Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Old Time Radio on WSPZ-AM

It'll help the narrative if I tell you up front that 1400 WSPZ-AM is now known as WVRC. I read about this first in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here. It's the story of Lester McCumbers, a resident of Virginia, and a fiddle-playing man, and radio man. He is one of the last playing fiddle directly from the Appalachian tradition. He was born early enough to hear mountain music before the success of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys came out as the genre's first big stars. It left hsi sound regional. It is at least part of the reason that Lester McCumbers & the Sandy Valley Boys were so authentic. Let me quote the article:

"For about 30 years, they moonlighted as a regional bluegrass group, playing the "high lonesome" style made popular by Lester's favorite singer, Ralph Stanley. Linda sang lead and played guitar, with Lester on the fiddle, their eldest son, Roger, on banjo, Billy on guitar and Timothy on upright bass. They played at festivals, fairs, square dances and on a weekly radio program that Lester hosted from a station in rural Spencer, WV."
 It doesn't say the call letters, but it's easy to narrow down. There are only three FM stations with Spencer as a city of license and only one AM. It's the AM stick 1400 WVRC-AM, and back then it was known as WSPZ-AM. the station only signed on Sept. 12th, 1961. It operated at 1000 watts daytime and powered down to 250 watts at night. Famously Tom T. Hall used to work there.

Their program ran on that station every Saturday afternoon at 3:30. It was sponsored by local businesses like Lynch's Market and the Millstone Garage. The program ran for about four years starting in 1962. The station changed calls in 1966, Community radio Inc. sold out to Nubro Broadcasting. Community radio Inc was owned by Gordon Minns, who also owned the Coca-Cola bottling plant in town. His sales guy had a habit of letting the McCumbers play whether they had a sponsor or not. (At least according to Jim Meads.) Today 1400 AM is a gospel station owned by Star Communications.

When their son Roger died of a heart problem in 1997 and the band basically broke up. It had been almost 30 years of playing together. But a few years later he began to play just a little bit with friends and family.  But then in 2000, he was convinced to take on a musical apprentice, Jake Krack who wanted to learn the old way of fiddling. Within two years Krack had won a local fiddle contest. He released a CD with his wife Linda in 2002 called “Old Timey,.” She died in 2010 [more here] but I hear he's still kicking these days. There' plenty of video out there of him playing, here's one I like.