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Local media at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

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A beefed-up “Writer’s Block” heads to a new station

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Block_logoIf you’ve tuned in to WDVX-FM in recent weeks hoping to catch that beloved local program “Writer’s Block” on Wednesday nights, you’ve been out of luck. Host and creator Karen E. Reynolds amicably left the station at the end of December — all on good terms (”I love the station, but it was time to move on in order to grow,” she told me over the weekend) and still fully in love with the grassroots, artist-oriented philosophy of WDVX.

But “Writer’s Block” lives on. After almost 15 years on WDVX, the program will move to WFIV-FM, i105, starting March 13. And it’s getting bigger: It’ll be a two-hour show instead of just one, and it’ll be on twice a week as well, from 8-10 p.m. on Wednesdays and 6-8 p.m. on Saturdays. (And regular listeners need not fear: Dennis Double will continue to be Reynolds’ co-host.)

Reynolds said she decided on a “cooling-off” period for “Writer’s Block” instead of immediately jumping to another station out of respect to WDVX. She didn’t enter negotiations with WFIV until after she’d stepped down from WDVX — “I’m the ‘loyal’ type and felt it wouldn’t be respectful to be in ‘talks’ with someone else while my program still aired there,” she says. But the night she made the first announcement on WDVX that she was taking the show elsewhere, the offers started rolling in.

With WFIV — which gives a platform to other local artists like Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, who host the “In the Spirit” show on Sundays — on board, Reynolds now has an outlet that’s given her the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. The concert series “Writer’s Block LIVE,” which used to take place at the Knoxville Museum of Art and other area venues, will be returning, this time to Riverside Theatre right here in Blount County. “We will not only be recording the concerts for the radio broadcast, but will also be filming them for televised specials,” Reynolds said. “That won’t begin until late April or May — we’re still working on confirming the first artists — but there WILL be a ‘Writers Block LIVE — Writers Block In The Round’ at Boyd’s Jig & Reel on Friday, April 5th as part of the Rhythm n’ Blooms festival.”

Being a part of a commercial outfit means possibilities for syndication as well, she added.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for the program and provides increased visibility for the artists aired on the show.”

Written by wildsmith

February 18th, 2013 at 10:54 am

I want my WUTK on my MTV …

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WUTKrockWho knew MTV is still in the business of promoting music?

Personally, I thought reality shows killed the video star on that cable channel years ago, but not so fast: MTVU, a division of Viacom’s MTV family of networks, is a 24-hour TV channel available on more than 750 college and university campuses across the country, as well as on several digital cable packages. So when MTVU decided to spotlight WUTK-FM, 90.3 “The Rock,” it’s a pretty big deal.

The cable channel contacted WUTK a few months back, informing management that WUTK is “one of the 10 most listened-to college radio stations in American,” according to MTV’s research. MTVU wanted to feature WUTK in a new segment, “College Radio Countdown,” and did so last week. As part of its time in the limelight, the WUTK staff picked 10 national artists getting regularly requested on The Rock (Carolina Chocolate Drops, Cloud Nothings, SBTRKT, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Jack White, Of Monsters and Men, Doomtree, Cage the Elephant); in addition, Rock staffers were asked to submit five non-MTV playlist videos.

Being the huge supporter of local music the station happens to be, they of course went Knoxville-centric for their picks, submitting videos by East Tennessee artists LiL iFFy, The Theorizt, Senryu, The Black Cadillacs and Moon Taxi (a Nashville band with Knoxville ties through its keyboard player).

Congrats, WUTK. You can see the station’s segment on “College Radio Countdown” here, and you can browse MTVU’s Tumblr account here to see those local videos.

Written by wildsmith

September 10th, 2012 at 11:08 am

Raven schedules reopening party in its new ‘hood

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At the end of April, we told you how Raven Records and Rarities, that fine purveyor of awesome vinyl and cool pop culture trinkets, was pulling up stakes in Bearden and heading to Knoxville’s scruffier (and in our opinion more charming) Downtown North neighborhood.

Not the shop is teaming up to both spread the word and to raise money for WUTK-FM, 90.3 “The Rock,” the University of Tennessee’s campus radio station that is to the airwaves what Raven is to your record collection. (Utterly damn cool.)

