U.S. Navy Band via https://flic.kr/p/kN9iLx
The United States Navy Band's Country Current performs in WAMU Bluegrass Country's still-new Bluegrass Studio on March 7, 2014. Bluegrass Country turns 47 today.
Forty-seven years ago today, bluegrass music was first heard on the airwaves of WAMU. What started as a weekly, half-hour radio show has grown into 24-hour programming, heard across the region on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. Matt McCleskey spoke with longtime Bluegrass host Katy Daley on this 47th anniversary.
Matt McCleskey: Katy, tell me, how did bluegrass get started here on WAMU?
Katy Daly: Well, Dick Spottswood and Gary Henderson are the founding fathers of bluegrass programming on WAMU. In 1967 this radio station really was educational radio. It was only 13,500 watts, and Gary and Dick thought, well, maybe they would take a show like this, and they needed to present it very scholastically. So they approached the program director at the time, Jean Potter, and asked and she gave them a Sunday afternoon half-hour show. Gary was the engineer and Dick Spottswood was the announcer. They did it almost like a college lecture.
MM: Well it is no surprise that it would be scholastic; they’re both veritable encyclopedias of bluegrass knowledge. Of course they started 47 years ago, but both Gary Henderson and Dick Spottswood are still here at WAMU.
KD: Yes, it’s amazing. Our elder statemen still do weekly bluegrass shows on Bluegrass Country.
MM: Over the years we’ve had a very dedicated listener base to bluegrass broadcasting here on WAMU, first 88.5 and now on several platforms, including bleugrasscountry.org. What’s been the community around bluegrass here in the Washington area–what’s been its importance to the greater bluegrass world?
KD: Well, a lot of people don’t realize that Washington has a bluegrass history, in that workers came here during World War II looking for jobs and brought their music with them. Jimmy Dean was an airman over at Bolling Air Force Base, and played the clubs at night and then stayed here later and did the Jimmy Dean television show here. There was a huge audience for bluegrass. Also there was Bluegrass Unlimited magazine which came here and a banjo newsletter published out of Annapolis. This was the perfect storm–media storm–for this music.
MM: You mentioned that Dick Spottswood and Gary Henderson were first to broadcast bluegrass on here WAMU. You’ve been here a lot of years, though. Tell us about the first time you were on the air.
KD: I was like everybody else, I tuned in religiously to the Gary Henderson Saturday show and he ran a contest for a record album or concert tickets for whoever could call from the weirdest place. People were calling from treehouses and house boats and I called from my job at the CIA and he said, ‘You win!”
I met him several months later at a party and I did a little Rona Barrett-style bluegrass gossip, and he said ‘Oh, come in to the station and do that on the show.’ He got cold feet over that about halfway through the week and called and said, ‘You can do a bulletin board of who’s playing where.” Well, I didn’t have permission to go on a live radio show, so I said 'I can’t use my real name.' He looked down at the turntable and it was Ralph Stanley’s record...
MM: This is before CDs?
KD: This is WAY before CDs. He said ‘How about Katy Daley?’ which was the name of a song that Ralph Stanley performed. Well, I was never gonna do it again so I didn’t care–as long as it wasn’t my real name, I didn’t care. So we did use Katy Daley and I’ve been using it for about 35 years now.
MM: Katy is the morning host on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country. You hear mornings with Katy Daley each weekday on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country and elsewhere now that we have multiple platforms around the Washington area.
KD: Yes, 93.5 FM in Frederick and Hagerstown, 105.5 FM in Washington, and we have the iPhone app. I just want to say that that half-hour show with 13,500 watts has grown thanks to the support of our members, so thank you for giving bluegrass a home on here at WAMU.
MM: 47 years of bluegrass here on WAMU. Katy Daley, thanks for coming in and happy anniversary.
KD: Thank you.