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Radio and television host and producer Rick Huff's column, Western Air, covers the Western radio scene.  The column is a regular feature of the Western Music Association's quarterly magazine, The Western Way, and we're pleased to have past columns posted below.  Find current columns at www.WesternMusic.org.

Rick Huff has produced radio and TV ads and done TV hosting and deejay work for nearly 37 years.  He's had his own production company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since 1978.  

His working interest in Western Music began in 1983, promoting and creating with Western Music Hall-of-Famer Hi Busse.  In 1986 they developed the radio featurette "Song and Story with Hi Busse" and Huff subsequently released two albums of Hi Busse & The Frontiersmen material.  He has co-produced CD's for Sons of the Rio Grande and Jim Jones. 

In 1999 he and Sidekick Productions' Mary Ryland formed Frontiersmen 2 to co-produce their radio show "The Best of the West Revue" and its publication "The Best of the West Digest."  In 2004 they released a double CD set, The Best of New Mexico Western: Big Surprises From Behind the Chile Curtain! and are currently working on Volume II - or as they like to call it Son of the Best of New Mexico Western!  

Huff's "Western Air" column appears regularly in the Western Music Association's magazine, The Western Way. He also writes for Classic Country & Western magazine and Rope Burns.

Rick Huff
 Frontiersmen 2
 P.O. Box 8442
 Albuquerque, NM  87198-8442
 505 265-1582

Rick Huff reviews Western music and cowboy poetry recordings in his Rick Huff's Best of the West Reviews column in Rope Burns and The Western Way. Read some of those reviews here.

Read Rick Huff's comments in "What is Western music?"


Find current columns at www.WesternMusic.org.


Winter, 2013
Around the Barn

Fall, 2012
WMA New Media Committee

Summer, 2012
Putumayo Kids' Cowboy Playground

Spring, 2012
Eddy Leverett and Around the Campfire

Winter, 2012
Jarle Kvale and Back at the Ranch

Fall, 2011
O.J. Sikes and Western Music Time

Summer, 2011
Bruce Pollock and Range Radio

Spring, 2011
New Jersey's Al Krtil and his Early Morning Trails radio show

Winter, 2011
Western Music and new media

Fall, 2010
A "mixed bag"

Summer, 2010
Utah's Cary Hobbs, host of the Cary Hobbs Show

Spring, 2010
Georgia's Doc Stovall, his Cowboys and Campfires radio show, and more

Winter, 2010
The U.K.'s Graham Lees and his programs, including The Western Hour

Fall, 2009
Real West from the Old West with Totsie Slover

Summer, 2009
Syd Masters and New Mexico's official cowboy song

Spring, 2009
A reflection on past columns

Winter, 2009
Clif Freligh and KSEY

Fall, 2008
Ralph's Back Porch with Ralph Hampton and Tamara Boatright

Summer, 2008
Idaho's "Toe Tappin'" Tommy Tucker

Spring, 2008
Texas radio phenomenon Enola Gay

Winter, 2008
Brian Ferriman on web promotion and marketing

Fall, 2007
Dallas McCord's Cowboy Culture Corner show

Summer, 2007
New Mexico Music Awards

Spring, 2007
Barb Richhart's Cow Trails show

Winter, 2007
Marvin O'Dell's Around the Campfire show

Fall, 2006
Charley Engel's Calling All Cowboys show

Summer, 2006
The Big Fred Walker Show, and more

Spring, 2006
Billie McCallie and Cowboy Jubilee, and more

Winter, 2006
Lauralee Northcott and the Dollar Watch Cowboy Show and Jamboree, and more

Fall, 2005
Hugh McLennan and Spirit of the West, and more 

Summer, 2005
Jim and Andy Nelson and Clear Out West, and more


Western Air

Winter 2013 

- by Rick Huff

Isn’t it great when a plan comes together??  Even when it isn’t planned!!  Such was pretty much the case with a novel, one-hour weekly show out of Newhall, California (and now the world) called “Around The Barn.”  Out of its three years of existence it has been nominated twice for WMA Radio Show Of The Year!  If won eventually, that award may have to be carved into quarters to accommodate the show’s four co-hosts!  To find out about the program, of course we went to the source-source-source-source!! 

Enter first KHTS announcer and board operator Mike Dowler, producing an equestrian based show there called “Along The Trail” and riding on with it through a succession of hosts.  Enter next Nancy Pitchford Zhe, founder and director of the twenty-six year strong Heads Up Therapy On Horseback program.  Stepping in as a new sponsor/host she is eager to create a platform from which to make listeners aware of Western culture, values and the Heads Up story of successes with at-risk youth and with all manner of disabilities…particularly the groundbreaking work done with horses for autistic kids (now also moving into working with returning vets).  She renames the Saturday 9AM to 10AM slot “Around The Barn.”  Enter a year later Bobbi Jean Bell, former director of retail operations for the Autry National Museum store…originally a guest, then sort of a consultant and then invited to co-host.  Enter finally a year ago Julie Fox Pomilia, originally a guest telling tales of being the granddaughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and then being invited to co-host as well!  As Nancy Pitchford puts it, “it’s always more fun with more!!”  

“We have a lot of Western and Cowboy history, particularly film history, that wasn’t being passed down,” Pitchford recalls, “ so about three years ago I decided we needed this show in our valley.”  She had a love of the informative format, but she also harbored a strong love for the old West and the Cowboy Codes.  She freely admits Roy Rogers was her hero and came as close as one can to serving as her surrogate father!  “I was born in the city but with manure in my veins!!” 

Newhall is ground central for the renowned Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.  With her retail history co-host Bobbi Jean Bell fully understands the concept of connecting product to the bigger story she calls “the tapestry of the West, with all its varied threads.”  For the Festival she runs The Buckaroo Bookshop, bringing in 20 to 25 authors for signings and panels.  Following her work for the Autry she and husband Jim Bell launched the merchandising site www.OutWest.com in 2007 and the retail storefront followed in 2009.  It sits proudly on Newhall’s Walk Of Western Stars.  “We have Rex Allen to the left of our door and Riders In The Sky to the right,” she laughs.  “And right up the street is the William S. Hart Park & Museum.” And the Bells are helping to create “stars” of today with their OutWest Concert Series...monthly to by-monthly concerts in their store with many of our top Western singers & songwriters.  The series caught the eye and ear of the local public access station SCV-TV, which now professionally videos with three cameras, broadcasts and archives the shows for all to see.  All of this ties in perfectly with “Around The Barn,” whose hour-long shows are also being archived by host station KHTS and are made available in podcast form as well as new shows being streamed live each Saturday morning! 

The happy, chatty quartette of Pitchford, Bell, Pomilia and Dowler play music and visit with musicians, authors, actors and other filmfolk and horsefolk either in the studio or by phone.  Subject-wise the sky’s the limit, but with one unifying common thread among the guests, as Pitchford explains.  “They don’t get on the show unless I feel they have the belief structure that Roy taught the kids.”  Holding true to the Cowboy philosophy, Bell is in charge of supplying music suitably attuned to the week’s subject as well as lining up many of the guests. 

All of the show’s hosts agree on one theme statement:  “If it’s not fun, we won’t do it!!” That sense of mutual affection and high spirits comes across, attracting to the hometown feeling show an audience ranging from the American heartland to England, France and beyond.  Each host has a particular niche to fill.  “My focus is mostly the equestrian side,” says Pitchford.  “I bring in the promotional aspect, music and dig up leads to guests,” adds Bell.  “Many of my friends are in the film industry,” says Pomilia, ”and I’m apparently a member of what Grandpa Roy teased Grandma Dale, Aunt Cheryl & Aunt Mimi about…being ‘officers of The Talkers Club!’”  And producer Mike Dowler knows his place, too.  “I keep ‘em in line,” he says laughing.

On a few happy occasions perfect circles are formed.  In the case of one happy Western show in California, it runs quite nicely on heart!

Following are the huge group of pertinent addresses:  Mail product to OutWest, 24265 Main Street, Newhall, CA 91321.  Toll free phone number 1-877-340-9378.  To hear live streaming of Around The Barn shows (Saturdays 9AM to 10 AM Pacific time) go to www.hometownstation.com.  The website www.SCVOutWest.com gets you to “On The Air” for what’s coming up and “Happened” gets you to past show podcasts.  For OutWest Concert Series shows look at the Live Music page.  “Happening Next” previews what’s coming, “Happened” has concerts in reverse chronological order dating back to 2010.  And to avoid any buffering you’re suffering, the full concerts are…or will soon be…on YouTube!

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

Fall 2012 

- by Rick Huff

So here I am with my supposedly lofty knowledge of past and present Western Music and my widely accepted deep appreciation for our artists’ output.  You just know any song that I would have been humming incessantly around here simply must be one of those great classic visions of our grand and glorious West!  Sorry to disappoint.   

“The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” has been running through my head for the last two weeks.  I didn’t hear it somewhere to prompt it.  The song probably hasn’t been played by anyone but Dr. Demento in forty years.  I don’t want it chomping around in my skull and I certainly didn’t invite it to invade.  If it’s not currently running through your head at the mere mention, “Eggplant…” was a recording from the late 60s…done in the days when the music industry wasn’t afraid to occasionally put out a peculiar novelty instead of just being “peculiar” itself.  Ok, let’s see.  My only trail back to our subject this time is remembering that it was created by Norman Greenbaum performing under the name “Dr. West’s Medicine Show & Junk Band.”  Ah!  There!!  ”West” and “Medicine Show.”  At least we’re close to being back on track!! 

Actually I’ve brought all that up as sort of a tenuous platform to use in putting forth some ideas about the music business, what the general public expects, what we Western fans and performers have here and finally encouraging those f’s and p’s to at least begin deciding what they would want newcomers to think of Western Music!  You may not feel it’s much of an issue now, but just you wait.  It could become crucial.  I’ll set the stage.

Through our New Media Committee and other means at our disposal the Western Music Association is embarking on plans to bring our musical genre to potential new audiences.  By that we mean finding new people who will immediately like or will grow to like Western Music.  We’re reasonably sure they’re out there, but from the git-go we do need to recognize certain things about them and about reaching them.  Here are just some of the facts that may be pretty tough pills for Western Music diehards to swallow. 

Pill #1 (bitter, but not unexpected):  Likely it will not be a new audience for Western numbering in the multi-millions.  Without the promoting of major motion picture studios (like Republic did in the Golden Age) or an all-consuming tide of popularity rising from a single blockbuster film, series or sex symbol to propel it, Western will never again hit fad status.  There are signs from the studios of a rekindling interest in things Cowboy.  You will notice, however, that Western Music is not generally being used or sought out for their soundtracks.

Pill #2 (big and rough-edged):  It has been suggested (even by some of those who perform Western Music) that “Cowboy” is not the word to lead off with when we are hunting the fresh game of new ears.  It is the sound of the music rather than the message that will first interest new folks, and in all probability the word connected to our music that will first prick up their ears is “Acoustic.”  Some of them will then enter the corral and warm to the music’s purpose and difference as they get better acclimated, but at the outset new people will have little or no frame of reference for anything deeper. 

Pill #3 (a gagger for boomers):  Hitting newbies up front with the grand tradition spawned from Gene, Roy & Dale, The Sons Of The Pioneers and that gang cannot, cannot, CAN NOT work.  Not with folks who weren’t there!  Most people age fifty and under have never heard of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers and we can do little to make them care.  They will never be able to feel what those who grew up agog in that innocent time felt.  Some may appreciate the vocal accomplishments of the singers once they get to hear them, or the maybe the campy weirdness of mixing cars and planes with chases on horseback and gunfights will briefly amuse…but what does any of that have to do with Facebook?  They won’t get it and can never be made to get it. 

Pill #4 (Excedrin for the headache of the first three pills):  On the bright side, we own our music.  Western is ours…lock, stock and barrel racer.  Think about it.  Arguably it’s truer for us than it is for the fans and performers of any other musical genre (particularly the market manipulated ones where people are programmed to accept what’s what and shut up).  Western fans own Western.  That comes from nurturing it from the ground up, or the grass roots up…with no genetic engineering in sight.  We can state the terms and carefully position the image of Western, making it ready to receive whatever size audience is out there to be rounded up.  But that audience will come to us with certain expectations already media-programmed into their heads (there’s the “dumb thing caught in your brain” connection from earlier)!  So the question is “what do you want Western to be?”  Don’t keep your answer a secret, particularly from those who are scanning the electronic skies for us…but try to self-administer a dose of reality before giving it too loudly. 

There is a fifth pill for me, and it is certainly one I may cough back up.  It is unarguable that computers simply (or not so simply) have to be the salvation of Western Music.  It literally cannot survive without us priming the digital pump.  I’ve said it many times in print and it galls me every single time, but the Internet has the power to kill us or king us.  And up until now, I think you can guess which of those we’ve been facing.  It doesn’t have to stay that way.  It can’t, for everybody’s sake, and it’s time to form our plan. 

My lady Mary Ryland says it succinctly.  “We are the ‘We’ in Western.”  So how ‘bout We take a Stern look at the issue??  Now where was I?  Oh yeah…

 “…you’d better watch out for…the eggplant that ate Chicago…” 

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

Summer 2012 

- by Rick Huff

The package arrives in the mail.  I can tell it is a musical release of some kind intended for review, but I don’t recognize the public relations firm that has sent it. I open it up…and my jaw drops. Almost immediately I recognize that it simply has to be the subject of the column, and NOT just a review. What’s the reason for my mandible dislocation? Putumayo Music, through their Putumayo Kids division, has released a Western Music compilation!  This isn’t one of those re-release gold budget collections destined for some has-bin in Wally World! And it isn’t some in-house, dyed in the West source that’s issuing this. This is Putu-freaking-MAYO!!

Cowboy Playground will be sold in sixty to eighty countries,” confirmed Putumayo Founder/CEO Dan Storper by phone from his New Orleans office. “We sell to gift stores, book stores, craft stores, health food stores and more.  With our Putumayo Kids series we’re trying to introduce children around the world to other cultures through music. Whether it’s introducing them to African culture through African Playground or African kids to American Western culture with Cowboy Playground, it’s all part of the underlying mission Putumayo has.”

Over the years Putumayo has released hundreds of successful collections showcasing joyous and uplifting musical adventures from around the world. When Storper decided to draw on one of his own early musical influences for an album, it was no different. “I grew up with Davy Crockett, the coonskin cap and the singing cowboys before I found the international sound of the 1960s in Sergio Mendez, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Last fall we did an album of singer-songwriters called Acoustic Café’  In the course of researching it I came across Americana and cowboy songs that were such fun and so infectious I thought it would be great to come up with an album of kid-friendly cowboy songs.” And Storper wasn’t thinking versions just intended for kids. What he wound up with is a collection adults won’t mind hearing repeated and repeated…the odious situation that is, for them, the legendary curse of most so-called “kids” albums. 

Another part of Putumayo’s philosophy also makes contemporary Western a good fit for them. They are not concerned about the presence of “name acts” on their product. As Storper explains, “it’s always about the song, never the name. Because of the wide distribution our aim is to find music that everyone in the world can like…Germany, Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Mexico and Wyoming or Calgary.”

The songs that eventually made the judges’ cut (Storper runs them past many, many ears before finalizing the selection) will do us proud. All are wonderfully produced, slick but not homogenized arrangements, and keen eyed observers should appreciate that nine of the fourteen artists included are current or former WMA members! In order of appearance, the tracks are Wylie & The Wild West (“Saddle Bum”), Riders In The Sky (“I’m An Old Cowhand”), Kerry Grombacher (“Close ‘Em On Up”), Liz Masterson & Sean Blackburn (“Back In The Saddle Again”), David John & The Comstock Cowboys (“It’s The Cowboy Life For Me”), Buck Howdy (“Pecos Bill”), Johnny Bregar (“Don’t Fence Me In”), Victor Johnson with Kathryn Claire (“Home On The Range”), Ian Tyson (“Whoopee Ti Yi Yo”), Dave Stamey (“May The Trail Rise Up To Greet You”), Peter Rowan & Don Edwards (“Take Me Back To The Range”) and Cowboy Envy (“Happy Trails”).  It is, by any account, a stellar offering. 

Storper’s friendly neighborhood cowboy ethnomusicologist Kerry Grombacher was called on to consult. “We didn’t know each other at all,” Kerry laughs.  “A mutual friend Drew Young who worked in Dan’s office contacted me about it (as did Dan) during last year’s WMA Awards Show & Showcase.  I got home to New Orleans on Monday and by noon Tuesday I was having lunch with Dan across from his office. I brought three or four dozen CDs from my collection and gave him a ‘little’ lecture on the roots, trail songs, the movie era and contemporary Western Music starting with Marty Robbins on up.”  By luck of the draw and popular vote, Kerry feels blessed to have had one of his own songs placed in the collection as well.

Notes for the CD’s engaging booklet are from writer Holly George Warren, and they are concise and nicely accurate. Also featured are historic photos from the Buffalo Bill Historic Center’s Belden Collection.This is a wonderful opportunity to have our best Western foot extended forward for us by a top flight promoter of music worldwide. As Kerry says, “the more we get Western Music out in front of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to it, the better off we’ll be.” I, for one, couldn’t agree more.

 CD:  $13.99 thru www.amazon.com or in specialty stores worldwide; www.putumayokids.com.       

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

Spring 2012 

- by Rick Huff

The variety of means through which people get Western Radio shows going never ceases to intrigue me. That just could be why I created a column about it in 2003! Some have had to struggle and fight to break through various forms of broadcaster inertia, outright silliness and dogged resistance of a program director to anything new or creative. But the fellow we’re profiling for you this time (not unlike the fellow we profiled for you last time) had absolutely no trouble getting a show on the air. Montana’s Jarle Kvale did it by being the program director in question, the only one he had to convince. Alabama’s Eddy Leverett did it in a way that used to be patently illegal!

