RALEIGH, N.C. — Raleigh’s own 94.7 WQDR, which bills itself as “Today’s Best Country,” received a nod from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) for Bluegrass Radio Station of the Year. That recognition is thanks in no small part to the PineCone Bluegrass Radio Show, which has been on the air for almost 22 years sharing old and new bluegrass music with an estimated 85,000 listeners per week. Larry Nixon, one of the co-hosts of the program, also received recognition from SPBGMA with a nomination for Bluegrass DJ of the Year. Winners will be announced in early February at the SPBGMA’s 28th Annual National Convention at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.
Nixon is a North Carolina native and a musician himself (of Nixon, Blevins & Gage – www.nixonblevinsandgage.com), as well as one of the original board members of PineCone-Piedmont Council of Traditional Music. Nixon attended NC State University and is a consulting engineer for the firm Bass, Nixon, and Kennedy, Inc. Originally from Elkin, North Carolina, the heart of mountain and traditional music country, Nixon’s grandfather gave him his first banjo when hewas just 12 years old, and since then he has been hooked on music. He has enjoyed playing all types of music but has returned to his “roots,” the re-creation and preservation of the finger-picking styles of guitar that he first heard in the 1960s.
Listeners can call in requests during the live broadcast every Sunday from 6-9 p.m., and whether at home, at work or riding in their cars, some four million listeners tune in every year, knowing from the opening strains of Earl Scruggs’ “Nashville Blues” that Nixon or Tim Woodall will broadcast three hours of the best in bluegrass, old and new.
The PineCone Bluegrass Radio Show was first broadcast on January 29, 1989, and the show quickly gained a loyal following. Being placed on the schedule right after NASCAR has proven to be a big advantage, with many fans just leaving their radios on after the race to enjoy the bluegrass music. Soon, the show was expanded from two to three hours and claimed the top position in the ratings for its time slot. It’s been there ever since.
“I had been on the PineCone Board of Directors for about four years,” Nixon says of the show’s beginnings. “At that time, we were the only organization in the area promoting acoustic and traditional music and were starting to become pretty well known for our concert series at Raleigh Little Theater. WQDR had been getting requests for bluegrass but didn’t know much about it, so their management came to us to see if we had any ideas. Bill Willis, who was then PineCone president, was in the band Patchwork with Tim Woodall. He knew of Tim’s interest in radio and introduced us. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a show every week so Woodall and I talked it over and decided we could alternate. WQDR was and is the top country station in the market and we were very excited to have the opportunity to start a bluegrass program which would reach such a large audience.”
Having two hosts sharing one program gives the PineCone Bluegrass Show its own special kind of spin, says Woodall. “Larry and I have different tastes in bluegrass–there are things he likes to play which I don’t and vice versa, so I’m convinced that between the two of us some music gets on the air which wouldn’t otherwise. If you listen every week you’re bound to hear something you like.” Nixon has a couple of his own unique theme shows, as well. After tabulating all the requests from his programs he presents the results in a Top 10 Requests countdown at the end of each year.
Getting the show up and running took some time and a little outside assistance, too. Nixon explains, “Penny Parsons and Barry Poss of Sugar Hill Records were a big help in the beginning, donating records. Record Bar (now part of Wherehouse Music) also gave us quite a few records and between those two we were able to establish the core of our library.” The first broadcast was on January 28, 1989, and the show quickly gained a loyal following. Being placed on the schedule right after NASCAR has proven to be a big advantage with many fans just leaving their radios on after the race to enjoy the bluegrass music. Soon, the show was expanded from two to three hours and claimed the top position in the ratings for its time slot. It has been there ever since.
In 2001, Susan Newberry, PineCone’s former Executive Director, explained what the radio show meant to PineCone: “The radio show provides the highest visibility for us of any of our programs because it reaches so many people. We’ve been very fortunate to partner with … a station which covers 22 counties and all the way to the Virginia state line…
“What we get is exposure,” she continues. “Even though no money changes hands we feel we’re reaping a great benefit by being able to reach such a huge audience to promote our other programs. There’s no way we could afford to buy that amount of advertising. As far as I know, it’s a unique arrangement for a nonprofit like PineCone to be working this closely with a commercial station.”
The PineCone Bluegrass Radio Show airs every Sunday evening from 6-9 p.m., and it can also be heard streaming online from WQDR’s website. The playlist for the prior week’s show is available on PineCone’s website, as is a playlist archive going back six months: www.pinecone.org.
Some excerpts from the article “The PineCone Bluegrass Show,” published in Bluegrass Unlimited, May 2001, by Ben Runkle. Ben Runkle joined PineCone in 1985 and has been a member ever since. He was President of PineCone’s Board of Directors from 1996 to 1998.