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Eddie Stubbs Leaves the Building

Yesterday marked Eddie Stubbs' final delivery of country and honky-tonk sounds to Washington. The longtime voice of C&W music in the D.C. area, a Gaithersburg native who now lives in Nashville, made his final appearance on his WAMU show yesterday as public radio took another step toward nationalizing its sound.

Stubbs lost his show and Dick Spottswood, who has been on WAMU (88.5 FM) since 1967, had his air time cut in half as the station seeks to find room for more of the national news and talk programming produced by National Public Radio. This is a new chapter in an old story, the struggle between the original concept of public radio as a refuge for local and cultural programming that could never find a place in commercial radio, and the latter-day concept of public radio as the source of some of the best and most ambitious news and talk programming in the land. It's not a close fight.

Stubbs is still on the air in Nashville, where he's long been a voice associated with the Grand Ole Opry. And in the new world of Internet and satellite radio, folks who enjoy Stubbs' kind of music can easily enough find it online or for a subscription fee. The cuts at WAMU end up hitting home primarily for those who are computer-challenged and for those who listen to the radio to discover new sounds. I'm hearing from lots of such folks this week, and while part of that reaction is just the standard dislike of change, part of it also reflects a growing unease with the direction of public radio.

WAMU's move came as yet another domino effect of the demise of classical WGMS and the related return of public WETA to its former classical format following a couple of years of experimenting with a news/talk schedule very similar to WAMU's. When WETA went back to music earlier this year, some listeners clamored for WAMU to pick up some of the news and talk shows that WETA had run. That's what pushed WAMU to continue its years-long process of crowding out the acoustic music specialty that once accounted for a large chunk of its broadcast day.

If NPR's brass had their way, they'd make their news and talk programming widely available both online and on satellite. But the local public stations pay the bulk of the freight for NPR programming, and they will fight like dogs to keep the marquee shows--Morning Edition and All Things Considered--to themselves. As more and more public stations cut back on local and music programming, the result is a sameness across the land, and that is clearly not what public radio was originally meant to be. But the importance of local content will become painfully evident once again in radio. If NPR's signature shows are available online or through other media, then local public stations will have to find other ways to appeal to listeners--and when that happens, it is shows like WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi talk program and the Stubbs and Spottswood programs that will make all the difference.

PS--WETA, meanwhile, is still in classical jukebox mode. Although it's been a couple of months since the station returned to airing classical music, there are still no symphony orchestra broadcasts in the evening, still none of NPR's excellent classical programming, still no adventuresome efforts to expand beyond the most basic works, not even late at night. But there is finally a first sign that WETA might branch out beyond the all-too-WGMS-like pops it's been emphasizing:

The popular and alluring From The Top, a weekly show that features and plays with some of the country's best young musicians, will move to WETA Sundays at 6 p.m. starting April 29. The show will also record one of its episodes at the Music Center at Strathmore on June 6, to be aired on WETA on Sunday, October 7.


By Marc Fisher |  April 16, 2007; 7:41 AM ET
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And so continues the sad, sad story of the abandonment by WAMU of the very programming that built the station and made it renowned nationwide.

I used to enthusiastically support WAMU and even volunteered during its fundraisers. Then, about 5 years ago, I as usual made my pledge during the Saturday afternoon Jerry Grey Show, a wonderful 3 hour stretch of traditional country, western swing and cowboy music. Very shortly after that fundraising drive, WAMU took Jerry Grey off the air--so soon after the drive that it had to be in the works. Fortunately, it was before I sent my check. So I ignored their mailings asking for my for money and have never sent them a penny since then. (And I'm an AU grad and had listened for years and years.)

Interestingly enough, a couple months later, I got the promo gift I had chosen during my pledge--a wonderful two disc set of Jim Reeves. I think Jerry simply had them mailed out to every one who had phoned in a pledge.

Posted by: Jack | April 16, 2007 8:33 AM

Its been a long slow process anyway. Bluegrass seems to moving back to the mountains. Eddie and the Johnson Mountain Boys used to play around here a lot. I saw them in person for free in front of the Gaithersburg Town Hall about 20 years ago. I paid $5 to see them at Gaithersburg High School a few years later. I paid a couple of bucks to see an entire bluegrass "festival" at Colvin Run Mill a few years earlier. I have a VERY fuzzy VCR tape of the Johnson Mountain Boys playing in their last concert in (I think) Lovettsville -- it aired on WETA during one of their fundraisers in the late 80s. Take a look at the Birchmere's schedule -- it used to be chockfull of national and regional bluegrass acts. Now there are more doo-wop and surf rock acts than bluegrass/traditional music acts. Its not hard to see why the radio stops playing bluegrass and other "homespun" music.