“We buy the time from the station and resell it to our advertisers,“ Eddy confides. Before deregulation of the FCC under Ronald Reagan, such an activity would have constituted time brokerage, and there may still be people jailed who engaged in it back in the day! At least the fines imposed were certainly daunting, as I recall. And depending on the severity or frequency of the offenses, some stations were lost. But now all that is behind us, and it opens up a perfectly legitimate way for potential show hosts, particularly on medium and small market commercial frequencies, to get their Western Music and/or cowboy poetry program on the air. And if you’re reading between the lines, you read right. Leverett and Slaten do get paid for their efforts.

“We have great sponsors,” Eddy says, “including an insurance company, a fertilizer company, a bank…people like that who believe in it and promote it.” And one of them went even further, as Eddy explains. “My partner Terry is in the Army Medical Corps of the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months. One of our sponsors named Wescoat Free sat in with me.  He enjoyed it so much he still sits in now that Terry’s back!”

The Leverett/Slaten partnership began when the two cowboy musicians connected at a Cattlemen’s Association meeting for which Eddy was the entertainment or, as Eddy puts it, “A guy I knew came up and said ‘I play a little music too…’wanta get together?’ That guy (Terry) turned out to be a pretty good student of Western Music.  We got to pickin,’ I wrote some songs, we recorded a couple of CDs, and we’ve been entertaining all over the country.”  Playing during the legendary Elko Gathering at venues like the Red Lion, the High Desert and even the legendary Stockman’s once may have helped smudge on a bit of cult status onto their jeans. But they both continue to love and play the branding parties. 

Two years' worth of talk about doing a radio show ensued after they sat in on one with host and musician Bill McCallie in Chattanooga (profiled in a past column).  But it was while they were flying back from a branding party for Hank Vogler in North Spring Valley, Nevada that Terry finally put his booted foot down. “We’ve talked about it long enough! When we get back let’s start the radio show,” Eddy reports Terry declared. And five years into it they’re still having a blast.

Around the Campfire With Ed & Terry” airs for thirty minutes each Sunday night at 8:05 PM Central Time on 92.1 FM WKUL and streams from Alabama to the world real time on www.wkul.com. And it looks like they’re going to get to expand to one hour. They pre-record the shows in Eddy’s home studio and deliver the CDs to the station for airing.  Eddy also has what he cheekily calls a “Spacebook page.”  He says “Every week we put on there what we’re featuring on the next show. We get a lot of response back from people that way. Something went wrong one week and we didn’t air. We heard from a guy in California asking, "What happened?’”

The show opens with their theme song “Saddle Bum” as done by Wylie Gustafson and used with his permission.  Then comes a bit of casual chat about what went on in their lives that week and it’s into the music. They play a couple of songs and go to a brief commercial break, then perhaps comes their regular feature called “Cowboy Logic” with  some bowlegged observations from the likes of Will Rogers or Eddy’s original mentor in poetry, Baxter Black. Then more songs lead into the second advertising break, and the evening wraps with “The Trail Bosses’ Corner.”  “That’s our religious spot, but we try to keep it as Cowboy as we can,” Eddy assures us.

While there is listenership for “Around The Campfire” from the segment of the population who grew up watching westerns in theaters or on TV, Leverett says much of his listener base is in the agricultural community…in other words, the folks who actually live what is talked about and sung about on the show. Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, that fact is not a universal one, as affirmed by a number of other show hosts we’ve interviewed. It may be worthy of some closer research to find out why.  But in the mean time, Eddy simply follows the sage advice of Baxter Black, who told him early on, “When you start, have fun doin’ it. If you’re not having fun you won’t have an audience listenin’ to ya.”  Leverett says, “We took it to heart, and so far it’s workin’ out pretty well!”

To send CDs to Leverett for airplay, the address is Campfire Productions, 1623 County Road 820, Cullman, Alabama 35057.

Western Air
appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

Winter 2012 

- by Rick Huff

The elements of the gauntlet that must be run by prospective Western music show hosts who try to get their shows on the air will generally line up in a certain way. The station manager will say “no” or must be won over. In Jarle Kvale’s case, the station manager said “go for it!” At public broadcasting stations a dubious board of directors may need to be convinced. KEYA’s board was completely supportive. But Jarle faced one tough cookie in getting KEYA’s program director on board with the idea. Or, as Jarle confesses, “I had to convince myself!”

Yes, Jarle (which rhymes with “Carl”) Kvale (which doesn’t rhyme with much but is basically “kuh-VOLLEY” as in the ball game) actually is the program director in question. He’s worked with KEYA, the second oldest Indian-owned public broadcast facility in existence, since 1994. That was when he made good his career escape from day-to-day commercial radio and television, and he has never looked back…except to count himself fortunate. 

In the roughly two years Kvale spent toying with his Western show idea, two main considerations entered into his thinking. He and his wife are part of the horse culture (they currently have five) and he’d basically grown up loving Western music. Also he had begun performing cowboy poetry, but he worried “would I be the only one listening to the program?” And even though program directors at public broadcasting affiliates don’t have quite the daily level of manic insanity thrust at them that their commercial broadcast counterparts endure, he admitted “I had a lot on my plate at the station, and even a thirty-minute show can take hours of planning!”

After battling it out with himself, he won! So did the listeners of the 19,000 Watt station in North Dakota. Jarle Kvale’s half-hour “Back At The Ranch” show went on in April of 2011, airing at 9 AM Saturday mornings within a block of Classic Country music programming.  “It seemed like a perfect fit, and I’ve been amazed at the reaction of the listeners,” he says.  Jarle has now joined the ranks of Western show hosts who are stopped on the street or in businesses by appreciative listeners and told how much the program or a particular song or a poem that was featured on it means to them. It feels good to Kvale, and it’s not a feeling he ever experienced in his years in traditional radio and television.

“Public broadcasting allows you more freedom to directly communicate with your audience,” Kvale says, “and at KEYA we program a lot of different formats to satisfy listener musical preferences…Classic Country, Vintage Rock, American Indian and more.”  Now Western music and cowboy poetry are helping to broaden the station’s preference base even further.

As part of his due diligence (I swore I’d never use that phrase again…maybe this time it’ll stick) Jarle consulted Montana performer DW Groethe (who wound up contributing one of his songs “Give Him a Horse and Saddle” as the show’s theme), CowboyPoetry.com (who gave Jarle a write-up and help in getting the flow of performer CDs started); and, he also got advice from radio host and singer/songwriter Marvin O’Dell as well! What Kvale came up with was a show that worked for him on various levels. “I figure people want to hear the song or the poem and not me raving on, so I keep the talk to a minimum…really brief introductions and maybe some background if it’s necessary…but basically I try to stay out of the way.”

A typical 30-minute “Back At The Ranch” program might contain six or seven musical selections and two or three poems, all depending on the length  One show from a couple of months back happened to lean toward the swinging side of things  It opened with Carolyn Martin’s “Texas To A T,” then came Joni Harms’ “Swing.”  Next up was the classic poem “How Bob Got Throwed” done by Rex Rideout, followed by Ian Tyson’s “The Gift” as rendered by the Sons of the San Joaquin. Then it was Earl Gleason’s “The Habit,” comic poet Pat Richardson’s “Bigfoot” and a second Carolyn Martin tune, “Yodel Blues,” which was then countered by Wylie & The Wild West’s “Yodel My Blues Away.” The week’s half-hour visit ended with “Swingin’ The Blues” by Montana’s Open Range.

Kvale tries to keep the theme shows to a minimum, preferring instead to take advantage of the freedom of programming choices afforded him by his Public Broadcasting affiliate. “I feel trying to have regular themes for shows would tend to hem me in too much, but sometimes the music or poems will suggest something, and I’ll follow it.” 

At present KEYA doesn’t stream its broadcasts, but a plan…funding permitting, of course…is in the works.  Meanwhile Kvale is considering some manner of podcast for his program…personal funding permitting, of course [see January, 2012 update below]. And he definitely encourages artist submissions for use on “Back At The Ranch.” As he puts it, “Every day CDs arrive at the station is like Christmas for me!"

                                                *          *          *          *          * 

Artists can submit CDs for airplay consideration by Jarle Kvale by sending them to KEYA Radio, PO Box 190, Belcourt, ND 58316.  His email address is jkkeya@utma.com.

[*January, 2012: Past shows are now available on podcasts at keyaranch.podomatic.com


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

Fall 2011 

- by Rick Huff

Truly it’s an interesting trail that OJ Sikes has ridden. And to follow it, we’ll start at the natural place. The end.

It should come as no particular news that OJ shared “DJ Of The Year” honors with Al Krtil at the 2010 Western Music Association Awards in Albuquerque. How that particular part of OJ’s broadcasting adventure came about is due to his ten years and hundreds of hours of programming catalogued and heard 24 hours a day online through the nostalgia-based www.bostonpete.com. And that only got started at the end of his thirty-year career with the United Nations where he specialized in education and communications.  So, welcome to The End!

“I was just two weeks away from retirement from my UN work,” OJ remembers, “when I got an interesting note from the actor Will ‘Sugarfoot’ Hutchins. He and I were (and still are) columnists for ‘Boyd Magers’ Western Clippings.’  Will had read my reviews and had just started a show of his own on BostonPete (named for its Bostonian creator Peter Kenney). Will saw that I sometimes would include brief stories in reviews and he thought it might make a good radio show.” (OJ had begun a bit of feature hosting on Mary Ryland’s and my radio show “The Best Of The West Review” back in 2000, and he kindly credits that experience with giving him the spark to try it).  Roll forward to his neighbor’s backyard cookout. One of the invitees turned out to be a professional songwriter who offered to record a demo show for OJ at his home studio a convenient two blocks away. “When the web master heard it, he wrote back and said ‘not only do I like it…my mother likes it!’  So I was in!”

OJ Sikes’ “Western Music Time” follows the format he originated for it. The show is largely based on classic artists and classic material. Examples include (of course) The Sons Of The Pioneers and Roy & Gene, but also Andy Parker & The Plainsmen, Foy Willings’ Riders Of The Purple Sage, The Reinsmen and other greats.  But, like OJ says, he isn’t one to let good opportunities to interest listeners in newer things pass him by, either.  “Since the website is largely nostalgia oriented, I don’t stray too far away from what listeners have shown they expect.  But Red Steagall, Sons Of The San Joaquin, Don Edwards and others whose music can stand up alongside the core format…of course I use it!”

Despite Windows Media Player being required to hear OJ’s shows and the BostonPete site not being the easiest to navigate for some, an astonishing array of folks seem to have found it and, since those hundreds of hours of back shows are always available, many of them pretty much keep the show on as the soundtrack of their lives.  OJ says with justifiable pride, “A lot of people listen in the office or have it on in their shops as the background sound.  I’ve had emails from truck drivers who had laptops hooked up to cell phones or something in the cabs listening as they drive in the late hours of the night, others I’ve heard from work on ranches and say they’ve got the boss’s computer on in the bunkhouse, and I heard from one guy who said he was in a very small crossroads saloon.  The bartender had set his laptop on the bar and he and a bunch of the guys from the ranch were in there listening!”

Across the span of his work with the programs of the UN Population Fund, OJ Sikes’ travels have taken him to more than fifty countries. In his continuing consultancy he is periodically still called on to travel (as we spoke he was fighting prolonged jetlag from a jaunt to The Philippines). Now fans in many of those same countries are hearing and emailing him, including people in China, Indonesia and all across Europe. “Yesterday I heard from a guy in Denmark who was on his way to Germany, and I heard from a fellow in Russia…,” OJ marvels during our phone interview.  One of the most surprising aspects to him is the frequency of emails he gets from cultures that don’t even share our musical scale! “I don’t know how Western Music manages to relate to them, but it obviously does,” OJ beams with obvious satisfaction.

Ten years (to the month, as this is being written) and hundreds of hours of programming later, there is no end in sight for “Western Music Time.”  “I remember that songwriter who recorded my early demo show for BostonPete to consider,” OJ says. “When the show was accepted he asked me if I thought I had enough for a second show!”

In the beginning OJ’s show was one of a mere handful of programs offered by BostonPete. Now the offerings from the site number around twenty, and Will Hutchins’ show remains among them as well.Truth be told OJ Sikes actually has two shows. His venerable “Western Music Time” has now been joined by “Bluegrass Music Time” which you might wind up finding by simply clicking on the site’s bar that says “OJ’s Latest Time!”  My, my.  Western and Bluegrass!  Sorry, friends, but the naked truth had to come out sometime.

OJ Sikes…is bi-musical.

                                                            *          *          *          *          *

At the time of this writing, OJ Sikes and fellow DJ Of The Year Award recipient Al Krtil were sharing something less desirable…the task of battening down ahead of Hurricane Irene…which isn’t what either of them wanted to think of as being on ‘the hurricane deck.’         



Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

Summer 2011 

- by Rick Huff

Is it Reality, or Dream? 

Someone offers two 24-hour Western-friendly formats including contemporary and classic Western artists, playing to hundreds of thousands of people a month, expanding onto radio stations across the country but heard worldwide…and playing predominantly to people ages 26 to 54?! Say hello to Range Radio and its guru Bruce Pollock!

When I first encountered Bruce in 2003, he was launching a station in Albuquerque to combat the leading two Country stations in town, both of whom were steeped in Pop Country. And now for this interview, speaking by phone from his home in California, he can’t help but laugh heartily when I ask the question we both know the answer to only too well:  “How did your love of Western begin?”

“It was a love born of necessity,” Bruce chuckles.  “To launch ‘101.3 The Range’ in Albuquerque the idea was to put Western back into Country because it was always there before and it worked!”  Pollock recognized a passion for it could be rekindled. “We found the way to blend Western with Traditional Contemporary Country and Country Gold without playing any of the Pop culture Country.”  Looking nowadays at his published playlist of a random hour’s “last twenty songs” on www.RangeRadio.com you begin to get the idea.  Both Rex Allens are there along with R.W. Hampton, Don Edwards, Roy Rogers, Sons of the San Joaquin, Michael Martin Murphey, Chris LeDoux and others.  They are intelligently blended with such diverse artists as Norah Jones, Al Kooper, Loudon Wainright III, Swing Soup, Asleep At The Wheel, Dave Alexander, Highway 101, Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson.

Upon leaving New Mexico in 2004 (after the station group was sold to new owners uninterested in new ideas), Bruce Pollock launched RangeRadio.com and it has been galloping along ever since.  But his next opportunity to play the format on standard terrestrial radio in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2006 taught him a valuable lesson, as he recalls, “I ran the morning show and got the email requests.  I discovered we were playing to real cowboys AND people who owned G4 jets and were staying in resort hotels or second homes.  Then they’d go back to Houston or Detroit or Los Angeles and still be listening online, asking ‘why can’t anybody play that music here?’”  That’s when he began to fully understand the potential for Western Music as a draw in upscale, urban radio formats.

Enter a gentleman named James William Guercio.  Inveterate album jacket credit readers may recognize the name from seeing it on nineteen of Chicago’s albums, those of Blood Sweat & Tears and more.  He recorded Elton John, Amy Grant, The Eagles and Kris Kristofferson among others at his famous Colorado studio Caribou Ranch.  It was Guercio who founded CMT, built it up and sold it to Time Warner.  He heard RangeRadio.com, loved the sound and potential of what he heard and contacted Bruce Pollock to become involved.

Bruce had relocated to California by this time. With Guercio, former Marvel Comics executive Peter Cuneo and his son Colin as investor/partners, they founded Rangeworks, Inc. With former Cowboys & Indians Magazine exec and current editor of Cowboy Way Bill Reynolds, Bruce went about setting up the digital and print publication of The Range called Ranch & Reata Magazine.  And finally in January, with Shawn Knight of Knight Broadcasting, “1410 The Range” was launched in Santa Ynez, California as home base for a second radio feed to be syndicated to terrestrial radio stations.  Bruce gleefully reports about its streaming success, “In January we had 1000 listening hours, February we had 2000, March 4000 and in April 11,000 hours!  Between the two streams we have 25.000 hours of listening…6000 downloads of our mobile applications for iPhones, Droid and Blackberry in just five weeks time.”  With pinpoint accuracy, Bruce knows the growth and demographics of his audience. And on that last point, Bruce Pollock has some shockers for us.

“Only 20% of our audience is over 55 years of age,” he says with impact, “19% of our audience is 18 to 24, 60% of our audience is 25 to 54 and sixty percent of the audience is female.” You heard right, you prognosticators of Western Music’s viability with younger folks!

Today RangeRadio.com is heard in more than 100 countries with devoted listeners in every state, every major city. 1410 The Range has already picked up 23 countries.  The show “Overnights On The Range” with Rex Allen, Jr.** has been syndicated in Fresno, Santa Barbara, Wichita, San Saba, Texas, “And we’re working on several markets for 24 hour-7 day syndication,” Bruce adds.  And while the format has evolved, more than 50% of its content (and that of 1410 The Range) remains Western. But the success of Range Radio doesn’t surprise its principal chef. 

 “Its branding is ‘The West.’ People love the idea of being a part of the cowboy life. I learned I had a very upscale format, equine based, that would be loved around the world. It’s more than a rural format. It’s a lifestyle.” 

Send CDs for airplay to Bruce Pollock, Range Radio LLC, PO Box 648, Santa Ynez, California 93460.

                                                             *          *          *          *          *

 **SPECIAL NOTE:  After I had arranged to do this interview and separate from it having been  done, Bruce engaged me in my professional broadcast creative capacity as he had in the past to assist in producing Rex Allen, Jr.’s show and has offered me a program of my own.  For both I will receive pay.  I wanted to make this disclosure so as to not be involved in a conflict of interest.