The part starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, and it takes place at Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St. in Downtown North, a few doors down from Raven’s new home at 1200 N. Central. Admission is a paltry $5, it benefits WUTK, and it’s an all-ages affair. Here’s the lowdown:

“The event includes a multimedia mix of entertainment beginning at 5:30 p.m. with the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image (TAMI) showing videos on the Relix big screen of the Knoxville television shows ‘The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour’ and ‘The Jim Walter Jubilee featuring Bonnie Lou and Buster,’ along with rare live footage of a 1987 performance by Knoxville’s legendary band Smokin’ Dave & the Premo Dopes. At 8 p.m., the show moves to the Relix stage with live performances by Knoxville bands Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet, Guy Marshall and The French. Longtime local musician and filmmaker Rus Harper will be showing 1980s era performance footage from several Knoxville bands during set changes. And just after midnight, The Knoxville Horror Film Fest will present a screening of a classic horror movie.”

Raven will open its doors at noon on the 16th to kick off the full day of music and fun. For more information, call Raven at 558-0066 or hit up WUTK General Manager Benny Smith at bsmith60@utk.edu.

WUTK brings home national award from CMJ

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acquia_slate_logoWe heart WUTK-FM, 90.3 “The Rock,” and for good reason — since corporate radio has turned to sludge over the past decade, it’s one of only a handful of stations we still listen to. That’s because it’s the home of some great music, and some great talent — as evident by the title of “Knoxville’s Best Radio Station” in the Metro Pulse “Best of Knoxville” Readers Poll for six years running.

Local recognition is well and good. It’s all a hard-working, industrious and helluva nice guy like station General Manager/Program Director Benny Smith could ask for. But that’s not all the station is getting these days, as “The Rock” was recently voted “Most Improved College Radio Station in North America” at the 2011 CMJ Radio Awards. Handed out by the College Music Journal, the 2011 College Radio Awards ceremony was held Oct. 20 on the New York University campus in Manhattan. More than 600 non-commercial and college radio stations across North America were eligible for the award, and WUTK was one of five finalists.

According to the press release: “The College Radio Awards is part of the week-long CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival, one of the world’s most important platforms for the discovery of new music and cutting-edge films.  In addition to over 1300 live performances in more than 80 of New York City’s most storied nightclubs and theaters, CMJ 2011 presented over seventy informative panels with renowned speakers, an Entertainment Business Law Seminar, and the College Day.  This is WUTK’s first-ever prestigious CMJ Award, and the first national recognition since being voted runner-up as ‘College Station of the Year’ in the 2010 MTVU Woodie Awards, and being named one of the ‘40 Best Little Radio Stations in America’ (radio stations with 5000 watts or less & containing mostly original programming) by Paste Magazine in September 2010.”

The award was accepted by Smith and WUTK Music Director Matthew Smollon, both of whom made the trip to New York City and accepted the award at the ceremony.

“This is a tribute to the hard work that so many students have put in at WUTK, and continue to do on a daily basis so that we can provide them with the education they deserve, as well as providing Knoxville and elsewhere with original radio that can be found nowhere else on the dial in our market,” Smith said in a press release. “We are all very proud of this award and recognition from our peers in the industry, and we thank Dr. Gross and Dean Wirth for their support.”

Written by wildsmith

October 25th, 2011 at 11:18 am

Think your band has what it takes? ‘Rock-Off’ at ‘The Shed’ deadline is Friday

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Local bands wanting to make some bank, win a title and help out a good cause have until Friday to turn in applications to the 2011 Rock-Off at “The Shed.”

A collaboration of WFIV-FM, i105, and “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson (1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville), the “Rock-Off” will pit six bands against one another to crown a champion. That champion will be guaranteed an opening slot for a show during the 2012 “Shed” season, and even more importantly, i105 General Manager Tony Cox said, all competing bands will get paid.

“Folks have to submit their information to us, and from that point there’s a panel of people who are going to listen to the music and determine who is invited,” Cox said. “They’ll be competing against other bands, but they’ll be getting paid to compete.”

Judging will be carried out by the audience. (It’s free for audience members to attend on Oct. 8 and 15, and three bands will compete on each of those two nights.) Audience members will be asked to cast a “penny vote” during the competition, with one penny equaling one vote and $1 equal to 100 votes.

“Jars will be placed around ‘The Shed,’ and the audience members can vote for their favorite band by dropping pennies — or dollars — into the jar,” Cox said. “The winning bands from each night will be chosen based on the number of votes, and they’ll get to come back for the final on Oct. 22 — and get paid again. So there’s some prestige that goes along with winning the ‘Rock-Off.’”

The best part — all money collected from the penny voting, as well as from the $5 cover charge that will be levied on Oct. 22 for the finale performance by the final two bands, will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. Each of the bands chosen to participate in the Rock-Off will receive $300 for their set, a CD of the live recording and a DVD of their set. The finals, on October 22, will be simulcast live on i105, Knoxville’s Independent Radio.