Posted by: Eddie Fan | April 16, 2007 10:38 AM

Marc: Eddie's activities in Nashville have really taken off, and it is remarkable that he continued on WAMU for so long. He is on WSM every day, announces the Opry, does many programs for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, writes articles and liner notes, and still plays fiddle. I'll miss his show, but the man deserves a life.

BTW, Dick Spottswood sends his WAMU program in from Florida these days. Former DC resident Nick Spitzer produces American Routes in New Orleans. While marketers arbitrarily carve American music into genres, Dick and Nick emphasize the connections between types of American music. Thanks, WAMU.

Posted by: Mike Licht | April 16, 2007 10:47 AM

This ruins a fine Sunday of radio. I'm sure that "Hot Jazz saturday Night" is next on the block, to be replaced by a rebroadcast of "All Things Considered." This town (my hometown, though sometimes I barely recognize it)can be so khaki.

Posted by: Kaloramaist | April 16, 2007 11:21 AM

You wrote;

" still none of NPR's excellent classical programming..."

Have you forgotten that NPR (National Public Radio www.npr.org ) no longer produces classical music per se? They gave up Performance Today and SymphonyCast to American Public Media, producer of "A Prairie Home Companion" www.americanpublicmedia.org, a few months ago.

Posted by: Sam | April 16, 2007 11:49 AM

You are right...everything is wrong. WAMU is playing to the non-members that are of interest to corporate sponsors. The great Stubbs show may have been doomed from the time he moved to Nashville, but his slot should rightfully be filled with more music, not more (infinitely more) talk.
A crying shame, sadder than any of the tear-in-your-beer ballads that Eddie played for 17 years. Marc, I wish someone at the Post could research and write about Jerry Gray and his (former) show.

Posted by: wamumember | April 16, 2007 12:45 PM

WAMU's decision to give Eddie Stubbs the boot in exchange for more generic news programming is a huge blow to the quality of life in the Washington, DC area. The traditional music programming on WAMU used to be one of the things that made DC a great place to live. It is sad to see music disappearing from the station. I agree that it is just a matter of time before WAMU has news programming 24/7. And there are only at least two other major stations in the area that can boast such homogenous programming. I can only take cold comfort in remembering the fate of Susan Clampitt (WAMU's former manager) and Benjamin Ladner (AU's former president). Not long after they pulled the plug on DriveTime Bluegrass (right after a fund-raising drive, of course) both were out of a job. You shouldn't mess with traditional music karma.

Posted by: Lee Benaka | April 16, 2007 1:06 PM

My tears have washed 'I love you' from the blackboard of my heart, WAMU! And no, I didn't just come up with that off the top of my head, it's a Hank Thompson song that I first heard on Stubbs show one of many Sunday afternoons I've spent cleaning the house. Does this already depressing city really need more bad news? Stubbs was the only thing that could possibly motivate me to push a broom around the house. Now I'll be stuck listening to interminable commentary on why everything is awful, like we don't get that elsewhere! The house will revert to it's natural state, I'll let myself go, and die of broken hearted loneliness. Thanks, thanks a lot.

Posted by: sarah nagel | April 16, 2007 1:23 PM

WAMU is in a sorry state nowadays. It completely sold out its members when it basically handed over its Saturday schedule to WETA. While I appreciate that they wanted to give Traditions a place, I never got an satisfactory explanation as to why they had to get rid of American Routes to do so. They have countless reruns throughout the week; why couldn't they have put her show into one of those spots?

And god, I hate Prarie Home Companion so much. If I wanted that much hokey humor and awful community theater quality acting, I'd turn on public access TV.

They have sold us out, and I for one am never giving them another cent of my money.

Posted by: Former WAMU donor | April 16, 2007 1:43 PM

Whoa! Just a minute, WAMU did NOT cancel Eddie Stubbs in favor of more talk, at least not completely. Their Sunday program changes allow them to bring back American Routes, a sorely-missed program these past couple of months.

WAMU has also brought back Weekend Edition Sunday. Is anyone going to argue that that program's absence from the DC airwaves wasn't also greatly missed?

WAMU's real problem is that there are only 24 hours in a day. Yet it has devoted one of its HD channels to bluegrass; still has the Saturday overnight show, while making room for Mary Cliff; and has a 24-hour webcast of bluegrass as well (which is what it broadcasts in HD).