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

Spring 2011 

- by Rick Huff

For the uninitiated, Al Krtil isn’t as unpronounceable as he looks!  Just sorta rhyme it with “brittle” and you’re mostly there. This past November Al and our friend O.J. Sikes were named co-recipients of Western Music Association “DJ of the Year” awards for their respective programs. The quiet irony of that Krtil/Sikes pairing isn’t lost on him. 

“We certainly have a unique story,” Al chuckles.  “Two New York businessmen meet out in Tucson at the first Western Music Association Festival in 1989. We worked eight or ten blocks apart in midtown Manhattan at the time!”  And now they’re both doing Western in New Jersey, but don’t ask…it’s a cowboy thing.  Al’s singular dedication to promoting through broadcasting the music he’s loved from his youth certainly qualifies him to be awarded.  In his case, perhaps knighted!

“Shortly after Elton Britt died in 1972, I said to myself ‘we’re not going to hear this music anymore’!”  As the gravity his words sank in,  Al Krtil vowed to do absolutely everything he could to try to preserve and enhance what he still thought of as Country & Western Music, or as he puts it, “With Nashville going in all directions but the right one I really felt there was a need.  We started this organization called Friends of Elton Britt, not as a fan club, but as a movement to try to keep his name in the limelight.” 

A couple of years later, through the yodeler Kenny Roberts, Al met radio deejay Farris Wood from WTHE in Mineola, New York.  He and Britt were from the same part of Arkansas.  The host asked Al if he wanted to come out to the station one night as he’d had a lot of requests for Britt, Rosalee Allen, Patsy Montana and others who weren’t represented in his or the station’s collection.  Al began in the summer of 1975 and continued appearing on the show five or six times a year through the early 1980s.  Then he began to discover many specialty programs dedicated to traditional Country & Western music on college and public stations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  They included Mike Gross’ “Swingin’ West in Fairfield, Connecticut,” Irv Simner’s “Out Behind The Barn” at Hofstra University, two different shows “Tennessee Border” & “Honky Tonkin’” on Columbia University’s station…and then there was the one farthest away.

 “Herb Sudzin was on the air out in New Brunswick, New Jersey…which was fifty miles away from me at the time,” Al laughs. “I contacted all of the show’s hosts and before long I was going from one to the other!  I had the opportunity to get my own program at a couple of the stations, but I felt it was more beneficial to move around…rotating among six or eight stations in the area as they weren’t the strongest signals and had different audiences.” That’s syndicating the hard way.

Al was primarily playing the classic artists from both Western and traditional Country, but he says he was eventually made aware that Western recording artists were not a thing of the past.  “During the 80s I met Patsy Montana through Dennis DeCosta, host of “Let There Be Country” on WFUV at Fordham University in the Bronx.  Patsy was still touring in Europe and would always come into New York on her way.  In 1989 she told us about the formation of the Western Music Association, and said ‘you’re gonna hear all the music you’ve played is still being made.’ So I went to Tucson that first year, and coming back on the plane I told my wife Fran ‘I’ve got to focus on these people.’”  That’s what Al Krtil proceeded to do, still traveling to the different stations across the region.

In 2000, shortly after Al and Fran moved down to New Jersey, Herb Sudzin invited him to be part of his weekend “Sudzin Country” programs.  One problem.  His station, which was fifty miles away from Al in the Bronx, was now seventy-nine miles away from Al’s new home in Ship Bottom!  “It was still the closest to where we’d relocated,” sighs Al, “and of course Herb was on from 6 AM every Saturday and Sunday.  That meant leaving the house at 4AM!!”  So, that’s what Al Krtil has been doing to present his “Early Morning Trails” shows on the last Saturday of each month since May of 2000. One thing has changed, though. To click off the station’s overnight automation system, he now has get up to make the drive to New Brunswick at 3:30 AM!  “It’s the love of the music,” Al adds, stating the obvious.  “Thank God I’m able to still do it!”  And although he says it’s never really been an issue, he does admit there is an occasional drawback.

 “Sometimes driving home in June, July and August can be a problem.  I get hung up in the traffic of all those people heading down here to the Jersey shore.”

Hey…what’s a cowboy to do?!

Send CDs for consideration for airplay to: Al Krtil, 225 W. 7th Street, Ship Bottom, NJ  08008.


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.



Western Air

Winter 2011 

- by Rick Huff

This time the column is going to be a pretty wild ride, in more ways than one!  It will load you in at some of those computer and tech issues I’ve been posing and then send you to a sweet Western setting.  Next it’ll throw you into some history and science and take you back to Western.  Finally it will whip you along past more questions and leave you dangling in mid Western Air. 

They charge big for that kind of thing on the midway, y’know…

If you’ve got your ticket, let’s take off.  Those of you who attended the WMA Awards Show & Showcase this year should have come away from it being more motivated than ever (especially if you heard our motivational speaker) to put our music out there to the world.  When I left you last time in this column, I had just put forward the idea to you that we need to be giving Western Music a solid presence in the new media or the new media can bury us.  We need advice and counsel on the most effective ways to put our music in front of a population that does not look up from the screen.  That project requires finding willing people who are at least attuned to that virtual village even if they are not voting residents of it.  And I’m about to give you an indication of what we may be up against by having waited as long as we have to occupy space in it.  Scene change! 

The village we recently found ourselves in is historic and Western.  Las Vegas, New Mexico is about as steeped in cowboy tradition as any town that isn’t necessarily trying to look steeped in cowboy tradition is apt to be, surrounded by working ranches and agriculture on all sides.  Walking along past some of its downtown tourist draws on a fine Indian Summer afternoon we encounter a book store with Western history and Cowboy music books displayed in the window.  It’s name?  “Tome On The Range!”  Of course a name like that forces us to enter it, and almost immediately I spot a book of a decidedly non-cowboy nature.

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton & Co.) boldly states on the cover its subject matter:  “What the Internet is doing to our brains!”  In amazing detail supported by historical facts and undisputed scientific studies as evidence, Carr demonstrates the effect of the newly discovered neuroplasticity of the brain (I’ll bet this is the only cowboy music piece to use that one this week)!  What that means is this.  Not only do we change the way we do things because of the tools we develop…the cellular construction of our brains starts to change to accommodate the new behavior, to the point that we cannot function the way we did before those changes happened!  He proves this by moving through each stage of human development, from cavemen taking up sticks and clubs and then never putting them down, through the abandonment of loosely marking the day by the sun’s position into development of time increments that are measured, Guttenberg’s press causing people to be able to lose themselves in printed words for the first time…and the computer.  The “tool” of the computer has retrenched human minds more drastically than any other “tool” before it.  Through its instant response, quick bits and blips of information and concurrent images displayed, the computer is causing humans to become unable to perform acts of fixed concentration.  Even author Carr moans about his own lack of ability to focus, now that he has willingly embraced The Beast.

As computers show no signs of retracting from our daily existence, and people with their little morphing plastic brains show no signs of wanting to go back to another way of doing things, we can only assume that the faltering aspects of the computer-clutching human animal described in Carr’s book are going to become more and more and more of a consideration.  So how are we to talk, let alone sing, to these people?

And back to Western Music we go.  Try this one for lack of focus and concentration.  There are now “authors” who are getting paid for Twitter fiction for phones!  So-called “literature” that is not over 140 characters in length!  How would that effect efforts to present to a new audience Western saga songs, for instance?  Or teaching the history, relevance or even making these altered individuals grasp the basic reason for the existence of Western Music in the first place?  How do we put Western across to people as they seek out 140 characters of enlightenment?  What kind of audience can we find within the computer generation, or is there one to be found at all? 

This is just part of the reason why I maintain the various new media have the power to break us more easily than they can “make” us.  This stuff is upon us, folks…right now…and unfortunately we are not even close to being up on that horse yet.

For now I’ll shut up on the subject, but please do think about it.  In asking that I’m assuming I caught some of the folks who can still concentrate…


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

Fall 2010 

- by Rick Huff

I hope you’re ready for a mixed bag this time. Rather than devoting this space to profiling one of our soldiers in the broadcasting battles, I’ve opted to at least touch on some issues that we need to eventually do much more than just touch on. Also, some congratulations are in order!  But first, a word from our sponsor…

If you haven’t closely read the new qualifying criteria for consideration in the WMA Awards categories, you might have missed this little tidbit concerning CDs. Basically it amounts to this: The days of failing to list credits (composers, publishers and the correct affiliation ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN and the like) are over, over, over!!! One reason for this crackdown is that artists recording the songs of others are required to do it as part of their licensing arrangement. Failure to do it is suspect at the very least, and listing “PD” when a song isn’t Public Domain or citing the incorrect songwriters is a dead giveaway that licensing has not been obtained. Some in our genre have fallen into a dangerously casual attitude about it, and that simply can’t work in a professional environment. Furthermore I have been "encouraged," shall we say, to no longer review albums that do not comply with this. I can see the point.  t could imply we condone the practice, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Now back to our program.

Before we plunge into this next part, I need to confess something to you. Namely, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I know we need to know! Proceeding on from here may not give you a feeling of security, but trust me. It’ll be good for us both. I further confess that I am not oriented to technical life. The computer age has only aged me. The stupid things and their alleged improvements in life have done little but fail me or hinder me. That I should be one of the principal voices in the WMA screaming to gain a presence for Western Music in the new digital media has to be one of the great ironies out there. Decry it though I must, I also have to admit the rest of the world has embraced it. If Western Music isn’t represented in the most effective ways on each of these outlets, it’s going to be buried. Possibly forever.

During our last WMA Board Of Directors meeting in Tucson, we discussed the new media issue a bit. At one point somebody brought up a computer and cell phone application I’d never heard of called “Pandora.” If you aren’t aware of it either, it seems you can call up any format of music on it you want. If Pandora hadn’t been brought up, it’s conceivable that many of us sitting in that room could have gone on for years not knowing about its possibilities. How do we make Western Music available on it? I haven’t got a clue, but somebody does! This is the sort of thing that illustrates why we need to recruit enthusiastic, watchful, computer-literate people (from outside of the WMA if necessary) and form them into a loose but ongoing New Media Committee. Through them we can be advised as these types of media appear…seemingly they pop up daily… as to what needs to be done to ensure our genre has a meaningful presence in each. I’m posing this to you so you can start actively recruiting, not just for your passing interest. Talk to people, People! Find them, alert the WMA about them. The WMA will contact them and get them in touch with each other. Not to panic you, but this simply must be accomplished before we lose any more ground. We blinked and Wichita lost its longtime Western friendly station. Heartland Public Radio ditched its Western Music channel HPR2 before we could even get out the word about Barb Richhart's and Charlie Engel’s shows being on there. That was all because not enough people stepped up to the plate. This is no time to stand idly by.

On a brighter note, we mustn’t miss the opportunity to congratulate the musical category winners in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Western Heritage Awards held at the National Cowboy Hall Of Fame in Oklahoma City. Wrangler Award winners included Steve Moulton (named 2009 Outstanding New Artist for his album Cowboys & Campfires). He entertains at the A Bar A Guest Ranch near Encampment, Wyoming.  His original song “Steamboat” is about the legendary bucking horse his great grandfather Guy Holt rode… one of the few cowboys to ever do it. The Wrangler Award for Outstanding Original Composition went to the writing team of Dave Copenhaver, Terry Scarberry and Leroy Jones for “The Great Western Trail” which appeared on Jones’ CD Looking Back. And none other than Andy Wilkinson & Andy Hedges took Outstanding Western Album honors for their release Welcome To The Tribe!  The efforts of these folks represent the genre of Western Music very well indeed.

The Western Heritage Awards and the more recently created Spur Award category for Western Music offered through the Western Writers of America are but two of the recognitions of the value (and values) inherent in Western Music. For broadcast outlets to be paying little or no attention to it says…well, about what it’s always said about broadcast outlets. However we should definitely let it say to us that we have work to do…and lots of it! 

© 2010, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.




Western Air

Summer 2010 

- by Rick Huff

To find the inspiration for this quarter’s column, I turned to the bubbling headwaters from which many leads flow: Marvin O’Dell’s list of Western Music-friendly show hosts!  Scanning along, I found many folks with whom I’ve already spoken through the years…Bill McCallie, Barb Richart, Ken Overcast, Chuckaroo The Buckaroo, Joe Baker, Hugh McLennan, Dallas McC--wait a minute! What’s this show in Heber City, Utah?  There’s a huge Cowboy Poetry and Western Festival there every year! I thought just maybe there might be a story in that… 


“In 1955 I worked for the first exclusive All-Country station in the United States,” says the still robust-voiced host of KTMP’s “Cary Hobbs Show,” the station’s Monday through Friday drive time program.  “It was KDAV in Lubbock, Texas. It had gone on the air in 1953. I was fourteen at the time, and I came on when the main sponsor, the local Pontiac dealership, wanted to sell cars to parents through the teenagers and introduced Rock & Roll!.”  Cary Hobbs saw it all in action. 

“Lubbock was full of music then. Waylon Jennings was there, Buddy Holly came in and sang on our “Sunday Party” program every week,” Hobbs remembers. “At one of our live remotes at the Pontiac dealership I introduced Elvis Presley and he sang for half an hour.  He had four Sun records out then.  His big song was “Baby Let’s Play House.” 

Country Music still maintained a continuing presence on the station. “About every three weeks they brought in a Grand Ol’ Opry Show,” says Hobbs, “and I’d get to meet them all…Johnny Cash was there many times. But it was when they brought in Rock acts like Jerry Lee Lewis or somebody that I’d get to emcee.” 

While popular with the kids, station honchos finally had to admit Rock and Rockabilly just didn’t jibe with KDAV’s main format, so after a couple of years they deep sixed the Rock and began the format they called “Country & Western.”  They meant what they said, too.  “We played lots of Rex Allen.  I had him and his fiddler Wade Raye on the show when Rex came to headline at the Texas Tech Rodeo in 1962, the rodeo I rode in. That made up my three second rodeo career,”  Hobbs laughs.

Cary Hobbs continued in broadcasting through high school and college.  He even ran a radio show while in the navy, out of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.  But his return to civilian life put down the anchor his broadcasting life. Or as he tells it, “I started a career with IBM and a software company, and I was sort of out of the disc jockey business until I moved to Midway, Utah in 2004. Midway and Heber City are right together, and the giant Cowboy Poetry Festival there really reconnected me with Cowboy Music.”

The open format of Heber City’s KTMP-AM is a perfect fit for Cary Hobb’s special expertise. “They were a Classic Country outfit and I knew all those guys.” And if somebody called the station for a song they didn’t have, Hobbs would go out to his barn, dig out the 33 RPM record, then, as he says, “digitize it and put it in the computer.” And that brings up a first. 

Maybe some of our past interviewees for this column have done it, but this is the first example that I know for certain I have encountered. Cary Hobbs runs much of his five day a week afternoon drive time show…off his iPod.  “I have 12,000 songs on it,” he reveals. “The rule around here is if they ask for it and it’s here, we play it.”  Now the KTMP format is that familiar Country AND Western one he knew in Lubbock. And Hobbs figures he may now play more total hours of Western Music than any other conventional broadcast outlet.  “Some shows may be all requests,” he says, “and others may be about 20%.  Sometimes I do a theme and have listeners call in with songs about the color “red” or something. I’m free to have guests. I had Dave Stamey on for an hour, and just a month before his untimely passing Curly Musgrave was on with Belinda Gail.”  If it’s left up to Hobbs, it’ll be Michael Martin Murphey, Sons Of The San Joaquin, Ian Tyson, Juni Fisher, Dave Stamey, Don Edwards, Riders In The Sky, the Quebe Sisters and others including, of course, local Heber City favorites Richard Lee Cody & Mary Kaye. Many classic and current Western Swing artists are in the mix as well. “That’s what’s so great about this little market,” Hobbs says enthusiastically, “Real horses, real cowboys, and everybody really gets it.”

Each year when the big Heber City Cowboy Poetry Gathering & Buckaroo Fair nears in November, Cary Hobbs takes to the schools. He is also a musician conversant in many styles of playing, and in assemblies before grade school and middle school kids, he and guests (Ernie Sites this past year) get to show the young people just what all the excitement is about.

So, to recap…Cary Hobbs gets to play what he wants…in a Western-aware location…on a station that is “the only game in town!”  I dreamed…I was there…in  Cowboy Broadcasting Heaven!

 To send CDs for airplay, the address is Cary Hobbs, 131 Ryans Lane, Midway, UT 84049.

© 2010, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.



Western Air

Spring 2010 

- by Rick Huff

Just like the nucleus is the center of the atom, the "nucleus" of Western Music activity in the deep south just may be our ol' friend Doc Stovall...and I can almost hear him protesting that opening from here! If it can be called an arguable statement, at least it's certainly true that plenty of Western and cowboy poetry activity buzzes around him down there!  If the premise strikes you as unlikely, try this part. 

"I work for the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia," the Virginia mountains-raised cowboy singer explains.  "We have a couple of other museums and some other entities in Cartersville, and one of 'em is a radio station." Doc and his friend, co-host, historian and former 20th Century Fox gunslick for the movies, Jim Dunham, run a half-hour radio show there.  Dunham "provides the authenticity of the stories," which leaves Doc free to talk about the all-cowboy music and cowboy poetry format they run. In Georgia. In the South...!

