Dick Clark, Wolfman Jack, Cousin Brucie, Casey Kasem. Once upon a time American radio waves were filled with DJ’s that delivered personality as much as spinning records. Gone are the days of a jockey like Dewey Phillips plugging a new single that could take a Mississippi gas station attendant and make him the King of Rock and Roll. Today’s radio is dominated by a sheen of slick, homogenized auto-tuned music and the DJ’s that are interchangeable as the pop tunes they play.
But in a tiny corner of the Kent County High School, there is a voice still crying in the wilderness that is distinct and unique and finding its audience far beyond the reaches of pastoral Worton.
The community volunteer DJ’s on WKHS (90.5FM) represent a rare porthole into the past, with a medium that reaches out to share their evenings, personalities and songs with anyone fortunate enough to be in the broadcast radius. A range, that at 17,500 watts, reaches across the Bay into Baltimore, to Delaware and Annapolis, all told a population close to 750,000 is within shouting distance of the school’s FM transmitter located out in the cornfield behind the school.
Many local residents may not realize that the school’s broadcast is the only high school station in the state that emits off campus and is one of the most powerful scholastic stations east of the Mississippi. The community DJ’s donate their time and musical acumen to produce radio like nothing else in the region, and offer their audience something unique and fantastic.
Mike Martinez began his radio career in 1991, with his show Southern Star Country Club, playing classic and contemporary country music on Monday nights. Little did he know that when he signed up for an adult education course after he graduated from KCHS, that he would still be on the air, two decades later. He estimates that he has missed less than five shows total in twenty plus years.
In 1995 he parlayed his DJ status with the station to become a member of the Country Music Association and in 2006 a member of the Academy of Country Music. He has worked his way backstage, representing the station as an ambassador, meeting some of the industries giants like Martina McBride and Tim McGraw.
Martinez, despite being on the air for 20 years isn’t the most seasoned DJ at the station. PJ Elbourn and his Dixie-Land show, Jazz and Other Stuff has been on the air for nearly three decades. Other long standing DJ’s like Charlie Stinchcomb’s doo-wop show, “Voices from the Hallway”, and Dick Lillard’s “Thrill of the Night”, play music that cannot be found on the air almost anywhere in America and have regular listeners that call in weekly from Bear and Bowie, from Essex and Aberdeen, to let them know that they are appreciated.
Bill Staples is in his freshmen year as a DJ, he doesn’t look much like the students in the Broadcasting 101 class. A retired appliance repairman, he had been lingering around the station for the better part of a decade co-hosting with the late great Charlie Coleman and the equally legendary Bill Blake and even sharing a mic with Martin Q Blank before his got his own show, ‘Honky Tonk Juke Box’ on Wednesday nights. Playing classic country from the era of Hank Thompson and Ernest Tubb, Bill is the definition of what community radio sounds like. He isn’t overly polished, and still admits that operating the equipment is sometimes not as smooth as when he worked with a partner, but his rough, low gravely voice is perfectly suited for the music he delivers. Listening to him announce the songs, you could not imagine him playing anything but the old high and lonesome sound down from the hills and long ago. There is nothing slick in his personae, it is genuine and as country as cornbread.
Radio legend, Willie “MoonMan” Bacote came to WKHS seven years ago by way of Baltimore when he caught the station one night when driving home on I-95. A veteran of the Baltimore and Washington airwaves and dance parties for over 30 years, the Moonman called the station manager and immediately asked how he could bring his unique blend of southern soul and classic R&B to the station.
Born in North Carolina, Bacote began working as a DJ in an era that allowed DJ’s to get the first chance on a record and could literally make or break a new song just by playing it. He recalls fondly spinning songs by Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes at WaxyMaxy’s record store in DC in the 70’s and the customers clamoring for the records moments after they were played on the air.
For several years he drove over from his Catonsville home on Friday nights to broadcast live in the studio. When health problems prevented him from making the regular commute, he began to record his shows and send them over to the station. All the shows he produces are live shows, improvising and choosing music organically. A tribute to how great a show he turns out weekly, in addition to broadcasting at WKHS, the Moonman can be heard on WVLT in suburban Philadelphia, alongside another radio legend, Jerry ‘the Geator’ Blavat and on Saturday nights on WOL 1450 AM in Washington, DC.
The Community Disc Jockeys of WKHS all say they love sharing ‘their’ music and stories with the audience. Getting calls and connecting with people reminds them how important it is to keep the music on the air. Some are retired, some work long hours during the week, some are local, some commute from far away, but for all of them, it offers them something to look forward to, a passion for the music and a family to belong to. They believe that crafting the show and sharing the music is like creating a gift for the listeners. And it is a gift that our community should relish and enjoy.
Tune to 90.5 WKHS this Friday March 28, as students and volunteers celebrate 40 years as the voice of Kent County High School and beyond.
For information on the station and the broadcast schedule visit http://www.wkhsradio.org.
By Bill Arrowood