It was on March 7, 1976 that my radio show, The Bluegrass Special, went on the air for the first time. I can’t remember a time in my life when I have been more nervous. When the clock hit 6 PM (the original air time for my show) I played my intro music from a scratchy LP by banjo player Carl Jackson, wiped the sweat from my brow, opened up the microphone and said “Woohoo! It’s time for the Bluegrass Special” probably in a very high pitched voice because I was only 13 years old at the time. Make that 30 years old, but my voice was still pretty high pitched. I then played the first song, Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”
That’s about all I remember of that first show, because that was a long time ago, folks. On Sunday March 6, we will celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary and begin its 41st year. That’s a total of approximately 2080 radio shows. I say approximately because my show was pre-empted more than once for special events and there was a two-month disappearance in 1989 when KSON combined its AM and FM stations. At that time, all the programming on KSON-AM went away (including my show). But after hearing from listeners, I was invited back and given the 10pm to midnight slot on KSON-FM where the show has remained ever since.
15 years ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show with a Grand Ole Opry-style concert and live broadcast from the packed East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon. It was big party and one of my all-time favorite memories. Some have asked if we’re going to celebrate our 40th anniversary in similar fashion? Well, the answer is no. Maybe on the 50th if I live that long and the show survives.
Still, 40 years is something worth celebrating. 40 years of anything is quite an accomplishment. Certainly KSON’s Bluegrass Special has to be the longest-running program in the history of San Diego radio. But it’s not me who deserves the applause. I’ve just been the lucky guy who gets to play the best music in the world on the radio every Sunday night! The real applause should go to the listeners who have kept the show on the air and the terrific folks at KSON. The radio station has gone through four different owners, a dozen or so program directors and the endless ups and downs of the broadcasting industry. Most radio consultants would say (and probably have said) that country radio doesn’t need a bluegrass show. But KSON’s response has been “We’re going to have a bluegrass show anyway. People like it and it works for us.” Numbers don’t lie and the numbers show that we have a good share of the Sunday night radio listening audience. Our promotions director Chris Turner likes to call my listeners “Wayniacs,” most certainly a term of endearment.
So, a big thank you to KSON and all the Wayniacs out there who listen every Sunday night. You have been a blessing to me and to all the musicians and record companies who continue to make incredible bluegrass music year after year. It has been a good run and I hope we can keep it going together for a while longer!