"If it's not Western, we don't play it," Doc continues, "it's your typical 1000 Watt station. If you get too far out of town you're not gonna pick us up, but we made some noise and we're syndicatin' on some other stations now." In Atlanta...in Florida...in Alabama! Cowboy, folks! And "made some noise" indeed. "We won an award from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters for the best locally produced, non-news show in a small market." For our interview Doc grabs and reads a sample log of artists played. "Of course," he jovially grouses, "now I'll have to figure out where that goes back in the stack!  David John & The Comstock Cowboys, Prickly Pair, Prairie Rose, Michael Martin Murphey, Sons Of The San Joaquin and R.W. Hampton. That with the talk is a thirty-minute show. I screen the music, put it on, and judge by listeners' reaction to it. My listeners are pretty doggone smart." And when it fits, he's found it's also "smart" to offer them some of his own music and poetry as well. 

So, it's past time for the reveal. In Doc's home down South, from whence came the Cowboy?

"I had an affinity for Western music at an early age because of the Western matinees, and I remember 'radio'...when we had Sky King and Gene Autry's Melody Ranch and different shows that came on Saturday morning. 'Course then there was the local theater on Saturday afternoon." Young Doc even got some parental conditioning. "The first song I remember hearing was 'When The Work's All Done This Fall,' which I remember my mother singing around the house!" Sure, later Doc would drift a bit. Even a closet cowboy can have that in him. "I played Bluegrass and Country both as a lead singer and as a side man," Doc recalls, "and then about eighteen years ago I ran into a bunch of cowboy poets here in Georgia (!) and my entire life was changed!" (More on how that has played out in a minute...)  "I took Country songs I had written and put a 'cowboy' twist on 'em and presented them at cowboy gatherings...and I've been doing it ever since!"

Doc Stovall is another one of the performer-hosts who knows the value of bringing live performances to the people. He reports there is a theater in town that seats just over four hundred. He books Saturday night shows that always sell out, and keeps the performer roster booked about a year in advance. In another smaller venue that accommodates one hundred sixty Doc also "does some stuff for Public Television" as well. His concerts in the venues have featured R.W. Hampton, Rex Allen, Jr., Riders In The Sky, Red Steagall, Michael Martin Murphey, Asleep At The Wheel, Jim Jones, Belinda Gail & Curly Musgrave ("Boy, we miss him!" Doc adds, sadly). The "Sweethearts in Carhartts'" teaming of Jean Prescott, Liz Masterson & Yvonne Hollenbeck were due in as this column was being written. And you might think that would be enough. I did say the "activity buzzes around him," didn't I?

"We do two major events a year," Doc continues. "The second weekend in March we do a certified chuckwagon cookoff and we have the finals for the Georgia Cowboy Poetry contest for kids. That's a thing I started six years ago." The first year they had fifty-one entries. This year they had eight hundred fifty-three. In Georgia!  In the South!  Doc chuckles with pride, "They're playin' for money now at the various grade levels...fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth, ninth and tenth, eleventh and twelfth. First place in each pays $500, second pays $300 and third pays $200. Next year it's our intention to endow a scholarship to the grade eleven and twelve category in addition to the prize money." Even now Doc takes the elder student winners in for a photo op with the Georgia governor. "It helps get the word out," he smiles.

From the free workshops and seminars he conducts as part of the educational outreach to the entertainment that has entrenched itself as part of his area's quality of life, it's little wonder Doc Stovall can report something very nice has begun to be said of his and Jim Dunham's on-air offerings. "Anyone who's in business or has an affection for Western around here just refers to it as 'our radio show.'"


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Doc says he'd like to be added to more artists' lists for demo CDs!  Send yours to Doc Stovall, PO Box 3070, Cartersville, Georgia 30120.

© 2010, Rick Huff


See our feature about the Doc Stovall here and about
 the Georgia gatherings at the Booth Western Art Museum here.


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Winter 2010 

Quickly becoming a fixture at many Western Music events is a tall, distinguished fellow from Yorkshire in the United Kingdom.  His calm demeanor masks a raging passion for his subjects...Country, Bluegrass, Western Swing and Western Music...with some Buddy Holly thrown in for spice!

Meet Graham Lees—radio host, writer and widely travelled champion of what you might call "rural roots" American music. And that widely travelled description is a big part of the story. I can't recall encountering a broadcaster who's put more dedicated effort into grasping the reason, the essence and the spirit behind the music he loves and plays. Lees' earliest connection to Western in particular will seem quite familiar to many.

"As a kid," Lees recalls, "I was always interested in Cowboy films, like kids were back in the 50s. In my early teens there was a kids program ("The 5 O'Clock Club") that featured two presenters. One was called Wally Whyton (renowned skiffle and folk performer who later would be produced by George Martin) and Bert Weedon, who was the top guitarist of his day. They sang one song I really liked that turned out to be Country Music.  And then I latched onto Johnny Cash!"

Subsequently living in Australia for several years gave him his introduction to (of all things) Bluegrass!  After suffering a broken leg in a skydiving accident, he returned to the United Kingdom and began focusing in on the thriving Country scene in the clubs.  "They'd meet once a week or once a month.  And then I heard what they called 'San Antonio Rose!'  Well..." he reverently corrects, "...it was 'Rose Of San Antone,' of course!!!"  And he was quite happily hooked for life.

By 1993 several Country magazines had popped up, all hungry for someone to write up the British club bands playing the genre.  At the urging of friends, Graham Lees began covering the beat.  "Then I moved on to historical articles on the music of the 40s, with Bob Wills," he says.  In fact it was on a tour booked by one of those magazines' advertisers that first brought him to the US.  "The theme of this one was 'The Indian Wars.'  He'd give us a discount if I'd write an article about the tour.  We were in Idaho, South Dakota, Montana and ended up at Cheyenne Frontier Days!"

It was an article assignment to write about current Western Swing bands that caused Lees to shore up his knowledge on the internet.  He laughs, remembering, "Being the clever guy I am I said 'oh, sure I'll do it.'  I only knew Asleep At The Wheel and Commander Cody!!"  Through Chuck Woods (of the Western Swing Festival in Wichita Falls) he contacted Dayna Wills, Buddy Spicher and others.  But he'd also set the basis for a perfect excuse to return to our shores in June of 2001.  "My wife had been hinting about getting married, so I said 'why don't we get married on my birthday and honeymoon in Texas?!!"  They did, and on that trip Lees made another dream come true...visiting the Bob Wills Museum!

"We stayed at the hotel in Turkey," Lees says. "It was a Sunday.  I asked the lady when it would be open and she said she had the keys! She got this old school bus out...her husband was driving...and they took us and a young couple over to this little museum.  After twenty minutes the young kids were ready to go home, so she said to me 'you stay here, there's the phone and here's my number!'  Three hours later she came back looking for me, and I was set there going through all these scrapbooks!!"  Before heading back to England the couple also managed to spend an evening hearing Gary P. Nunn at the legendary Gruene Hall, Billy Joe Shaver in Bandera, take in the Alamo and hit Luchenbach too!!

By 2003 Lees had wound up with his own radio show, having first sat in with another "presenter" and finally landing a two hour program (currently it's one hour of Country, one of Western).  That same year found him back in the US at Red Steagall's Cowboy Gathering meeting Don Edwards, R. W. Hampton and the late Larry McWhorter.  His next trip came from an invitation to attend the Academy of Western Artists' Will Rogers Awards, from which he flew on to the Calgary Stampede, connecting with Curly Musgrave & Belinda Gail, The Texas Trailhands and more Western artists.  And now he's just returned to the microphone following his second visit to the Western Music Association Showcase & Awards Show in Albuquerque!

Although his listeners mainly only phone up to say what they don't like, enough have let him know they appreciate what he does to keep him forging onward.  And Lees confesses he has despaired somewhat over the Western part of the Country scene in Britain's clubs.  "In the Western scene, people mainly just dressed up as cowboys and the climax of the evening was the fast draw shootout.  Also line dancing hurt the club scene and the festivals...put off the true Country fans."  But he says Country, and Western as part of it, has made a comeback in Ireland and Scotland and is coming back in England.  And of course Graham Lees is always game to come back here!

"If I win the lottery," he laughs, "I'll be coming back for everything!!  You'll be tired of me and kicking me out of the country!!"As they say in the Old Country, "not bloody likely!!"

© 2010, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Fall 2009

Just based on our interviews for this column, obviously there are ways and ways to get yourself into your own Western Music radio show. Totsie Slover was handed one of the toughest ones.  She basically inherited her husband's show after he passed away.


"I didn't dream I'd have a radio show," Totsie recalls. "Howard reintroduced me to Western Music when he got started with his in September of 2006."  As many of you know the late broadcaster and Deming, New Mexico civic activist Howard Staub had only just joined the Western Music Association's Board of Directors in 2007 when his health began to fail. But Totsie Slover came by her love of the music much earlier.


"The music was something that I grew up with," says Totsie, who was named for her two grandmothers Zelma and Lotta (youngest of her siblings and known as "Tots"). Her real name is Zelma Tots. Totsie warns that it could have been "Alotta Zelma" but we digress.


"I grew up at the once a month Western dances in Hatchita and Animas down in the New Mexico bootheel.  You'd throw coats on the floor behind the chairs and the kids would lie down when they couldn't go any longer!  Everybody would just stay there...til it was over!"  Not only was she immersed in the music, she also lived the genuine working ranch life for her first 16 years.  Although she remained connected to ranching for many more years, she eventually drifted away from the music...til Howard!


"The first Western event we went to was in Alpine, Texas...January or February of '07," she says relishing it, "and I either laughed or cried through the whole thing!  It brought back so many memories I just instantly fell in love with it all over again!"  Totsie went with Howard to Western events far and wide and got to know the people.  "I was Howard's official photographer, I think!  And CD carrier..."  But it was when Howard got sick that the spirit in the people that causes the music became most apparent.


"It was the people from Western Music who kept in touch, several calls and emails every day...and they continued to do it after he passed away.  It was amazing.  I felt like they were my extended family."  And Totsie wanted to not only continue her husband's quest, but to give something back as well.  "After my brain started working again, I knew the most important thing to Howard at that time was to keep Western Music alive.  I thought 'I can do the radio show' and even talked to the station manager about it and she said 'if you want to do the show...it's yours!"  That's when Totsie heard some show promos with Howard's voice, thought she could never match the animation of his delivery, and told the station manager "I can't do it."  Summer came, people began asking her if she was coming to last year's WMA Festival in Albuquerque, and Ruidoso host and promoter Joe Baker called her to say the WMA was doing a tribute to those who had passed away during the year and she might want to be there for it.


"On the way up I had a bunch of Western Music CDs in my vehicle and was listening to them to get into the mood.  By the time I finished the three hour drive to Albuquerque I thought 'I wanta do this radio show!!!  I called the station manager from the hotel and said 'I wanta do the show, Candy' and she said 'whenever you want to start!'"  Some additional time elapsed as Totsie had to see to medical needs of her mother, but the epiphany came.  She didn't have to do the show like Howard did it!!!  She smiles, saying "that gave me the courage, and I'm lovin' it!"  Now it's her show that airs each Wednesday morning from 10 to noon on Deming's KOTS 1230 AM, with an emphasis on the music, not the talk.  In May she went to the Cowtown Society of Western Swing to accept a posthumous award for Howard as DJ Of The Year, discovered her newest love Western Swing, blends it with the Cowboy Music, a dab of Honky Tonk and Classic Country and about every sixth track is Cowboy Poetry.  It streams on the internet at www.demingradio.com, and her playlists can be found at www.realwestoldwest.com and www.realwestoldwest.spaces.live.com.


Oh, yes...Totsie also now edits the BackfortyBunkhouse online newsletter for its founder Joe Baker, helping to get the news out about the music, the deejays and their playlists to more than 700 subscribers internationally!  "They had just won Publication Of The Year at that same Cowtown Society event that honored Howard," Totsie exclaims. "The editor Howard Higgins felt he wanted time away from it and it looked like it was going away.  Being the mouthy person I am I said 'Joe, it has to keep going.  I can do that!'"  And Joe Baker couldn't be happier she said it.  "She's really adapted to it quickly," he tells us with obvious pleasure.  "By the third issue, it was hers!"   


Send CDs for airplay to Totsie Slover, 220 South Gold Avenue, Deming, New Mexico 88030.  Subscribe to the BackfortyBunkhouse Newsletter at www.backfortybunkhouse.com.


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SIDEBAR:  Your Western Music Association directors have been more closely looking into the technical aspects of advancing the genre than at any time in our history.  Thanks almost solely to the diligent research and efforts of William Merritt, we are finally preparing to move Western Music into the position it needs to be to avoid being trampled in the continuing computer stampede.   At this year's big November fest (renamed "The WMA Showcase and Awards Show" to stop people asking where the chuckwagons are!) you will hear what we've begun learning, its significance & what encoding of your CDs will do for you including digital tracking of sales and usage, royalties, helping to establish a Western Grammy category and much more.  If you are a CD-issuing performer or intend to become one, don't...don't...DO NOT miss William Merritt's presentation on it during the November "do!!"  Look it up on the schedule of events, be there and take notes!  You absolutely must begin to know and apply this information if you have the slightest intention to forward yourself or the cause of Western Music!!


© 2009, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Summer 2009

We just passed a special kind of milestone in the progress of positioning our great Western and Cowboy music where it deserves to be.  It's not a specific marker we were looking for, but I'd say it definitely qualifies in the milestone category.  One of our fifty states has just named an official State Cowboy Song!! Official...as in "passed into law" and "for all time" and all those other permanent, carved into stone kinds of things like that-there!

Previously the closest any states had come to that distinction are those that have a "State Song" bearing some Western lyrics, such as Montana's.  Kansas has "Home On The Range," as its State Song.  And Oklahoma has (you guessed it) "Oklahoma" from those mighty Western tune wranglers Rodgers & Hammerstein.  Arizona came close when it named Rex Allen, Jr.'s beautiful "Arizona" (a.k.a. "I Love You Arizona") as its official Alternate State Song (I guess for when they don't care to sing about the "graves of heroes sleeping" over dinner).  And New Mexico came close once before when it named Michael Martin Murphey's "Land Of Enchantment" as its State Ballad.  And their State Song "O Fair New Mexico" was written by Sheriff Pat Garrett's daughter!  But New Mexico finally bit the bullet...roped and tied it...rode it to the buzzer...how many other Western allusions can I work in!  In March of 2009 Governor Bill Richardson signed into law Syd Masters' "Under New Mexico Skies" as being the nation's very first Official State Cowboy Song!! 

Why is that especially noteworthy, you may ask...and if you do, what the heck are you doing reading this Western Music in broadcasting column?  And why, you press onward, is it being written about in a Western Music in broadcasting column?? 

"I've heard from sources as far away as Beijing, China!" says a solidly amazed Syd Masters from his mini rancho in Edgewood, New Mexico. "Part of the song was played on CNN and some other networks (the tie-in)! They all seem to think it's a pretty big deal!" When the story was first released by the New Mexico Music Commission it was fed out on the Associated Press wire and it got picked up across the globe. Of course we've come to realize something.  Whatever The Cowboy means to the world at large is never more apparent than on such occasions. And such occasions can grow from the simplest of seeds.

The search for the song grew from a memorial written by New Mexico State Senator Gloria Vaughn. In it she convincingly cited the need for the state's cowboy history to be commemorated and she induced her fellow state legislators to act. It was decided the fairest way to proceed would be to have an open competition among qualified residents of New Mexico. Those who were in attendance at the 2007 Western Music Association Festival in Albuquerque will recall Senator Vaughn and New Mexico Music Commission Executive Director Nancy Laflin up on the stage, reading the memorial and officially launching the song search preceding the Friday night show. And so the starting gun was fired!  Word was put out in local papers through news stories and radio spots promoting the contest were created.  Over the course of the following year, the NM Music Commission received twenty-three entries for consideration.

As Nancy Laflin recalls, "our task was to assemble qualified judges and numerically rate each song in various criteria. We then were to present our top rated song to the legislature who would vote yea or nay on it." Among the top rated entries considered were songs from Jim Jones ("Cowboys Of New Mexico" on his CD Still Ridin'), The Flying J Wranglers ("Song For New Mexico" from their CD of that name) and Pete Laumbach ("Xochimilco/Tulipan" from his CD My Picture Window). When Syd Masters received word that his "Under New Mexico Skies" (on his CD The Cowboy Sings) had come out on top, he really wasn't that able to focus on the news. 

"I was busy setting up sound for the 2008 WMA Festival!" Syd laughs. "I was thinking 'where are the stage plots??'  It didn't really start to sink in until Wylie (Gustafson) came up to me later with a newspaper and said 'Syd, this is gonna be huge!!!'"  The hugeness started with Syd Masters & The Swing Riders performing the song before the legislature...and earning a standing ovation!  And the nation's only Official State Cowboy Song soon found the world singing its praises.

"In addition to China a lot of European countries covered it," Syd marvels, "and it was on MSNBC, it was in the Washington Post, USA Today...over a hundred media outlets that I know of. That's the most publicity I remember a cowboy song getting in just a couple of days!  Probably not since Marty Robbins was writing them!  I've honestly got to say it was pretty humbling!  I'm just a guy trying to break even singing cowboy songs!"  Before long others will be singing at least one more Cowboy Song, it appears.

"I've already had interesting requests for the song," Syd confides. "Children will now be singing my song in schools, there are barbershop quartets that will be doing it, and it is rumored a guy who charts stuff for symphonies wants it for high schools and colleges.  It's really cool!"  And isn't it interesting how we Western people generally get a grounding thought about now.  Syd's?

"I hope I write another song that's 'cool' sometime..."


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If you want to hear "Under New Mexico Skies" go to www.sydmasters.com and listen.  The song plays in its entirety on his home page!