“There are only three bands performing each night, so it’s a select group, and the finals will come down to two of those bands,” Cox said. “The night of the finals, we’re going to play some live cuts back on the air. When you really get down to the root of it, it’s a really interactive way to support Second Harvest Food Bank.”

Interested bands must submit two original recordings (mp3 versions preferred) via email to: joe@myi105.com (Due to server file size limits, no attachments should be more than 10MB in size). Get it in by Friday in order to be eligible for the competition.

Written by wildsmith

September 20th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

i105 gears up for ‘Homegrown for the Holidays,’ vol. 2

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Local independent radio station WFIV-FM, myi105, is gearing up for the second edition of its “Homegrown for the Holidays,” a CD of holiday music by local artists sold to benefit a local charity.

The proceeds from sales of last year’s CD benefited Knox Area Rescue Ministries; the whole thing is an outgrowth of i105’s “Homegrown” show, hosted by Joe Stutler. Joe (and station GM Tony Cox) are big believers in the local music scene, and “Homegrown” — which broadcasts every week from Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville — showcases local talent. “Homegrown for the Holidays” will feature 12 local acts recording Christmas songs for the CD.

The charity that will benefit from the CD is still being determined. New for this year, Cox told me — the artists involved are all contributing original holiday songs. Some, like Scott Miller, are donating a song to the CD; others will be recording their tracks on Sunday, Sept. 18 and Tuesday, Sept. 20. Those recording sessions will take place at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. The artists down to record those two days include Ryan Michaels, Hudson K, Martha Christian, The Songbirds, The Hotshot Freight Train, Brent Thompson, Roman Reese, Sarah Pirkle, Matt Woods, Scott McMahan, Karen E. Reynolds, The Drunk Uncles and Cutthroat Shamrock.

More information on the project will be released in the coming weeks, including word on whether there will be a similar release show as last year, which featured numerous acts on the album performing at “The Shed.”

Written by wildsmith

September 15th, 2011 at 7:58 am

Posted in Local media, Music

“Ramblin’” Randall Brown wants to be your “Host With the Most” …

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“Laugh it up, Fuzzball!” So says Han Solo in “The Empire Strikes Back,” which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, except for laughter. Which is what you’ll be encouraged to do at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, at Side Splitters Comedy Club, 9246 Park West Blvd. in West Knoxville, when the Second Annual “Host With the Most” fundraiser takes place.

Last year, local media personalities competed with one another, doing 6-minute stand-up routines that were voted on by the audience. Mitch Wheeler of 94.3 The X beat out Jennifer Alexander from B97.5, Oz from The X, Doug Shock from Metro Pulse and Erin Donovan from WBIR-TV, and 90 percent of the ticket proceeds from that night went to a charity of Wheeler’s choice, the Young-Williams Animal Center.

This year, we half-heartedly endorse (not because he’s not No. 1 in our hearts, but because it seems slightly cutthroat to root for one over the rest when it’s all for a good cause, and because we have no idea who his competition is) our man “Ramblin’” Randall Brown, an entertainment journalist extraordinaire for that big ol’ daily paper in Knoxville. You can read his excellent blog here, and if you didn’t know he’s also a long-time local rocker, you can read about his band Quartjar here.

To gauge Brown’s chances of success, we submitted the following multiple choice quiz. His answers are in bold:

1) I would describe myself as an East Tennessee version of:

  • a) George Carlin
  • b) Carrot Top
  • c) Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
  • d) Gallagher
  • e) Tony Clifton

2) My go-to subject matter:

  • a) Wife
  • b) Boy
  • c) Job
  • d) Sex
  • e) Bodily functions

3) My show is rated:

  • a) G — clean, family-friendly, no one offended
  • b) PG (or maybe PG-13) — I’ll give you a cue when it’s time to slap palms over the kids’ ears
  • c) R — Plenty of penis and poop jokes
  • d) NC-17 — Richard Pryor and Kathy Griffin had a baby, and his name is Randall Brown.

4) Person I hope does not compete against me: Mary Constantine, News Sentinel food editor. Her stories are hilarious.

5) Person I would love to have in the audience: That one really loud laughing woman that you hear howling on every comedy recording ever.

6) Tell us a joke: We’re always excited about new technology … until we get it. Remember 30 years ago when a lot of cars had talking alerts? “Lights are on.” “Door is ajar.” “Brakes are failing.” The tech exists now to do this a thousand times better, but nobody wants to hear that kind of nagging from their car. “Shut up and drive … er … be driven.”