Unheralded, and probably unheard, since it airs at 1:00 am weeknights, is a new "news/talk" show that is refreshingly brash and funny: "Fair Game." WAMU is getting more of my listening time, and more of my pledge money, these days, and I'm just loving this station, more than I already have after nearly 30 years of listening.

Posted by: Rocco | April 16, 2007 2:17 PM

Boy, do I hate to see the Eddie Stubbs show end. He made 2 very unique hours of radio that I looked forward to every Sunday. What a bummer that we will, instead have more talk, talk, talk. Just more of the "Blanding of America." I believe this move will hurt WAMU in the long run.

Posted by: Eddie Fan | April 16, 2007 2:19 PM

Rocco: If you aren't a publicist shill for WAMU, you should be. Phrases such as "refreshingly brash and funny" sounds straight out of a press release.

Posted by: Jack | April 16, 2007 3:20 PM

I too stopped donating to WAMU in recent years, when they began programming for a generic suburban audience.

I started listening, and donating, to WAMU in the late 1980's, when I was in my 20's and starting my first professional job, and their shows introduced me to bluegrass music.

I'd forgotten Jerry Gray - what a pleasure it was to listen to his voice! And Dick Spottswood's music choices are so unique, I'm not sure how anyone would ever find those songs if not for his program.

Sad thing is, though, WAMU is probably able to bring in more $$$ without the bluegrass fans than with them. It's always about the bottom line.

Posted by: Davidsonville, MD | April 16, 2007 3:20 PM

Jack, I'm not a shill, just a listener. If you listen to Fair Game, you may come up with positive adjectives of your own.

Posted by: Rocco | April 16, 2007 4:17 PM

Classical music--if it was worth anything commercially it would be all over the dial. Fact is it's niche music and will soon live on the web and in CD catalogs and nowhere else. Ballet companies are kept alive only by their Nutcracker events and a lot of symphony orchestras scrape by with corporate donations and their pops programs.

Posted by: Chris | April 16, 2007 4:26 PM

Same for bluegrass, ragtime jazz, emo and industrial all niches too small to live most places.

Posted by: Chris | April 16, 2007 4:27 PM

quote from Davidsonville, MD: "Sad thing is, though, WAMU is probably able to bring in more $$$ without the bluegrass fans than with them. It's always about the bottom line."
Don't let anyone try to tell you this. According to the Post, (and others), Bluegrass Country brought in more pledge money than any other show except Morning Edition. (And, any commercial radio station can tell you that AM drive time should be number one anyway.)This is the main reason Susan Clampitt was driving the station into bancruptcy.

Posted by: wamumember | April 16, 2007 5:10 PM

I stubbornly still contribute to WAMU as my way of thanking them for keeping alive radio's dramatic side. Veteran Washington broadcaster Ed Walker hosts four hours of vintage radio classics on Sunday evening. I don't think any other NPR affiliate in the country does anything remotely as good. They also air Selected Shorts, with dramatic readings of short stories; it's a wonderful program that they persist in hiding in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Now, if one believes the industry insiders who post at dcrtv.com, they're dismantling their news department. With the sad demise of WMAL's once-superb news staff, that pretty much leaves the radio news field to WTOP. Washington deserves to have more local radio news than that.

Posted by: ArtC | April 16, 2007 9:26 PM

I tuned in yesterday to the Eddie Stubbs show as I have nearly every Sunday since it's inception. Only this time I was not aware that this would be Eddie's "swan-song."

I'd heard that WAMU was making changes as far as scheduling was concerned, but had no idea whatsoever, that this was going to result in Eddie's show no longer being on the air.

I first met Eddie just before the release of the Johnson Mt. Boys 1st album, at the 1979 edition of the now defunct, Hyattstown Bluegrass Festival.

Shortly thereafter, I began attending the jam sessions held at Boe's Strings music store in Frederick, Md. and Eddie began attending there also, on a fairly regular basis, when he was not on tour with the JMB.

I at the time, was little more than an intermediate level musician, and even less a vocalist. Eddie was always giving me helpful, and much appreciated advice of how to play instrumental breaks on my mandolin.

He especially gave advice on how to play my breaks during fiddle tunes, which was basically: A. Suggestion on how to play the break at all, to begin with. and B.How not to play it too closely to where it was nearly a copy of how the fiddler played it.

It got to where later, at Johnson Mt. Boys concerts, at carnivals, festivals, etc. that if Eddie saw me before I saw him, he would come right over to where I was, and we'd would talk and talk, sometimes for the entire length of his break !