 © 2009, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Spring 2009

Having an interview fall through on you can be disastrous.  Or it can make you look back into your previous columns, see what subjects have or have not been covered, suddenly discover this marks the start of the seventh year you've been writing the column, take a stiff drink poetically saluting fickle time and its passing and decide to explore where we've come since we started and where we have yet to go.  It can make you do that!!!  Hey, just wait til it happens to you!!

This reflection on past columns did point up an area we need to explore more deeply.  So one of the areas you'll be hearing much more about in this column (and elsewhere) is what the WMA is preparing to do for its membership involving new media.  We did recently talk about it in our piece on Ralph's Back Porch, and attendees at this past Festival in Albuquerque got a chance to watch it in action as the whole world listened to what we were doing for nearly fifty hours!!!  We've touched on new media's power in this column when we interviewed Brian Ferriman on his broadening use of MySpace and other online services for Brenn Hill and R. W. Hampton.  We discovered he can directly target "friends" who sign up to determine who and where people are who will likely buy CDs and come to shows and had acquired more than 3000 new customers for his clients' products in the first three months of prospecting.  But we...and he...barely scratched the surface of what's possible to do. 

In the January Board Of Director's meeting in Tucson, we all began to discover what can really be done as our friend William Merritt laid out his initial findings for us on encoding music tracks and bar codes.  Don't cross your eyes!  Not only will you get to track when your albums sell or your songs are downloaded, you're also going to be able to know when your music is being used or played and have a real chance of getting proper royalties from it!!  Of course writers of songs will also be able to tell if you are using their music without permission!  Just based on that, I can safely say the Western Music Association is preparing to offer some wonderful assistance and guidance to its members.  More on that when the time comes...

Back to this Western Air column.  One of the discoveries I made through poking around was the coming of age of the LP (Low Power) FM stations which, up until my interview with Charlie "Chuckaroo The Buckaroo" Engle, I really knew next to nothing about.  I've also consistently been impressed at the techniques various aspiring Western radio hosts have used to snag their host stations' attention and, in the vast majority of cases, their loyalty and support.  Some big surprises for me came when I found that some of the Western Music shows are on some pretty unusual stations.  A couple of cases that come to mind are Bill McCallie's show on a Classical format station and the example of all examples:  Big Fred Walker's part Traditional Country and part Western program on the Polka station run by the area high school!!!

I suppose in any properly assembled retrospective you need to state what you're proudest at having written and what you might have done differently.  I'll hit the latter first.  In the very first column I stated that The Grammys were considering opening a category for Western Music.  Not so.  That's what had been reported to us by certain previous members of the WMA board.  Because I sat in on a seminar conducted by the lady who is in charge of the Los Angeles office of the Grammys, I can now report if they would have considered it, they aren't at the present time...and the reason is because we have never gone about it correctly.  If Western Music performers truly feel having a Western Grammy category is what we've needed, I now know the exact way to do it!  We'll try to do a special interview with her for you in a future column, but I'll give you this to chew on.  It has absolutely nothing to do with CD sales!!

Proudest of having written?  One of them would have to be the warning I gave about assigning the term "cowboy" too loosely.  That came about as a number of artists released songs called "Cowboy In The White House" following the election of George W. Bush.  I maintained that regardless of his eventual successes or failures, we were making a mistake as he is not a real cowboy anymore than the Dallas Cowboys are real waddies or the Miami Dolphins are real sea creatures.  And if we're living up to the mission statement of this organization, we won't award that designation of "Cowboy" any quicker than working cowboys award it to each other.  Yep, I do still like that one.

And I like the hope and positive action embodied in one suggestion from a Western Music fan.  Liza Dennis let us know what she was doing to make a dent.  She would buy classified ads in various papers around the country where the line by line rate was inexpensive.  The classified she'd run said simply "WESTERN MUSIC FANS:  Keep asking Country Radio to play it!!"

Gotta say it still pretty much comes down to that.

© 2009, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Winter 2009

You used to hear about it.  You’d hear tales of individuals who would make a difference with their personal efforts.  And institutions that would listen to individuals and effect change based on what they learned.  Maybe that was only in Frank Capra movies.  And Western Music radio, of course!

Enter WMA member Clif Freligh…tired of the radio drivel from so-called “Classic Country” radio stations that oh so adventurously offered one true classic artist per hour!  And forget about any Western Swing or Cowboy music. 

“In about mid 2007 I went online looking for something else and came across KSEY,” Freligh remembers. He now runs his own Country community online known as Country Jamboree offering links, sources and referrals for people to stations and music they will like, among other things.  But back to the story. 

Freligh found a lot to like in the Classic Country station from Seymour, Texas. Or as Clif puts it, “after about thirty minutes of listening I decided this was the station for me!  The more I listened the more the small town feeling came across.  Then I found out on Saturdays they played some Western!”  And, like they might say down at the ol’ corral, that cinched it!  But the way this New Mexico uber-fan became personally involved is a bit more involved!!

KSEY-FM is owned and managed by West Virginia native Mark Aulabaugh, who told us by phone about his own trail into Western country:  “I was really into Spanish (language) radio first. I was manager of KNON, a community radio station in Dallas where I used to talk on the phone with the owner of KSEY AM & FM.  The AM signal also served Wichita Falls which was the largest market in Texas without a Spanish station.”  Aulabaugh convinced the man to switch to Spanish Language which brought in money, but this owner (like many others of his ilk) really wanted to be “absentee.”  In late 1992, he’d had his fill.

“The guy called and said he was pulling the plug in two weeks and if I would give him $5000 down and take over the note the place was mine,” Aulabaugh still marvels.  “With two weeks warning I stepped into the operation!”  After some experiments with a Branson network that tanked and Oldies, he switched to Classic Country on the FM station.  “The real stuff from the ‘50s and ‘60s…not much later than that unless it was styled the old way,” Aulabaugh recalls.  “In ’97 or ’98 some people whose musical tastes I respected convinced me to start adding in a local or regional artist now and then.”  That was accomplished only when their airworthiness allowed.  That was the trick, of course.  But over the years, enough quality Western Swing swung Aulabaugh’s way to earn the genre a berth on the train.  In a manner of speaking the Western Music KSEY-FM plays came aboard largely as a matter of economics.

Syndicated programming is offered free to stations on a barter basis.  Underwriting sponsors include their ads in the shows, the stations run those ads for free and get to sell other ad slots to make their money.  If your station is largely automated like KSEY-FM, maybe someone is on hand to watch for technical trouble and do some local news, but the station largely runs itself.  And savvy Mark Aulabaugh definitely gets his money’s worth!  “Saturdays we run Red Steagall’s ‘Cowboy Corner,’ Ken Overcast’s ‘Cowboy Hour,’ then two hours of ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘All Star Western Theater,’ Larry Scott’s ‘Singin’ & Swingin,’ and Dave Alexander’s ‘World Of Western Swing!’  Even a Dallas-based Bluegrass show gets a shot and overnight Jim Loessberg’s “Legends Radio” takes its turn.  And it was this format that attracted the attention of our WMA friend Clif Freligh!

“I started sending them music and some old radio shows from Foy Willing & The Riders Of The Purple Sage and they really got off on that,” Freligh beams with satisfaction.  “Pretty soon Mark said ‘look, why don’t you start contacting people for music?!!’  So I started with the WMA list of artists, searching the Internet for Swing bands and Cowboy artists!  I started getting people to send me the CDs and I’d send the ones to Mark I knew would work for him, and send others to more deejays I knew could use them!

Mark Aulabaugh is enthusiastic in his praise of the arrangement. “Clif Freligh has really helped us as a consultant. As he’s learned what we’ll play, he’s been very helpful in weeding out the music. Through him and through the shows we play, we’ve discovered some artists I never would have known about!”

As I wrapped up the interview with Mark Aulabaugh, I was struck again with the way a little personal contact like Clif’s can have an effect.  Mark asked, “what publication is it you’re writing this for?”  “The Western Way, I answered, “the magazine of the Western Music Association.”  “The Western Music Association. Hmm,” he repeated thoughtfully. “I may have to join your group!” 

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SIDEBAR:  As other centennials were being marked this past year, one seems to have gone by without any substantive observance in the Western community, and it does seem a shame. It was in 1908 that a certain New York-born cowboy, rancher and surveyor stuck a deal with an Estancia, New Mexico newspaper editor to print a little six cent book of cowboy songs whose lyrics he’d committed to paper along with some of his own. His Songs Of The Cowboy was the very first collection of the music our association holds so dear…the introduction of “Little Joe The Wrangler,” “Chopo” and others and the lauching point for John A. Lomax’s partly plagiarized work. Nathan Howard “Jack” Thorp deserved better than he got from the Lomaxes and better than he got on his anniversary.    

© 2009, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Fall 2008

Picture this image for a Western talk and music radio show: a friendly, kick-back couple just sittin' and rockin' on their back porch and visitin' with friends who drop by. Now what would you call this back porch get together if the guy's name were "Ralph??!"

Ralph's Backporch plays on the worldwide web twice a week "live" for two hours (Mondays & Fridays 7PM - 9PM Central Time), and a separate Western Music feed nicely fills the rest of the time, seven days a week. The main operation should have moved to the show's official website www.ralphsbackporch.com by the time you read this, but since September 2007 the chat & music fests have been on www.blogtalkradio.com with the music feed on the internet specialty radio provider "Live 365."

Originating in San Augustine, Texas, Ralph's Backporch is the brainchild...although they might jokingly question the term...of Texas-born professional farrier and former rodeo-rider-turned-host Ralph Hampton (possibly related to "R.W."...they're looking into it) and Michigan-born advertising salesperson and welfare worker turned co-host Tamara Boatright (not related to "Bob"...they looked into it). The show didn't start out to be what it has become. "We have a worldwide online classified site called 'NuTrader.com'," says Ralph as Tamara quickly adds (not unlike on the show) "We started to send out a weekly update to remind people to go back to the site, and that got named 'Ralph's Backporch.' It was just his ramblings—he got political, he talked religion...!" "Boy, can I do all that!" laughs Ralph. "Tamara came to me one day and says, 'boy you've got to see this! You've done a little bit of radio in the past and you're gonna love it!' Well, I'd been pretty disgusted with Nashville but I've always been a huge Western Music fan." What Tamara had for him was the "blogtalkradio" site and the way to put his message...whatever that happens to be...out to the world. "I started out just reading listings from our NuTrader site but it got so boring people would call in and say 'would you please stop reading ads!'" Ralph then thought he could play a song, but if he did that it sure as heck was gonna be his kind of song.

"The Western Music just caught on like wildfire," Ralph brags with justification about their year-old effort. "Word of mouth spread and we have listeners in twenty-three foreign countries and forty-eight states! People enjoy the music, the cowboy poetry, the down-home aspect of this. We're not professional." "Sounding!!!" Tamara quickly blurts. Down home is right. It's the closest thing to old time party line eavesdropping you'll likely find as a radio show, and all of it seems to come so easy it's almost like they phone it in. Well...as a matter of fact they actually do phone it in. I mean, on the phone.

"At first we used two tin cans and a string," Ralph says. "Ralph turned me on to the music about five years ago when I came to start NuTrader with Ralph and his wife Lydia," recalls Tamara (rhymes with "camera" when she says it and sort of like "tomorrow" when he says it) "The show just kind of steamrolled into a Western Music format," chuckles Ralph (one agreed pronunciation). "One day we were settin' around and somebody said 'I bet you can't get Willie Nelson on the phone.' And I said 'I bet I can.'" "We still haven't," Tamara giggles as Ralph laughingly counters, "I still haven't, but that ain't up yet!"

Don't tell them they can't do anything! Since starting they've had most of the Western Music Association performers and cowboy poets on for at least one neighborly chat with the world. There's a running chat room blog on the screen as the show rolls along from listeners contributing their thoughts. And yes, Your Humble Columnist was on with them as well, although that may have been on a slow night.

Baxter Black's been on, Don Edwards, Wylie...the Gillette Brothers," Ralph remembers. "They played at my mother's funeral." "They weren't there playing," Tamara inserts. "No, but their voices came out of the speakers." (Much cracking up!)

Although they will shortly be moving off of "blogtalkradio,” they recommend it highly. "Anyone can have a show on 'blogtalk,' “Tamara enthusiastically says, "and there are levels from complete amateurs to very highly professional radio people. It's free to everyone and it reaches a lot of people." Ralph assures us that behind all the fun, there is a purpose to what he and Tamara do. "We're serious about getting the interviews and getting the music and poetry out there to people who wouldn't ordinarily get to hear it...and we're huge supporters of the WMA. Without them, there wouldn't be a 'Ralph's Backporch.' " They're syndicating shows now on Live 365, will offer shows from several live DJs and look forward to helping others take advantage of what they've learned to do...all to bring Western Music more into the mainstream.

Attendees at the WMA's twentieth anniversary International Western Music Festival in Albuquerque (Nov 20-23) will get a chance to watch Ralph & Tamara in action. They'll be broadcasting "Ralph's Backporch" shows worldwide from the event, phones intact. Ralph Hampton and Tamara Boatright seem to have caught onto something and the State Department might wanta take notes. The world might appreciate a little backporch visit more than backdoor diplomacy.

Listen in at www.ralphsbackporch.com, call in live at (347)-215-8849 and send CDs for airplay to Ralph's Backporch, 617 South Liberty, San Augustine, TX 75972

© 2008, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Summer 2008

One of the first times I ever encountered Toe Tappin' Tommy Tucker was at an Academy Of Western Artists (AWA) conference in Fort Worth.  I was galloping around all over the host hotel looking for artists so I could get promotional copies of their CDs for my Western Music show.  But The Toe Tapper had placed a box on the vendor table with a sign reading "drop your CDs for my show in here!"  Right away I knew this was a guy with smarts!! 

Trying to get a time locked down to talk with Tom for this column proved to be a bit of a gallop for me, too.  His toes tap between two jobs, his music reviewing chores and other commitments.  Of course, being a radio/TV commercial producer, on the Western Music Association board, the board of a local musical theatre group, a state beautification group, a performance center campaign, a state music commissioner and I think I've forgotten something (oh, yes...writing), I could never relate to that! 

And now I'm on hold.  "Sorry," says the Toe Tapper coming on the line from an office in his station.  "They give away Seattle Mariners tickets each week and they had me doing the drawing this morning!"   

Many of our "Western Air" column subjects' shows have come about from their intense love of the music and a pitch made to a local station to get that music played.  Tom Tucker has a somewhat different relationship with the station on which he plays Western Music.  "I'm a full-time deejay here at KRLC (Lewiston, Idaho).  Basically we play Classic Country, but we're doing the Western Heritage Show 'live' every Friday from 10 AM to Noon."  It's a freewheeling two hours that may include as many as six people sitting in, he says.  "Johnny 'Kit' Carson was a fiddler on 'The Lousiana Hayride,' with the 'Opry,' and many top Country stars.  He sits in, so do (poet) Smoke Wade and Bodie Dominguez when they're in town, we do poetry, interviews, play music...just have a good time!" 

Tommy was voted Deejay Of The Year by the AWA in 2003. His station has twice received Station Of The Year honors, first from the AWA and later from the WMA.  "We have quite a history in Western Music," he says with satisfaction. "We used to have a disc jockey here by the name of Rocky Raush (which, believe it or not, is pronounced so it exactly rhymes with 'cow')!  He had a band called The Freedom Cowboys that played a lot of Western Swing and had quite a following here in the valley.  When he passed away, they didn't have any Western for a while.  Then Stephen Kingsley and Charlie Camden (a former WMA board member) started the radio show.  After about two years, I took it over and I'm still doing it!" 

It helped set Tom's musical preferences growing up listening to stations that fearlessly mixed Sinatra and Como with Hank Williams and Bob Wills.  Then came the Rock 'n' Roll stations that also ran Rockabilly acts like Johnny Cash.  Seeing Cash in concert in about 1958 set the Toe Tapper on a road he hasn't drifted from since.  "When I became a deejay, I had two job offers.  One was on a 'Rock' station and the other was 'Country.'  I chose 'Country' and never looked back!"

We talked a little about what he feels Western Music needs to do to become more attractive to programmers ("it's making some inroads by getting on charts"...seeing something in print does seem to better justify playing it), our mutual grief over standard broadcast stations' compulsion to be exactly alike ("driving across Texas you can't tell when you left one station and went on to the next!").  And in talking, we found we definitely agree on another major point.  If programmers will now only take the time to consider the new Western Music being composed and the new material being released on albums, they will be solidly impressed. Over the past couple of years there has been a strong shift in quality...upward!

"I've talked about this on the Western Heritage shows several times," Tommy enthusiastically reports, "and I've talked with the artists about it, too!  It seems that they're really taking the time and the energy to put out a top product.  When I first took over the show, some of the music production wasn't that good.  But now we're getting some really good songwriters, producers and performers.  To add to that the technology now makes it possible to record a very good product at home!"

And as we were nearing the end of our chat, the Toe Tapper mentioned something that has to have his toe tapping with impatience.  Just in time for more Festivals and events to be rolling in, just in time for more young people to be discovering the music and looking for opportunities to see and hear it performed, just in time for all that and more...comes the price of gas.  "I looked around at the faces of the crowd at one of my last 'live' concert shows.  We used to draw a lot of people in from the outlying areas.  Now it's mostly locals."  Still, come they do...and listen they will, as good folks like Tommy Tucker give 'em the chance. 

"Real Country mixed with this current, great Western Music in a format works!!!  I know it works!  I'm seeing it"

© 2008, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Spring 2008

This could kind of be the old Girl Meets Boy story but, more accurately, it’s the Girl Meets Good Ol’ Boy story!  In fact several of ‘em!  It definitely qualifies as a Love Story, though.  The girl is longtime KSST-AM 1230 Radio morning show host Enola Gay. The good ol’ boys were the late Tom Morrell and his “buds.”  Her love affair is with Western and Western Swing music!  And before you ask, I already did.