Okay, that joke wasn’t the greatest, but I’m working on it.

Best of luck, Mr. Brown!

Written by wildsmith

September 12th, 2011 at 9:52 am

Blount couple launches “In the Spirit” radio show starting Sunday

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Seventy-five years ago, folks all over rural Tennessee would gather around the family radio on Saturday nights and listen to the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry transmitted across the airwaves from Nashville.

Starting this Sunday (Aug. 14), there’s another type of family show that will be broadcast over the local airwaves — “In the Spirit,” which will air from 8 to 11 a.m. every Sunday on WFIV-FM, i105. You can pick it up at 105.3 FM, and it’s the latest specialty show on a station dedicated to local music. And the best part — the two hosts are Blount County’s Americana royalty, Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle.

“Tony (Cox, the station’s general manager) wanted to do a bluegrass-gospel show on Sundays, but after we talked, we decided to expand and not put any limits on it,” Jeff told us this week. “It’s all just good, inspirational music — from Sam Bush to Sam Cooke, from Bob Marley to Bob Wills, from Loretta Lynn to Mahalia Jackson.”

“Basically, it’s what you would hear if you came to our house on Sunday mornings,” Sarah added. “It’s what you’re going to hear from our collection while we make you breakfast.”

For now, the couple will pre-record the program from their home in Walland’s Barb Hollow community. Plans are in the works to expand it to the noon hour, and given the company the couple keeps, there’s no telling who might show up for a live segment — Larry Cordle or any number of local players.

In the meantime, Barbra and Pirkle are hoping to have their forthcoming gospel CD ready to go in time for their set at the “Worship in the City” music festival taking place the last weekend of the month. The two will perform at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27, at the festival.

For more information, check out the “In the Spirit” Facebook page.

Written by wildsmith

August 9th, 2011 at 11:24 am

Country music’s new Blount County home: 850 AM

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It’s no secret that Jeff Barbra is no fan of what’s considered mainstream country music these days.

He’s good buds with Larry Cordle, the man who wrote “Murder on Music Row,” about the death of traditional country music. His band, The Drunk Uncles, are standard bearers of the “Kill Nashville Pop” movement, a grassroots organization dedicated to bringing back “real” country music to Nashville. So it was with great joy when, roughly a year ago, he discovered a radio station right here in Blount County that made him grin.

“I grew up listening to this same old format,” Barbra told me of WKVL-AM 850, transmitting from a station that’s little more than a year old and located at 261 Gill St. in Alcoa. “It reminds me of the old WGAP from 30 years ago.”

The station was once owned by WIVK, who gave it to the University of Tennessee. UT sold it to local preacher J. Bazell Mull, who in turn sold it to Horne Radio. The current owners are Jim and Johnnie Sexton, former owners of Knox Air who share Barbra’s fondness for the country music of yesteryear. They discovered the station was for sale roughly 18 months ago and decided to pursue it.

“Jim’s retired from the airline business, and this little station came up for sale and was having transmitter problems,” Barbra said. “Jim’s the kind of guy who likes to tinker with things, and he loves country music. He aw this station as a way for him to go mess with the technical end of things and a way to put on traditional country music full time. So it’s a labor of love for him.”

Not long ago, Barbra was going over the state of the finances he and his wife, local music teacher and fiddler extraordinaire Sarah Pirkle, share in their Barb Hollow household. Playing music is a good gig if you can get it, obviously, but it doesn’t keep the lights on during lean times. He’d already been trumpeting the station’s old-school format, so he dropped Jim Sexton a line one night and got a reply the next afternoon. The two set up a meeting, and Barbra was brought on board to sell advertising and work the promotional angle for the fledgling outfit.

“I’m coming from a different perspective, from a musician’s standpoint, and I explained to those guys how many younger folks are listening to this station,” Barbra said. “They’ve gotten a lot of feedback from older folks, but there are a lot of younger folks tuning in. The only alternatives are the bigger stations playing the new country-pop, and they’re wanting the real deal.”

At 50,000 watts — the maximum allowed for an AM station by the Federal Communications Commission — WKVL stretches across East Tennessee and into the Carolinas, and Barbra said the Blount County station has the potential to serve as East Tennessee’s version of WSM-AM, the Nashville station that broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry.

“We have the same wattage that WSM puts out, and my vision is to make this the WSM of East Tennessee, which it can be,” he said. “This is where it all started anyway before they took it down to Nashville.”