This, I might add was at Eddie's choosing, and not mine ! It was really a thrill for a kid like me at that time, who even then at that early stage of Eddie's career, viewed him as a celebrity, eventhough I could see then, that Eddie, being most modest, and humble did not, and likely still does not, view himself as such.

I haven't seen Eddie in person since 1989, and will admit, (most sheepishly), that although I should've, I've never attempted to drop him an email either, though I'm certain he woul've welcomed it, and of which I'm sure he would humorusly chide me for, if I were to contact him right now!

But I have listened faithfully, and caught nearly every edition of his radio show, and he in many ways has been most inspirational to me.

One way is that for many years now I have been playing (first banjo, and then guitar in, a local bluegrass band, as well as doing all the MC work for the group, and in doing so, I've used examples that Eddie has set forth, and developed a style that must be pretty close to his, as folks have approached me many times, and said,

"With facts you tell about the music, and the way you talk onstage, you must be listen to Eddie Stubbs either on his radio show, or listened to him onstage when he was with the JMB, or both."

To which I always answer,(as Eddie would say it), You're absolutely right!

I also give credit to a few fellows who were also Eddie's influeneces, Mr. Gary Henderson, Mr. "Tom Cat" Reeder, and as well as Eddie's former bandmate, friend, and fine fellow, Mr. Dudley Connell, as well as others too.

I can definitely say, that I echo some of the sentiments already sent in, as at the close of Eddie's farewell show yesterday, there was a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes just like some of you.

Though I had the privilage of sharing a brief, in - person relationship with Eddie, he has surely been a long-time friend to us all here in the D.C. area, through his radio show, and I think I can speak for all of us faithful listeners when I say that Eddie's program and the "mix" of vintage country and bluegrass music that he programmed as well as simply the sound of his voice here on D.C. area radio will be sorely missed for a long, long, time to come.

Lastly, In listening to Eddie's fairwell address, I want to say that like some of you, I too, have reservations when it comes to believing that this was as much of a mutual decision between he and WAMU, as Eddie said it was.

But I also feel, and very strongly so, that the Eddie I knew in person, and have listened to through the years at WAMU and WSM, most definitely "could not" have gone on the air and stated the things he did, if it were not so, and if he did not believe in them.

But irregardless, and very sadly, his show "has" come to a close, and I'm quite sure that nothing could've been done to forestall things, or could be done now to reverse them.

On a bit of a brighter note, I suppose, lets all remember that we can still hear Eddie either via the internet, or via radio, by tuning in to WSM - AM 650, (when the signal permits, that is), and catching his programs there, although it's not quite the same mix of music as at WAMU, those of us who've listened to him through the years, know that we are sure to hear some of the same musical "goodies" from Eddie there!

Finally, I would like to say a big, personal, THANK YOU EDDIE ! For all the years of great music on your show at WAMU, and for the fine examples in MC work, the musical suggestions you gave years ago at Boe's, and all the history of our music you've related through the years, that I, and countless others no doubt, have learned invaluably from.

And last but certainly not least, for your continuing preservation of our music, so that we all may continue to enjoy it for a long, long, time to come !

Will still be tuning you in on WSM ! God Bless My Friend !

Posted by: Ron | April 16, 2007 10:39 PM

I, for one, appreciate the return of Weekend Edition Sunday to DC. The puzzle has been a part of my Sunday morning since childhood, and I missed it.

Posted by: Julia | April 17, 2007 9:31 AM

Seriously, they dump Eddie Stubbs, cut Dick Spottswood in half, give us half of American Routes, and Ed Walker STILL HAS FOUR FREAKIN' HOURS!?

I'm sorry, I know he's got fans, but it's ridiculous that he has that long of a show when others are being sliced apart or even dumped.

Posted by: Reid | April 17, 2007 12:42 PM

And they took off "What D'Ya Know" with Michael Feldman on Saturdays -- one of my favorites. Maybe that happened before the format change.

Posted by: Greg | April 18, 2007 4:45 PM

Sad to see that D.C. area radio is getting even worse. I live in the Newark/New York area, which is much better due to the presence of WFMU, WFDU, WNYU, and others -- although you won't hear much bluegrass on these stations, they play a lot of wildly varied independent music that you won't hear elsewhere. (WFMU's web site is www.wfmu.org .)

I echo the comment above concerning WSM-AM 650 from Nashville. Those of you who aren't good with computers and webcasting: Try picking up that 50,000-watt radio station at night. It's a pretty strong signal that covers a lot of U.S. when it's dark.

Posted by: Ike Hull | April 25, 2007 4:34 PM

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