“‘Enola Gay’ really is my name!” she laughs.  “Of course I was named for the plane.  Growing up I didn’t use the ‘Enola’ part.  I was just known as ‘Gay!’  I mean ‘happy!’  The other connotation came later!!

Christened “Enola Gay Moorman” some (mumbledy-mumble) years ago, she didn’t have horses or the live a Western lifestyle growing up, nor did she during her first years married.  She didn’t acquire her first horse until age (mumble).  But still, she says, she somehow always felt like a cowgirl!  However, Country Music was the prevailing sound around.

“I worked for two other radio stations before coming to KSST here in Sulphur Springs.  I sold advertising and produced commercials, but I’ve never had any formal on-air training,” the winner of an Academy of Western Artists Will Rogers Award for DJ of the Year admits!!  “When the station owner (a former WWII pilot) saw my full name on the application, he said ‘I’ve got to have someone on the air named Enola Gay!!’”

Looks like it might work out.  She’s just rounded twenty years on the morning show.

Here’s where the story of Enola Gay (pronounced EE-nola, by the way) takes a slightly different road than that of other dedicated Western show hosts we’ve profiled.  She never set out to play Western!  So…did she bring it to the station or did the station start to show an interest?!!  “The station started to show an interest,” she smiles, “after I brought it there!”  That’s where the good ol’ boy comes in.

“I came across an album of Tom Morrell’s and wrote to him telling him how much I liked the music,” she remembers.  It began a correspondence and friendship that lasted many years until his sad passing in 2007.  “I still play something from Tom Morrell at least three times a week,” she says fondly.  In the course of the letters and cards, “Wolf” told Enola if she liked what she’d heard there’s more where that came from, and he let her know about the Tuesday night tapings of Larry Scott’s famous “Cowboy Symposium Of The Air” programs at clubs near Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards district.  And on one particular Tuesday, Enola Gay found herself right there, front and center.

“I was passing through with my family on our way to Wichita Falls, and I realized it was the right Tuesday of the month and only a couple of hours before the show.  I went over to Big Balls In Cowtown, met Tom, Larry and all the other guys.  I told my family ‘leave…me…here!!  Drop me off and get me tomorrow when you come back through!’  And they did just exactly that!!”  During the four hour taping, Enola Gay fell in love with what was happening.  An announcement was made from the stage that a special guest deejay was in the room, and she wound up with “a stack of CDs almost too tall to see over!!”  An instant Western and Western Swing library to start her and KSST’s morning show down an exciting new trail.  Now from her chair at the morning microphone, she and her music are heard in the eastern part of Dallas, past Tyler and over to Paris, Texas and up into the southern edge of Oklahoma!

The daily format of Sulphur Springs’ sixty-one year old “flagship” station changes after Enola Gay’s morning mix of Western, Western & Cowboy Swing, Classic Country and some Cowboy Poetry, and certain younger station employees remain unconvinced her format is “cool.”  But listenership tells the story, and if station owner Bill Bradford has his way (and, curiously, owners frequently do) Enola Gay and her way of doing it his way are staying right where they are!

Possibly due to her very opportune public launch into it with the very best people, Enola Gay has not really experienced the customary trouble getting product from artists.  She also credits *Joe Baker’s Backforty Bunkhouse (online) newsletter for helping her renew contacts and friendships.

“We play more Western Swing and Classic Country than Cowboy,” Enola mentions.  But there are regular doses of contemporary Western, the “Singing Cowboys” and of course their home county hero Eddie Dean!  And the station’s track record of playing both signed and unsigned Texas artists may win them another important recognition from the Texas Music Association.

“I’ve ‘volunteered’ us for a lot of things over the years!  I decided to fill out the paperwork for our station to be considered in this contest and a lot of our listeners voted.  We got into the Top Five nominees!!”  Enola is very excited about this one.  “We’ll learn if we won on May 3rd in Palestine.  It’s going to be quite an affair…limousines, red carpet, the works!”  Save for Kacey Musgraves, who is up for recognition as an individual artist in the same contest, Enola Gay and KSST are the only representatives who will be there specifically on the strength of their Western Music involvement and their audience’s belief in it!  Good luck, everyone…

And the envelope, please?

(send CDs to Enola Gay, c/o KSST-AM Radio, P.O. Box 284, Sulphur Springs, TX 75482)

*Sidebar:  Congratulations to our buddy Joe Baker and his weekly radio show for beginning its stream on the worldwide web!!  It can only help us all!  To find out how to listen in “live” each week, go to www.backfortybunkhouse.com and follow the instructions.

© 2008, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Winter 2007

First, it’s guaranteed I’m no expert on the subject I’m writing about here!!  And even though this column’s very title says it’s intended to be about broadcasting and our music, I’ve once again drifted off the subject a bit on the currents of “Western Air.”  I think you’ll find some relevance, however.

Western Music’s promotion and possibly its very existence will eventually rest in the hands of the computer literate, like it or not.  Personally, I like it not.  There isn’t a thing about computers I enjoy.  They’ve meant nothing but trouble for me and that’s irrelevant.  The world has made its choice, and we have to send our music to the world in the language it wants to speak.  See, it’s bigger than us.  No longer can we afford to sit on the sidelines waiting to act.  The WMA will need to become proactive in the use of the new online media if it wants to help its membership ride the trail into this wilderness.

To begin our own mapmaking, we spoke with one highly credentialed gentleman who makes effective use of the “social networking” aspect of computers for his clients (who include Brenn Hill and R.W. Hampton).  Just between the years 1985 and 1993, the legendary Brian Ferriman of Savannah Music was named “Manager of the Year” by the Canadian Country Music Association an astonishing seven times!  You don’t get there by being unaware of promotional opportunities.

“It’s a digital world now and we have the opportunity to get to know our customers on a little bit different basis,” Brian told us by phone from his Hendersonville, Tennessee office.  “MySpace is particularly appealing to me, because you target who you send your ‘friend requests’ to by age, sex, interests, where they’re from…that is important in a career development strategy working out from your home base in concentric circles of 150 miles!  If you get someone to visit your profile, you can show them up to four of your best songs!”

 ‘Need us to back up and go again?  Okey-dokey.  It’s worth understanding because Brian has garnered a growth of 3000 “friends”…a.k.a. “very likely buyers” for Brenn Hill in a short three months by playing the cards smart.  Without giving away too many trade secrets, here’s how Ferriman says to play yours.

“You begin with your basic website that tells the story with a certain degree of elegance,” he counsels, “and you have as broad a range of playback possibilities as you can afford even if it’s only sampling.  Then you get a MySpace site, or ‘profile.’  Next you set up some sort of separate web store to sell product…not the MySpace store…and you get listed on the digital download sites.  That gives you some basic tools.”

Brian is hot on a number of smaller but, as he calls them, “more sophisticated sites that help you pick your ‘friends’ by virtue of the musical component you submit.”  In other words, lady in her forties…likes Chris LeDoux…lives in New Mexico...may be a likely buyer for Brenn Hill’s “Buckaroo Tattoo!”  The key to success is populating the site with “friends” who sign on.  Brian further points out how fast it can grow.  “There’s a site I know of 16,000 friends whose common interest is rodeo.  If you have a lot of rodeo songs, you can instantly have a posting and potential buying audience!  We’ve had this amazing process of discovery where people have actually come to our (MySpace) site and heard the song ‘Buckaroo Tattoo,’ then gone on to buy the album or posted word of it on their own sites.  That’s what social networking is all about for us—getting increased awareness of our artists’ activities and to find other champions for them than just ourselves!”

Brian also wants to get the word out to serious self-marketers about a Google service called “Google Analytics.”  He says by placing a particular code on each page of your site, “you can get tremendous information about the number of people who visit your site each day, how many are new, where they come from, what sent them there (search engine referral, a referral from a third site or a ‘bookmark’), the browser they use, what operating system, if they use Flash and what version and more!” (If you’re like me, about now you’re ready to have water splashed in your face!!)

Don’t worry.  Brian Ferriman admits he didn’t exactly hit the ground running in this, either.  “I’m very blessed,” he says.  “I have a webmaster who spent years at a major label and is a forward thinker.  I haven’t come across a digitally oriented problem he hasn’t been able to solve.”  And he adds with a chuckle, “what enabled me to get going at a faster clip was when I brought my 20-year-old son on!”

For a better understanding of it all, Brian says the must-read book on it is “MySpace Music Marketing” by Bob Baker (subtitled “How To Promote & Sell Your Music on the World’s Biggest Networking Website”).  In it you’ll learn what to do and what to avoid from those who regularly work in the medium.

Okay, now I’m ready to pop an aspirin…

                                                *       *       *       *       *       *       *

SIDEBAR:  In an oversight at the November festival in Albuquerque, I consistently failed to single out and thank Joe Baker for graciously allowing the WMA to send out radio announcements on his Backforty Round Up CD mailings to around 150 Western-friendly broadcast sources across the country.  This praise isn’t something he asked for or expected, but it was certainly due him anyway.  Thanks, Pard!! 

© 2007, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Fall 2007

After a sort of two-issue hiatus from our core subject matter, it feels kinda homey to get back to the specific business of reporting about Western Music on the airwaves, netwaves, YouTubewaves or whatever!  And we’ve touched down on the landing strip just in time to congratulate the co-host of Cottage Grove, Oregon’s “Cowboy Culture Corner” on being named “DJ of the Year” for secondary markets by the Academy Of Western Artists! 

Cowboy poet/singer and now radio guy Dallas McCord (a.k.a. Roger Brakefield) was taken by surprise with the selection, particularly as he and wife Pamela (known as “PJ McCord” to listeners) had only been doing the show for eighteen months!  “We were getting ready to say ‘to heck with it’ because we’re doing the job for free, it eats up our weekends and the cost of gas makes it expensive to drive to and from Cottage Grove.  Now we’re ready to go again.  We’re rejuvenated!”  Ya don’t suppose the requests that are now coming in for CD liner quotes and reviews from him’ll hurt either, do ya??! 

“The McCord’s” broadcast for three Western, Cowboy Poetry and Bluegrass Gospel filled hours over KNND-AM, 1400 on your radio dial, every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.  By all accounts, Dallas’ easy delivery and entertaining manner on the show would lead people to believe he’s an old hand at it.  But he confesses it’s largely been on-the-job training all the way.  “I’ve had lots of experience as a cowboy poet, balladeer, emcee and songwriter.  The show would not be possible without PJ,” McCord says of his partner in all things.  “She makes recommendations about what to play, lays out all the music to be aired and keeps a record of everything we play to be posted on the internet!” 

In the beginning, Brakefield/McCord produced a demo of the radio show he wanted to do and presented it the new owner of KNND, a commercial Country frequency playing to the Eugene/Springfield market.  Possibly because the man had a lot on his plate…and possibly for that reason we in Western Music know only too well…it took a number of months for him to get around to listening to the CD.  But here’s where the McCord’s experience varies a bit from the norm.  The station owner jumped on it and wanted to give them four hours on Thursdays.  Holding jobs in their hometown of Creswell, Oregon (he, lead inventory technician at Lane Transit District…she, on the staff of The Creswell Chronicle), the couple negotiated for less time, two hours, on Sunday afternoons!  And within two months of launching the broadcasts, they wound up with three! 

The tempo of the Cowboy Culture Corner is laid back.  McCord even invites folks to drop by and chat while the show is on the air!  And when it’s necessary, they’ve got a ready substitute host, Dallas says.  “When PJ and I are out of town, our son Nathan comes in to take over!”  His own experience performing has led to relationships with many of today’s leading Western songwriters, singers and poets.  Couple that with his research materials to support the effort, and you’ve got a formula for informative, entertaining radio!  It’s the “Dallas McCord” formula, anyway.

© 2007, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Summer 2007

This time we’re taking a bit of a departure from the column’s usual broadcasting orientation.  But it sort of applies anyway, since broadcasting was largely the cause of the problem we’ll look at and broadcasting will have to be some part of the solution… if there is one!

 If you read this column in the Spring Issue, you’ll recall Colorado show host Barb Richhart’s comment that so took me aback.  Based on her own experience in trying to rouse them for performances, she said “our ag people no longer know what Western Music is!”  The very music that describes and champions their culture, tradition and lifestyle they’re pretty much ignoring, staying away from Western concerts and festivals because they think it’s all “Rock Country!”  Nobody has yet convinced them we’ve cleared the rocks.

Upon publication of the column I began to get confirmation of Barb’s claim from other quarters.  For example, Texas (of all places) checked in!  Poet and show promoter Linda Kirkpatrick emailed, saying “I thought I was the only one having a problem getting people out just to listen one time.  I live in a community of less than 500 people and there are folks here who still don’t have a clue what I’m doing!  I work with two old cowboys…one sings and the other does poetry.  We travel the state and perform regularly at the local state park.  Once there, people are won over, but oh-my the battle!  We literally have to drag people in!”

Another performer weighed in when she came through town and did a house concert in our own gallery performance space.  The WMA’s 2006 Female Vocalist of the Year Juni Fisher agrees that this lack of awareness issue is real and permeating…and she offers one example of why that is so.  “When you go into westernwear stores,” she asks, “what are they usually playing over the in-store music system?  Country Rock!  Only if they’re selling real Western Music in the stores do they play Western, and thank God for the ones who do!”  Ok, then…here’s one for you.  Should the WMA look into creating and distributing real Western “Muzak” tracks to these stores???  Comments, anyone?

Locally we had another occasion to directly face the problem when we thought we had faced it down.  This year for the first time the New Mexico Music Awards joined the Terry Awards from Texas by including a Western Music category among its Rock, Country, Americana, Electronica, Metal, Hip Hop, Rap, Spanish, Native American, Jazz and others.  Admittedly it occurred only after several years of nagging on our part, but it was done, and we commend them for it.  When the Call For Entries went out, in writing I advised the organizers of the lack of understanding surrounding our music genre and encouraged them to furnish the judges with a working definition of “Western.”  I went on to say how unfortunate it would be for everyone concerned if a non-Western song were to win in the category’s first year!  The definition I furnished for the judges was something like:  Western Music is defined by lyric content…basically being the life, loves, lore or locales of the Cowboy or Cowgirl, often (but not always) acoustic in instrumentation with limited or no use of drums.  I hoped that would do it, and if they ever saw it I’ll never know.

Cut to the chase.  The list of for-sure Western finalists included Syd Masters for his 2006 version of “Under New Mexico Skies” (the official State Western Song), balladeer Jimmy Abraham’s saga song “Mr. Jackson” and Jim Jones for a rodeo song “Livin’ Try,” which I wrote and co-produced.  What a joy it was when Jim was picked to perform at the awards banquet, beautifully representing (and defining) the Western Category onstage with the nominated song and his own great “Long May You Ride!”  The remaining finalists were a track called “Gold! Gold! Gold! (Sutter’s Mill)”…few mining songs qualify as “Western” but I still haven’t heard this one…and a song called “Just A Guitar” which won the award.  Its writer/performer Rex Warren is an acquaintance of mine.  Truly it’s a nice song and I don’t begrudge him his win, but its only possible connection to Western Music is in its subject matter (a guitar) and the mention of a river!  An additional irony is that Rex  actually has two legitimate Western songs on that same album!!  Maybe he entered them as well, I don’t know.  One of those songs is slated to appear on our second 2-CD collection of New Mexico Western Music!  Rest assured we WILL…sweetly but firmly…make sure that situation with the NMMA is remedied.

So, by our mission statement, exactly what is the WMA’s duty in correcting widespread recognition problems?  You’ll get different answers on it, depending on who you’re talking to.  But its becoming patently obvious that all of our human and financial resources will need to be brought to bear in getting the truth out and promoting music from artists who are performing and recording now…today…OVER those who are no longer with us and whose estates are doing little or nothing to assist us with that mission!!

More to come…     

© 2007, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Spring 2007

She’s proud to be a coal miner’s daughter!  Or do you know this story already??  Sure!  She comes out west, meets a cowboy, lives the ranching life and grows to know and love the music of The West so much she gets her own radio show and throws “live” Cowboy concerts!  We’re talkin’ about The Western Belle…Barb Richhart!!  What coal miner’s daughter didja think we meant?  Surely not Whats-Her-Face!!  

“Yesterday was great!” Barb beams over the phone.  “In addition to the other calls, I had two people from Wisconsin , two from Tennessee , I had Georgia , Albuquerque…our station manager is just kind of blown away!  It’s going over really good!”   

Barb’s bubbling about her 4-years-strong show called “Cow Trails.”  It’s heard over Dry Land Community Radio KSJD from Cortez , Colorado and across the civilized (or not) world via Internet at www.ksjd.org each Sunday from noon to 2 Mountain Time.  The Public Broadcasting affiliate stuck a tiny toe into the Western Music stream and wound up streaming the whole leg…and learning (as just about all do) that Western Music shows invariably garner the most active response among the offerings these stations have.  Barb recalls her show’s humble birth.  “When we started on the air the station manager would only give it 15 minutes!  His words were ‘how much Marty Robbins can you listen to?’”  Words he soon ate with a little barbeque sauce. “Cow Trails” grew to 30 minutes, then an hour…now, two...by very popular demand!  

