors enthusiast, he plans to spend time in the next few weeks hiking the Fiery Gizzard trail in Tennessee and enjoying the fall foliage. He also hopes to take an extended fall colors tour of New England in the near future. He’ll be fitting in as much camping, backpacking, and spending time with his daughter as he can, as well. There’s sure to be plenty of bluegrass lined up, too, as he continues to explore new ventures with Bluegrass Today and the Bluegrass Radio Network.
Congratulations, Terry, and the rest of the Bluegrass Today staff!