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Radio at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

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Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Local scene odds ‘n’ ends: “Behind the Barn,” WUTK fundraising and the Westside Daredevils

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The Trinity River bluegrass band will perform on the inaugural "Behind the Barn" at Barley's Maryville on Thursday, Oct. 10.

The Trinity River bluegrass band will perform on the inaugural "Behind the Barn" at Barley's Maryville on Thursday, Oct. 10.


Good news, live music lovers: “Behind the Barn,” which ran from 1999 to 2004 as a live radio show broadcast from Barley’s Knoxville in the Old City and hosted by Blount County singin’, songwritin’ couple Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, is coming back, and this time it’ll be happening in Maryville. “Behind the Barn” (version 2.0, for lack of a better term) will launch at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, and will take place at the same time every Thursday at the new Barley’s Maryville, 128 W. Broadway Ave., downtown. Oh, and it’s free.

The series originated with one of the former owners of Barley’s in Knoxville, Doug Beatty, who teamed up with Barbra and Pirkle to bring a little life to Barley’s and the Old City during the middle of the week. The three teamed up with WDVX-FM to sculpt the program, which took place on Wednesday nights and gave a venue and an audience to regional and national acts passing through East Tennessee on their way to weekend gigs. Some of the acts that played on the old “Behind the Barn” included John Cowan, Karl Shiflett and the Big Country Show, the Kruger Brothers and The Dempseys (who wound up standing on the bar, performing without shirts by the end of the night), among a slew of others.

The first guests for the new “Behind the Barn” — now sponsored and broadcast on WFIV-FM, i105 — will be the Trinity River Bluegrass Band. Future acts will be announced soon, Barbra told us this week.


Tuesday, Oct. 1, is College Radio Day, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than by giving a hand to the best college radio station in East Tennessee.

Don’t take our word for it — WUTK-FM, 90.3 The Rock, has been voted “Knoxville’s Best Radio Station” for the last eight years in the Metro Pulse “Best of Knoxville” annual awards, and was also named “Most Improved College Radio Station in North America” in 2011 by College Music Journal. It also serves as a laboratory for communications students, and approximately 75 of them work at WUTK every semester.

On College Radio Day, the station will hold an on-air fundraiser, and station personnel will be actively pushing the fund drive on air, through social media, and by other means, encouraging listeners to donate to the Impact Big Ideas Fund on the station’s website at throughout the day. WUTK is in immediate need of replacing its transmitter tower, and a goal of $15,000 has been set.

The station has been able to generate close to $2,000, so far, but because the station receives no direct funding from the University of Tennessee, students and station managers must generate their own revenue, mostly through donations, corporate sponsorship and underwriting.  A new transmitter tower will allow WUTK to continue to transmit the terrestrial signal at 90.3 FM and could potentially strengthen the current signal within the existing coverage map, according to a press release; the station also streams live audio through the website, and on the Tune In phone application.

For more information, email WUTK General Manager Benny Smith at bsmith60@utk.edu. If you haven’t tuned in, do so — you’ll hear more local music, more non-mainstream music and more good music than you could ever expect. And come Oct. 1, pitch in a little bit of your cash to help out a program that first signed on the air in 1982.


Remember how back in May we told you about the imminent demise of the Westside Daredevils? The band was on the verge of releasing a self-titled swan song album, which you can download on Bandcamp, and whatever the reason was for the break-up, the boys have put them aside in order to play us all one more goodbye show. That’ll take place at 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at The Pilot Light, 106 E. Jackson Ave. in Knoxville’s Old City. Admission is $5, and the band Successful Failure is also on the bill. We’ve been a fan of the band since 2002’s “All Things Small Produce a Spark,” which we raved about and put on our list of the best albums of that year. They’ve been dependable purveyors of pop-rock for more than a decade around these parts, and they’ll be missed.

Written by wildsmith

September 19th, 2013 at 11:39 am

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

More “Spirit”: Jeff and Sarah’s radio show expanding in 2013

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Hard to believe Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle have been on the air for more than a year, co-hosting their “In the Spirit” radio show since August 2011.

When we talked to them around the show’s humble beginnings, their goal was a simple one: To play “just good, inspirational music — from Sam Bush to Sam Cooke, from Bob Marley to Bob Wills, from Loretta Lynn to Mahalia Jackson,” Barbra said.

“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.”

But 2012 has been good to the duo, and starting Sunday, Jan. 13, “In the Spirit” will air twice on Sundays: From 8-11 a.m., and from 4-7 p.m. They won’t be a repeat of one another, meaning the evening show will stand on its own and feature different music — including some more upbeat numbers that might sound a little too wound up for the a.m. hours.

In addition, the two are incorporating a new segment into the show: “In the Moment,” a 15-minute interview/performance segment recorded at the couple’s house in Blount County’s Barb Hollow community. One recent guest: Local picker/guitar teacher Roscoe Morgan.

“In the Spirit” airs on WFIV-FM, i105, which can be found at 105.3 on your FM dial.

Written by wildsmith

January 4th, 2013 at 11:52 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

Rhonda Vincent selects Jeff Barbra and Darrell Webb song for next CD

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Rhonda Vincent is a pretty big deal in the world of bluegrass music.

How big, you might wonder? Well, she received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” Award in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Her 2010 album “Taken” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart, No. 3 on the Heatseekers chart and No. 21 on the Top Country Albums chart — no mean feat, considering the pop-country competition.

Now, she’s got a new CD and a DVD project in the works. The former, “Sunday Mornin’ Singin’,” will be out July 10; the latter is a gospel concert filmed at a church in her hometown of Greentop, Mo. (no word on its release details). Both will include a song co-written by a feller whose name most local music fans will recognize: Jeff Barbra.

The song, “Silent Partner,” was co-written by Barbra and Sevierville-based singer-songwriter and bluegrass guy Darrell Webb. And you can hear it this weekend, when Jeff and his fiddling/singing partner and wife Sarah Pirkle spin it on their Sunday morning radio show, “In the Spirit.” The spiritually oriented program airs from 8-11 a.m. Sundays on WFIV-FM, 105.3 on your radio dial. You can tune in and listen live via the station’s website.

Written by wildsmith

May 4th, 2012 at 10:05 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

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