Barb Richhart’s own history almost unavoidably points her toward what she does and loves in Western these days.  She says “I don’t look at it as any kind of a job…it’s just the greatest thing I can do as a public service!”  Growing up her cowboy idol was Hopalong Cassidy, she herself has cowgirled for a good 27 years, and when her local Public Radio station put out the call for volunteer deejays to come in with their genres, Barb rode in with hers!  Now parts of this story should seem familiar to you, at least if you’ve slogged through very many of these columns!  Particularly familiar should be that pattern of early resistance, tentative trial run and eventual rewards.  But as Barb and I chatted along, another point emerged that hit me hard!  It’s one that may be worth some deep consideration from the WMA as it toils to promote this music.  It is, not so simply, this.  Our agricultural people…the very folks we have always considered to be the ultimate keepers of the flame…the true appreciators of the values, legacy and specifically the sound that means “Cowboy and Western Music”…may not understand what it is!!!  Simmer down!  Gotta cowboy-up when it gets tough, right?  Let’s just tuck our shirttails back in and look at this thing.  

My partner Mary Ryland and I have experienced some of the effect.  If it proves to be true, I’ve got to say up to this time we’ve just never seen it for what it is.  Over the years, when we’ve tried to promote Western CDs, dances, the Western Music Association Festivals and such through media directed at ranchers, horse people, stockmen and cowboys…we have met with virtually no response.  We attributed it to the agricultural people being focused on the work and not the trappings (which still may be part of it).  Barb Richhart has also experienced the phenomenon, but from her radio and ranching background she has quite a different…and startling…take on it.   

“Agricultural people would support Western more if they knew what it was,” Barb laments!  “They still think Cowboy and Western Music is in some way Country…that there’s no separation.  I’ll be talking to someone in town and I’ll say ‘have you ever listened to Cow Trails’ and they’ll say ‘no I don’t like Country anymore’ or ‘no because Country is really bad nowadays!’  Once they give it a chance, they come back.  It’s what they really want to hear, but they don’t know that ‘til they hear it!”  Incredible!  Maybe they’ve taken shelter in Cowboy Poetry from the battering Country dishes…giving up on music they mistakenly feel they can’t relate to.  I just don’t know.  But if it proves to be pretty universal among our own people, that’s major!!  Until we’ve reached and won over those who are supposed to be our core constituency, well…‘hate to break it to ya, but we don’t have enough troops in the field to get our mission accomplished!  Expect at least one more column from me on this one.  I’m going fact-finding!  

Meanwhile, like so many of our other dedicated radio hosts across the land, Barb Richhart continues to program, promote and produce to get her Western point across.  “We started bringing in Cowboy singers to the Mancos Opera House,” she tells us, “and I’m now moving to the American Legion.  It’s just growing by leaps and bounds!  Since January I’ve been getting calls asking when we’re going to have another Cowboy & Western show!”  Then she adds, “The ‘ag’ folks are just starting to turn out…”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Send your CDs to Barb Richhart, 32229 County Road P, Mancos, Colorado 81328 and listen Sundays from noon to 2 PM Mountain Time on KSJD-FM from Cortez, streaming at www.ksjd.org and find out more about her at www.westernbelle.org or on MySpace as “Mancosbelle.”

© 2007, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Winter 2007

This guy I heard of long before I actually heard!  And it was longer yet before I talked with him and finally met him.  

Over and over as I spoke with other show hosts and artists I kept coming across the mystical and elusive name “Marvin O’Dell!”  Now “Marvin O’Dell” may not sound particularly mystical OR elusive to you.  Guess ya had to be there.  But it began to take on those properties with me, lemme tell ya!  It started with little hints and wisps…the name dropped in passing in phrases like “Marvin O’Dell is part of that” or “Marvin O’Dell does that.”  So as not to appear out of The Know, I would just agree, nod and grunt “knowingly.” It’s a guy thing, ladies. 

As time progressed, Magic Marvin seemed to kind of drift mysteriously.  Was he in Arizona …or California …or Branson?  AND there was some mysterious something he was tied up with called “Classic Heartland!”  Then I started getting “you need to talk to Marvin O’Dell!”  Well that was the last straw.  But where the heck IS the dude??  Finally I caught onto his trail through Backforty Bunkhouse Show host Joe Baker.  (He knows where everybody is!)  I talked with the actual Marvin by phone from his home studio in…a-HA!  Arizona !!

“I got into broadcasting by accident,” Marvin admits.  I bond with this guy immediately.  That’s just what happened to me!  Anybody know a 12-step program for it?  “Growing up I watched the Saturday Matinees with the black & white Westerns and I’d catch onto the songs.  The first time I had a chance to buy a Sons of the Pioneers record, I did.  I collected Bluegrass , Country and Western music since the age of fifteen!  The first Western song I heard on the radio was ‘ El Paso .’ Then Marvin laughs at the memory.  “I traded a guy my 45 of Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely” to get it because my parents wouldn’t buy it for me.  We didn’t have a lot of money, so I guess buyin’ two 45s in one year was askin’ too much!”     

In 1998 a fellow on California State ’s KCSN-FM in Northridge had a Bluegrass show he wanted to give up.  Marvin recalls, “He asked me if I wanted to come in and train for it.  I said ‘suuure!’  Then he asked me if I felt I had enough music in my collection to handle it.  I said ‘suuure!’   After I’d completely taken over his ( 7 AM ) Bluegrass show, the first thing I suggested to the station after about a year was to let me start a Cowboy & Western program.  It took me a while to convince them it would work!”  (Of course!  ‘Comes with the territory!)  He continues, “The station had a children’s program ahead of mine at 6 AM .  The kid’s programmer quit, and I said (read this, program directors, and read it well…we hear it all the time), ‘you want to raise money and I think I can do it with a Western show!’ Compared to other hours on the station, it became a top fundraiser!!”      

Marvin O’Dell’s format for his show “Around The Campfire” was and still is an easy, conversational tour through his record collection.  He does do themes, tributes and blocks of songs that relate for other reasons along the course of his (now) three hour weekly Western excursion on the Internet (more on that in a second!).  And his boundaries for what “Western” includes are about as wide track as The West itself.  He will clearly tell you he considers Western to be more of a subject than a genre.  In that, he concurs with Rex Allen, Jr., R. W. Hampton, Brenn Hill, Kip Calahan, Donnie Blanz and many of our other leading performers, programmers and promoters of Western Music.

“It can be played in any style,” Marvin asserts.  “I heard a Bluegrass group do ‘Big Iron!’  It can be modern Country style, it can come from a movie soundtrack and of course it can still be done in the Pioneers’ style.  I have a Big Band album of Western Music I play!”  That one makes more sense than not.  Remember in those B-westerns? The whole Republic studio orchestra was swinging in the saddle behind Gene, Roy & Dale and the Sons of the Pioneers??  I doubt those other boys were riding along just off-screen!

When Marvin O’Dell left Northridge (and his show, which foundered in the grippe of an inferior record collection) he headed for Arizona .  Another fugitive from the station named George Sfair (aka “Fair”) moved further inland to Branson, Missouri and, on the Internet, founded the Traditional Country, Western and Roots music wonder called “Classic Heartland” (See?  Now I am in The Know!)  George invited Marvin to expand and extend his popular show.  He joined Sfair’s fledgling Internetwork, where “Around The Campfire” has been featured three times each week…along with Ken Overcast’s syndicated “Cowboy Hour!”  I say “has been” featured, because now there’s big news out of Branson…and Marvin!

“My show and Ken’s will now be heard on HPR2, Heartland Public Radio’s new 24-hour Western Music channel at www.heartlandpublicradio.org,” Marvin excitedly relates!  (Your Western Music Association is committed to assisting HPR’s efforts with “The Western Channel” and others in all ways we are able!)  “Internet and Satellite are the future of Broadcasting.  There are hardly any restraints on format.  There are no Program Directors to worry about.  The possibilities (for Western) are limitless, but it’s going to take dedicated people to make it happen!”

Okay, so now I know Marvin O’Dell is neither mystical nor elusive.  Instead he’s focused and motivated.  And, oh yes…I’m going to be hearing and hearing from him regularly.  Y’see, he’s just been elected to join us on the Western Music Association’s Board of Directors!

(Send CDs to:  Marvin O’Dell, “Around The Campfire,” 1652 South 173rd Drive , Goodyear , Arizona   85338 .  Note this may change, as he is looking California-ward again!)

                                             *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

(Congratulations and welcome to our other new members of the Board:  Ralph Estes, Belinda Gail and Jimmy Tomlinson.  Also our sincere thanks go out to retiring members Vic Anderson, Roger Banks, Kerry Grombacher and Jim Wilson!)

© 2007, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.

Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Fall 2006

On the KPOV Radio site, the program guide blurb waxes eloquent: "From the dusty plains of Central Oregon to the abundant resources of your imagination, Chuckaroo the Buckaroo weaves a compelling tapestry of Cowboy songs, old Western radio shows and engaging guests!"  Wow!  We can stop right there 'cuz that just about sums it...wait a minute!!!  "Chuckaroo the Buckaroo???"

The Roo's show kicks off with vintage radio static & tuning whine. Then comes that urgent voice we kids know well!  "This is Gene Autry!! Calling all cowboys!  Calling all cowboys!!"  That famous ride to the rescue moment from B-moviedom provides the name for the lone Cowboy Music show on Bend, Oregon's KPOV-LPFM 106.7!  (And that "LP" ahead of "FM" is another interesting part of this story that we'll get to momentarily).

"You've got to be committed," says Chuckaroo choosing to ignore the double meaning of that comment. "I don't get paid, I'm often up to 1 or 2 in the morning scouting new songs or putting together new bits. My wife says 'why do you spend so much time on this??'"  Welcome to the wonderful world of Western obsession!  Hey, his wife is partly to blame!  As a bachelor he'd been a mountaineering backpackaroo!  He laughs, "The night I met my wife she asked me if I rode horseback.  I said 'sure!'  Right there I saw the handwriting on the wall. If I was going to get to go out with this girl I'd better learn to ride a horse!!

For nearly thirty years now they've lived and loved the rural ranching lifestyle with "five acres, three horses, two dogs and a couple of mousers." But once each week for two hours (imagine the Superman TV theme behind this) mild mannered Charley Engel, ad guy, graphic artist and member of the Western/Folk string band The Anvil Blasters, becomes Chuckaroo the Buckaroo, Western Music radio host in the never ending battle for Truth and Broadcasting the Cowboy Way.wait a minute!!! "The Anvil Blasters???"

"Back in the old days," The Roo instructs, "they'd put blasting powder between and in the pits under anvils to see how high they'd go. You can go online. These days some of 'em go up several hundred feet!"  I think I might step clear of Central Oregon on "anvil" days, but lovers of
traditionally crafted music feel the band is dynamite on its own!

It was through playing with the band for an early fundraiser for the fledgling Low Power (LP) KPOV that Charley Engel finally got to combine his love of Western Music and his dream of being a deejay. (I might as well pop the teaser in here...so-called "Low Power" FM stations were authorized in 2000 to answer the outcry against deregulating radio's community service requirements, resulting in a flock of them that fly under the radar...we'll get into them and how they can benefit Western Music more in another issue...now back to Charley!)  "I walked up to the table and told them my idea for a show.  I got in on the last round of training!  I had to fill out a
rigorous prospectus on aligning the show with the station's mission. I emphasized the area's vanishing rural heritage and how I would go about recapturing that history!"  The station has had "Calling All Cowboys" on its roster since it started broadcasting in June of 2005.  As his first show was airing pre-taped, Chuckaroo was horseback, high in the California Mountains!

As Charley and I spoke by phone, I felt I was hearing part of my own past. We both grew up with the music of the B-Westerns and moved into the eclectic Rock of King Crimson and Pink Floyd.  Then he moved to Blues while I devoted myself to Soul & Funk, but we both developed an interest in "Golden Age Radio."  We both wound up in advertising as we gravitated back into Western while bypassing Country!  And we each started our own Western Music specialty shows...and I still know one guy who calls me "Rickaroo" for some reason!  Meanwhile back at the subject.

"A format like the one KPOV has is all over the map," Chuckaroo chuckles. "Ahead of us might be a public affairs talk show and behind us Afro-Cuban Rock!  People tune in for what they want, and then tune out, but I know I've built an audience because I get the fan mail!"  His show is snuggled in beside things called "Tirebiter Tunes," "Drock Spargo," "Monkeys With Sticks" and "Friends Of Maple Syrup!"  But he gets along with the neighbors just fine.

Chuckaroo mixes his guests' music nicely with relevant music of other artists, classic radio episodes and sundry appropriate tidbits. But those guests are where his easy style works so well.  In the examples I've heard with Tom Russell, Joni Harms and Katie Lee, the interviewed people get time to tell their stories and yet nothing drags. And The Roo's new passion is securing underwriting for an already-complete expanded CD with illustrated (by him) book package of activist / balladeer / author Katie Lee's landmark work 10,000 Goddamn Cattle. Believe it or not the title, although a classic Western book and recording, has already raised Conservative hackles...even in the Western magazine industry, which should know better!  "The ad guy in me says 'modify it to get it done' and the artist in me says 'no way!'" Charley Engel laments.

I guess he'd better never tackle Guy Logsdon's The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing either.

© 2006, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Summer 2006

It’s been estimated that there may be upwards of 200 Western or Western-friendly programs airing on commercial college and public access radio stations across the country!  Beyond that come “internetworks” (we know of five so far), Canadian shows (two of which we’ve covered in this column), European shows, Australian shows…you find Western Music popping up in some interesting places and from unexpected sources.

WOES-FM 91.3 MHz bills itself as “The Polka Palace.”  It sits in what would otherwise be a cow pasture in rural Michigan.  In fact it is located inside and owned by Ovid-Elsie High School. But the host of the only weekly musical departure the station takes from its Polka format is a retired autoworker.  Sound like an obvious setup for Western Music??  Welcome to “The Big Fred Walker Show!”

Walker’s folksy Western and Country show has been on the air about four years now. Big Fred chuckles contentedly, “I’m picking up people from 45 to 105 who remember the music and the young people who are hearing it for the first time!” And then Big Fred, veteran of 34 years with General Motors, makes the Big Admission.  “I’ve been kind of a hillbilly back to my teenage years!”  Again the rolling chuckle. “I used to have to bend the dial to pick up the kind of music I liked because the stations were almost out of reach.  They’d be all fuzzy and hard to tune in…if I could pick up anything at all I was well pleased!”

Iowa and the Nashville-that-used-to-be were sources of signals for him, but his own home state helped out.  “There were some stations here in Michigan that would have live bands,” he fondly remembers, “and up in Saginaw they’d have live Western-style music. I’d sit in with guys on the weekends while they were doing their radio broadcasts.  Back then management didn’t mind me doing that so I did it on a pretty steady basis.”

Country with Western…exactly how “The Big Fred Walker Show” would eventually divvy up its time. The first hour is traditional Country and don’t use the word “Classic” on Big Fred.  “Takes in too much territory,” says he!  Then hour two shifts to Western and Western Swing.  But how’d he wind up on WOES-FM “The Polka Palace??  I guess it’s not such an unusual fit.  Remember Riders In The Sky’s illustrious Joey The Cowpolka King!!

“Years ago in Flint (Michigan) I had put a studio in my home, kind of a hobby,” Walker recalls.  “One day I saw pictures in the paper of local deejays who were donating their time to the station over here playing Polka music.  Listening in I noticed about every fifteen minutes they’d play certain types of Country Music to break up the Polka.  So I went over there and told ‘em I didn’t know a lot about Polka music but I had a lot of Country music and I’d sure like an opportunity to be one of their deejays.  They took me on right away!  I was shocked!” 

“The Big Fred Walker Show” has evolved along the way but has never lost the casual friendly feeling of a visit to a neighbor…who happens to have a killer record collection!  He began doing the show live twice a week in the very technically sleek studio of WOES-FM which has been automated for about 25 years.  He now pre-records his show a couple of weeks beforehand at his current home studio in the neighboring town of Owosso .  “It looks like a tack room!  Cowboy paraphernalia…even a saddle.  It puts me right in the mood.”

He hand-carries his show on two CD’s over to program director Kevin Somers at WOES (a roundtrip of about 32 miles) where it is programmed in for broadcast Wednesdays 4 to 6 p.m. ET with a re-broadcast Saturdays midnight to 2 a.m.  It streams real-time on the net at www.oe.k12.mi.us/high.htm.  And Walker also hosts a program Sundays at 9 a.m. called “The Old Time Gospel Hour.” 

Big Fred’s pre-recorded introduction done for him by Texas Swing man and actor Jim Goff lets listeners know the show is “brought to you by a grant from S & K Farm & Yard and the Old Gas Tractor Association.”  Straight after the intro you hear music before you hear the host, and music first is the way it’ll always be on his show.  As he puts it, “I’m just me.  I don’t consider myself cut out to do it, but I stay involved with the music I play.  People are more interested in the music than the talk and hopefully they get an earful of what they’ve tuned in for!”

On Western and Western Swing’s clout in the East, Big Fred offers the following:  “The cowboy’s an important part of U.S. history and Western-type music is not just tied down to the West.  The music is growing and expanding.  It’s moving East and I just want to be part of that expansion!”

Are you surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  After all, the Michigan area already has a history with horsepower!

Please support this new WMA member host with your CD’s.  His address: The Big Fred Walker Show, 2101 Cook Road, Owosso, MI, 48867.

© 2006, Rick Huff


Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Spring 2006

We’ve heard the story before.  In fact we’ve chronicled it a couple of times in this column.  It’s good to restate the truth of it though, because it has played out again and again and again and again!  

STATUS QUO, OPPORTUNITY , RESISTANCE AND SUCCESS.  That’s the basic pattern of getting a Western Music specialty show on the air.  In Bill McCallie’s case, his “Cowboy Jubilee” has sailed the river for nearly one-and-a-half decades in Chattanooga , TN , so that “river” analogy is fitting.  McCallie’s weekly 60-minute Cowboy, Country and Bluegrass format almost defies description by its creator/host.  About the closest he feels he gets is “Crabgrass!” 