Already, Barbra is bringing on board some sponsors who appreciate the music AM 850 plays. This week, Morelock’s Music owner Matt Morelock and local lit-rocker Phil Pollard are coming in to cut a commercial for Morelock’s downtown Knoxville music store, a 60-second spot the two wrote themselves.

“That’s what’s cool about this station — even the commercials are funny and good,” Barbra said. “This whole thing has a hometown feel, and that was a big selling point for me to contact them. I think that’s so important, man, to stay in touch with the hometown people.”

Soon, Barbra and Pirkle will launch their own show on the station. Tentatively titled “Jeff and Sarah Live,” it’ll be a one-hour program devoted to showcasing local musicians that will air at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays.

“For example, Sarah’s been teaching for a long time now and has students who are full-grown adults, out gigging and are just tremendous musicians, and we want to bring them in,” Barbra said. “There are a few people we have in mind who don’t fit on other stations because they might be too country. And we want to bring in some of the older guys from here in Blount County who just can’t make it Knoxville.”

The 11 a.m. time is designed to compliment, not compete with, WDVX-FM, the grassroots radio station broadcasting out of Knoxville with whom Barbra, Pirkle and most traditional country, Americana and bluegrass musicians throughout East Tennessee have had a great working relationship for years.

“I do realize how much and appreciate how much WDVX has done for me and Sarah,” he said. “They’re the reason we have a career today. We want people to be able to tune in to ‘The Blue Plate Special’ at noon every day, but the hour before on Tuesdays, they can tune us in. There’s no competition whatsoever. We just want to do something different and put our show on before they go on the air; that way people can enjoy both.”

When he’s not playing Don Draper for the station, Barbra has his hands full with a number of other projects. The Uncles have roughly 85 percent of their new album finished, he said, and hope to finish recording sessions at Music Row of Maryville before the band performs at September’s Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol. A gospel record that he and Pirkle have been working on for several months is 95 percent complete, he estimated, and he’s crossing his fingers that several of their songs getting cut by higher-profile artists will lead to discovery of their songwriting talents by more and more people.

“Off our gospel record, there’s a song Darrell Webb and I wrote that Rhonda Vincent is putting on her live gospel DVD that she’s going to be recording at the end of this month, and Dale Ann Bradley just cut Sarah’s ‘Come Home Good Boy’ for her new album, which is coming out in the fall on Compass Records,” he said.

Written by wildsmith

June 14th, 2011 at 7:50 am

Rhythm N’ Blooms lineup announced!

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In less than a month, the second annual Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival will take place, so it’s about time the lineup was delivered to music aficionados. The good news … make that great news … is that the lineup looks to be well worth the wait.
Last year, In 2010, Rhythm N’ Blooms grew from a quaint little addition to East Tennessee’s annual Dogwood Arts Festival into its own three-day celebration. A big change for 2011: Instead of only selling full weekend passes, organizers will offer day passes for single-day show-goers. Last year, organizers faced the challenge of selling the $40 weekend pass to show-goers who were interested in seeing one or two of the acts on the bill and didn’t look at the bigger picture.

“Audience members seemed to be a little tentative to experiment with new music last year,” Attack Monkey media guru and R n’ B organizer Chyna Brackeen told us back in December. “I’m hoping we can overcome that. If you’ve bought a festival pass, there’s no reason not to jump around and see if you can discover someone new who will really blow you away.”

A web-only pre-sale starts Monday (March 7) and runs through 5 p.m. Thursday, March 10. During that time, three-day weekend passes will be available for $35. On Thursday, regularly priced weekend passes ($40) as well as day passes ($20) will be available both via the website and all Pilot Travel Centers.
Without further ado, here’s the lineup for this year’s festival. Keep in mind, Brackeen said, there are still a few artists to be announced, and at least one major announcement to be made in the coming days:
  • The Felice Brothers
  • Darrell Scott
  • Robinella and the CCstringband
  • Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
  • Scott Miller
  • Danny Barnes
  • Michelle Malone
  • Jill Andrews
  • Joe Pug
  • Erin McKeown
  • The Whigs
  • Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
  • Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen
  • Town Mountain
  • Amy Speace
  • Apache Relay
  • Ponderosa
  • Brooke Waggoner
  • Big Daddy Love
    The Jompson Brothers
  • Rayland Baxter
  • Marshall Ruffin
  • Diamond Doves
  • Sara Petite
  • Adam Hill
  • Young Buffalo
  • thecitylights*
    Valley Young
  • Light Pilot
The festival will take place at participating venues throughout downtown Knoxville.

Written by wildsmith

March 6th, 2011 at 4:04 pm