The “Cowboy Jubilee” airs at six p.m. Central Time on Chattanooga ’s NPR station WSMC-FM which is affiliated with Southern Adventist University.  “It’s cleaned my act up,” McCallie laughs, “and it gives you a broad audience.”  McCallie also scripts every word of his show, ridding his seemingly ad-libbed delivery of the ums and ahs and, were he inclined toward them, the occasional *!#*!#*’s as well.

Getting at how Bill McCallie put his successful Western hybrid show on the air is where we begin to pick up that old familiar pattern.  STATUS QUO:  “WSMC had 24/7 Classical Music and News, but Garrison Keillor had been associated with the station too, “ McCallie remembers.  “For some reason they decided to drop Keillor and they had nothing else that ‘grounded’ them.”  OPPORTUNITY :  “It made headlines,” he goes on.  “I’d been going to Elko for a couple of years and I really felt people around here ( Chattanooga ) might be interested in it.  I went to WSMC the next day (after the story ran), told them I had a great idea for a show and talked to them about Western Music.  I had to go through that ‘Patsy Montana and indoor music and outdoor music’ explanation!  They said ‘We’ll try it for six months and see what happens.  Just give us a good show.’”  RESISTANCE:  If Bill’s timing hadn’t been perfect in negotiating his agreement with WSMC, the “Cowboy Jubilee” might never have seen the light of day.  As Bill puts it, “A station manager came onboard who didn’t like the show.  He didn’t think it was appropriate for the station.  But I had a contract for six months and I had come in with an underwriting sponsor.”  We all know what they say about life handing you lemons...Bill McCallie even opened a lemonade stand!   He recalls, “I made up my mind that I was going to do a show that was so good he was going to change his mind!! 

SUCCESS:  McCallie obviously relishes this part.  “At the end of six months that manager came to me and said ‘I’ve changed my mind about your show!  My own father told me if I take this show off the air, he’ll never speak to me again!!’”  Seems that manager’s father wasn’t alone.  The ratings showed “Cowboy Jubilee” had quickly become the second highest-rated show on a Classical Music station!  MORE SUCCESS:  “People from all over kept calling,” McCallie glows, “and saying what a wholesome show that cowboy program is and where’d you get it, is it syndicated?  They couldn’t tell it was locally produced!”

From the beginning Bill McCallie has had an unshakeable vision of what his show needs to accomplish.  “I don’t just sit there and spin CD’s.  I’ve tried to be informative, give the history of songs, be educational and entertaining,” he says.  He develops themes such as “Women of the West,” “The Railroads,” “Western Cattle Trails” and the like.  He coordinates songs to fit the theme or he finds related songs and develops a theme.  “Characters” pop in to help with the proceedings.  McCallie pre-records his vocal liners and the station engineer programs in his running commentary between every third song or so.  He incorporates fiddle tunes, Texas Swing tunes, Western artists such as Don Edwards (who has guested on the show), Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, R. W. Hampton and others.  And since he also performs Western, Country and Bluegrass music aboard the Southern Belle riverboat with his band “In Cahoots,” a couple of times a year Bill goes “live” on his radio show.  And he’s always eager to receive new music and Cowboy Poetry CD’s.  His address is Bill McCallie, Cowboy Jubilee, P.O. Box 8063 , Chattanooga , TN , 37414 , or visit his website www.cowboyjubilee.com.  His show streams real time on the Web at 6:00 p.m. Central on Sundays at www.wsmc.org.

This last part should probably be under the heading EVEN MORE SUCCESS, for McCallie reports “We’ve got some underwriting sponsors who’ve been with us since the beginning.  People tell me if you’ve got a Public Radio show that pays for itself, you’ve GOT something!  My show has been in the black since it started and we’ve raised thousands of dollars for Public Radio.  It shows Western Music CAN pay its own way!”

© 2006, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.


Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Winter 2006

First a postscript from an earlier column . . . in case at some later date somebody wants to hook 'em up end to end!!  In that column I had mentioned in a sidebar that our radio show "The Best of the West Revue" was on hiatus having slipped off the air on our home-based station due to new ownership's format change. KKRG-FM in Albuquerque had gone Spanish Language which I am notoriously "un-bueno" at. But The Range came back, on a more powerful frequency, still billing itself as being "Real Country, Real Western" like before only with no Western save Marty Robbins' "El Paso" and a couple of other Cowboy Country chart hits. Their program director remained deaf to all entreaties.

Months passed. The program director takes off for California. The new PD was the first PD of the original Western-inclusive Range.  He wants something to shore up certain demographics on Sunday morning and remembers what Western was doing for the original format.  HE approaches US about returning to the station.  As of December 4, 2005, "The Best of the West Revue" has gone back on the air.  But wait!  This time we're not alone! Now our friend
Red Steagall's "Cowboy Corner" has joined the station, airing just ahead of us. Like Joe Baker told us about his "Back Forty Bunkhouse Show," like Hugh McLennan demonstrated with "The Spirit of the West," you just can't take no for an answer!  Artists can mail CD's to us at P.O. Box 8442, Albuquerque, NM, 87198-8442.

But now on to someone who's been patiently in the wings, or the Pasayten Wilderness if you prefer.  I first heard about her from Andy and Jim Nelson of C.O.W. Radio:  a vivacious lady up in the Northwest who has a radio show, a live stage show and a Western band!  Sounds like Lauralee
might just have something cooking, which is a fitting way to put it.

"I'm a pack cook in the summertime," Lauralee chirps.  "We pack guests into the wilderness on mules and horses and I sing around the campfire."  She also teaches 3rd grade and is the force behind the "Dollar Watch Cowboy Show" which is heard Sundays for two hours on station KVLR-FM
in Twisp, Washington, and an increasingly popular live stage show, the "Dollar Watch Cowboy Jamboree."  Dollar Watch?  "Every old cowboy had one. Also we have a mountain up here in Pasayten by that name.  I started the radio show about four years ago playing authentic Western and Cowboy Music, Cowboy Poetry, true stories and tall tales, and re-acquainting myself with the Folk Music tradition of the genre."  If that sound pretty academic, it's only natural.  Did I mention Lauralee is also a university-trained ethno-musicologist.  "I moved to the Methow Valley in 1975 out of college, married a local boy, and poverty forced me to stay," she laughs.  "I was writing my own music and then I met a wonderful woman named Virginia Bennett.  I did a stage show with her that she wrote called 'The Foggy Dew Western Revue.'  With another woman we formed a cowgirl band called 'Horse Crazy.'"  It's still going strong with new personnel - Lauralee vocals, bass, guitar; Emele Clothier vocals, banjo, guitar, harmonica; and Nadine Van Hees vocals, fiddle and mandolin.  Their CD "Cowboy Rhythm" is available directly from Lauralee at P.O. Box 276, Winthrop, WA, 98862.  Artists can send CD's for air use to this address as well.

In its time "The Foggy Dew Western Revue" featured guests like
Wylie and the Wild West, Trudy Fair, Don Edwards, Masterson & Blackburn, Gary McMahan, Sourdough Slim and many others.  But you know what they say about all good things . . . "Virginia had to move away.  They are ranch managers. It's what they do.  Her time came and they moved."  But Lauralee muses, "I missed doing those shows so I began my radio program 'The Dollar Watch Cowboy Show.'"  It helped fill the void but the people-person in her missed the live performance part.  "The thing that got me into Western to begin with is how nice everybody is.  It's so much fun to go places, share, to be
treated nicely and to treat others nicely."  Her nephew, manager of the local Red Apple Market, stepped to the plate and began sponsoring the twice-a-year "Dollar Watch Jamboree" stage show.  It's into its third year.

"It's based on the mythical radio station 'K-MOO, No Bull Radio.' We play it with scripts in hand, mock commercials and satirical news reports," Lauralee chuckles.  "Dave McClure is our announcer.  He's a working rancher" . . . (editor's note: and fine Cowboy poet/pianist as we just discovered in Albuquerque at the November festival).  She continues, "He lives on the reservation of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Nespelem and he'll use that in good fun!"  Sample: "The tribal council has announced Friday will be a rain dance . . . weather permitting . . ."  McClure further affirms the fun - "I played a character called 'Forest Stump' from the Park Service.  He's the commander assigned to the 'Too Hot To Trot Fire.' He's asked how he intends to fight it and drawls, 'We'll let it burn up to the road.'  When he's told the section has no roads, he says 'Well then I guess it's gonna be a BIG fire!'"

Guests who appear also get in on "The Dollar Watch Jamobree" skits.  Skip Gorman has done it . . . so has
Brenn Hill. Comic cowboy poet Pat Richardson's bit was getting caught in an airport metal detector that progressively forced him to remove more and more clothing.  Happily that one
was just "theater of the mind!!"

Lauralee Northcott's intuitive sense of cross promotion to her audience works, but when day is done, it's still all in fun.  She sums it up with words that should apply to more of us:  "Our goal is to have fun and play the music we want to play.  It's about enriching your life with beautiful things!"

© 2006, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.



Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Fall 2005

Good news and a good object lesson in doing things The Cowboy Way.  I'm only too happy to report on both of them now.

In the Spring 2005 issue, I told you about a race for a radio frequency that had come up for grabs in Kamloops, British Columbia . . . and that our friend Hugh McLennan, host of "The Spirit of the West" had found himself in the middle of it.  To refresh, the station that had given Hugh's award-winning program its first broadcast home dropped its Country format and, in so doing, "The Spirit of the West" as well.  Although Hugh's show was syndicated elsewhere, Kamloops listeners had to do without.  Eventually Robbie Dunn's NL Broadcasting Ltd. applied to the Canadian Radio &
Television Commission to fill the void and take over an unassigned frequency in Kamloops for the purpose of launching a Country station with a difference.  This one would be Western Music-friendly.  For as Dunn told us back in late February, "I'm very familiar with the cowboy culture of the area.  Synonymous with that is Western Music and Cowboy Poetry.  Hopefully we're going to be granted the chance to put it on the air."

You may also recall from column-before-last Hugh had supported NL Broadcasting despite having been approached with an offer from one of the giant Canadian broadcasting companies whose eyes were also on the Kamloops prize.  A representative of Standard Radio Inc. assured Hugh his show would be carried on their station IF he would switch loyalties - which of course Hugh wouldn't.  Set-up complete... so on with the news.

Thursday, July 31, 2005.  In a decision by the CRTC that came more quickly than any comparable action in memory, NL Broadcasting was granted its license to operate!  And Country AND Western Music-loving citizens of south central British Columbia and, we will assume, the "e-listening" universe were granted soul-satisfaction.  "Over 1100 letters were sent to the CRTC by listeners, advertisers and community groups in our area," Dunn wrote in an open letter of appreciation posted on NL's website www.kamloopscountryradio.com.  "Now we commence the design work for new studios and the ordering of broadcast equipment.  We hope to be on the air in the immediate surrounding area of Kamloops by early summer 2006."

Hugh McLennan reports "Robbie Dunn and I had a celebration luncheon, and Robbie has been nominated for this area's Businessman of the Year!"  Hugh has every reason to celebrate too.  "The Spirit of the West" will air on Kamloops' new station twice every weekend.  But it fell to me to
point out another reason Hugh could be justifiably proud.

"Just after we got the news of NL Broadcasting's being  approved," Hugh told me, "I got a call from Tom Tompkins of Standard Radio, the same company that had asked me to support their application for a Kamloops license.  The news was that they were changing their AM station in
Calgary to a Classic Country format and they wanted to carry 'The Spirit of the West' as part of their new programming!"  The result?  Hugh and his all-Western music, news and Cowboy Poetry program are part of that station's schedule not once but TWICE a week...Sundays from 11:00 a.m. till noon and Thursdays from midnight till 1:00 a.m...in Calgary, a city of one million people!  This from Standard, the company that had been a Standard-bearer for bringing Hot Country to the Kamloops audience!  Suddenly they "see the wisdom" of bringing Classic Country with a component of Western Music into a major market.  It's a "wisdom" that's being "seen" in more markets than one!

But I couldn't resist pointing out to Hugh that he had really done this The Cowboy Way.  He had stood firm behind his first handshake agreement with NL and now he had wound up with the best of both worlds.  I told him I thought this story would provide a good object lesson.  With his customary Hugh-mility he hemmed and hawed a bit, saying "Well, if you want to put it that way." and quickly moved on with "their station has what I would call a good listenable mix...Don Williams, Ferlin Husky...and you can hear their streaming feed at www.ckmx.com and click on Listen Live."

Ironically, maybe the guy from Standard Radio finally put it best.  After "The Spirit of the West" had become established on their station, Hugh asked Tom Tompkins if he would contribute a quote to be used in the show's future marketing efforts.  Tompkins wrote the following recommendation to stations:  "We so often forget about our core audience in Country Radio today.  Include 'The Spirit of the West' in your weekend schedule and they'll love you.  It's like reading a classic novel."  In a number of pretty admirable ways...the same holds true for its host.


Andy Nelson alerted me about a young lady in the Northwest who's doing a radio show, running a stage show, working with festivals, and I didn't know a dogie-gone thing about any of it!  So let's all meet Lauralee Northcott and "Dollar Watch Cowboy Show"  Next time...same space...same

© 2005, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.



Western Air

- by Rick Huff

Summer 2005

Sort of a three-course meal is what we're settin' out this time!  First, let's whet your appetite with some morsels about the November 17-20, 2005 Western Music Festival in Albuquerque - including the Barndance Broadcast, lest we stray from this column's mission!

Realize these notes are being assembled in late May, a while before you're actually reading this and schedules are ever subject to change, but by now (YOUR "now"), I'm sure things are firming up!  We have invited the Sons of the San Joaquin,
Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, and Brenn Hill to be with us, and based on the artist submissions, we will also have a number of fine new acts among our annual favorites!  It's also shaping up to be an excellent vendor show with some helpful music business-related folks along with the arts.  Useful seminars with people like Luke Reed, Jack
Hannah, Donnie Blanz,
Michael Fleming and more...those popular contests in yodeling, harmony, youth, etc. are in the hopper.  And we're pretty sure Johnny Western will return to perform and co-host the Barndance Broadcast with your humble columnist, IF he can be replaced on the radio in Kansas (impossible, of course!).  Great room rates at the Embassy Suites, free hotel parking, NO great distances to walk, free hot breakfasts and even a complimentary 2-drink "happy hour"...it's gonna be a good'un!  Okay, on to the main course of our meal!

Two Wyoming guys who are coming to the festival in November, and who will co-host the Barndance with me if Johnny Western can't be there, are Andy and Jim Nelson - creators of "C.O.W. Radio!"  They are "The C.O.W.boys!"  C.O.W. stands for "Clear Out West," their freewheeling wide-ranging Western romp heard weekly on 22 stations and counting. Counting RATINGS, we mean!  Andy Nelson talks about that with satisfaction. 

"I went over and visited KTWO, a Clear Channel station in Casper that carries our show at 8:00 a.m. Saturday mornings.  They showed me the low ratings for that timeslot before we started.  In six months they were up 200 percent!  In a year the Arbitron ratings had climbed to just shy of FOUR hundred percent!!"

The Brothers Nelson mix humor, information and instruction in practical ranching techniques with Western Music exclusively.  Much of the humor portion comes from that natural sibling timing that lets one set it up and the other finish it.  "This show is a labor of love," Jim opens.  "And we've been in labor two and a half years now," Andy caps - and trust me, that's a pun worthy of the C.O.W.boys themselves!

"Clear Out West" is the Nelsons' first foray into producing a radio show, but not doing other acts in public.  As you fill in the blank, Andy will now reminisce... "How'd we get started?  Well, first Dad had a dirty thought."  "Not THAT far back," Jim advises dryly.  "Oh," says Andy. "Well we announced rodeos.  That's where we get our public speaking abilities."  "Such as they are," Jim critiques wryly.  Andy presses on. "The local radio station was looking for two sick people to do football and basketball play-by-play and we kinda jumped in there, but actually it all started when we read an interview with Hugh McLennan in Western Horseman. We heard Hugh's show ("The Spirit of the West") on the internet and I looked at Jim and Jim looked at me and we said 'WE can do that - not that GOOD, but we can DO that!!'"

They do that, alright -- and good enough to have "Clear Out West" syndicated on stations across Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Alabama to the delight of their sponsors!  And they're on the internet.  Mouse-clickers can hear their weirdnesses -- an apt title for The Nelsons: "Their Weirdnesses" -- having fun and playing great Western Music at www.clearoutwest.com which is gaining them new fans and e-mail from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Japan so far.  But it was a listener from closer to home in Midwest (a town), Wyoming, who visited their site, saw them smiling out from the bio page, and furnished the C.O.W.boys with one of their favorite e-mails to date.  Andy shares:  "I listen to your show every week.  In my mind's eye I pictured you guys as old pot-bellied crippled-up cowboys, (long pause) well, I found out you're not old!!!"  Artists can send CD's to Andy and Jim Nelson, "Clear Out West," P.O. Box 1547, Pinedale, WY, 82941; e-mail cowboys@clearoutwest.com.

Finally, we hope you've left room for dessert because we're gonna hand out a little "dish" since frankly we feel pretty "des(s)erted!"  In the last column we told you the XM Satellite channel Hank's Place had launched "Hank's Cowboy Gathering," a Western Music show airing Sundays at 11:00 a.m. and replaying at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  We trust their lack of communication doesn't reflect a lack of commitment.  We further trust the show (set in those "harmless" timeslots) isn't a mere bone thrown to cod whatever codgers they think might still listen to Western Music!  But our repeated attempts to set up an interview with first the program director, then the music director, then an associate programming manager all met with silence.  Oh well...maybe you have to subscribe to hear them too!

© 2005, Rick Huff

Western Air appears in the Western Music Association's The Western Way magazine.






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