As popular as Americana music has become, it is surprising that there are not that many full-time stations playing “our” music. WHAY in Whitley City, a town of only 1,500 people on the southern edge of Kentucky, is one of those stations. And they’re doing a great job with some fun specialty shows and even a phone-in Swap-N-Shop! Adam Phillips is the morning guy, music director, programs director, and probably much more. Here’s to great small town radio!
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio?
Adam Phillips: I had an interest in radio since the time I was 12 years old. I used to sit with headphones on just listening to the radio, and not just for the music. I would listen to the news, the commercials … everything. Immediately after high school, along with starting in community college, I went to the local radio station and volunteered. I said I would do anything they needed done, for free, just for the experience. I started by “working the board” for sports broadcasts, which basically means pushing buttons to play commercials, but it got me familiar with the equipment and radio operations. I went from a volunteer to a part-time show host to a full-time employee covering local news and doing a daily on air shift. Eventually, I worked my way up to music and program director, all at WHAY.
To be honest, I’ve stayed here because I found the opportunity to do things the way I wanted and have been happy here, plus it is my hometown so I wanted to stay here for that reason.
When I started at WHAY, it was an affiliate of a country satellite service, so that was the basic format, but with a few variety programs mixed in. Through the late ’90s we started playing more and more Americana until we finally switched to basically a full-time Americana format in 2000. As with anything new, it has taken time for the local community to get on board, but I think we now are getting more and more positive feedback, plus we have picked up a good following through our web stream. It also helps having an owner of the station who is interested in a good programming product, rather than simply the bottom line.
When is your show on?
I host the morning show, Free Range Mornings, as well as a daily call-in buy, sell, trade program called Swap-n-Shop. In addition, I am the station program/music director and news director, not to mention webmaster and whatever else needs done.
How do you describe your show?
The name says it all … Free Range Mornings. I mainly play Americana with a heavy emphasis on current music, because there is so much new stuff coming out, but I also mix in the older tunes as well. Plus, I do a segment with music birthdays and notes from musical history, so that can mean mixing in everything from bluegrass and classic country, to rock, blues, and more. You may hear George Jones, Robert Earl Keen, or Frank Sinatra …
How do you prepare for your shows?
I do some research for the musical history and birthday segment of the show, but otherwise a lot of it is just what is current in terms of Americana and what mood I am in that morning. Plus, occasional requests called in of course.
How much new releases and independent artists do you play?
As I mentioned, my show is heavy on current/new Americana stuff, but I also mix in older tunes and classic stuff. In terms of independent artists, I think Americana is geared toward them in a lot of ways. I usually don’t pay attention to what label an artist is on but instead listen to new CDs and play what I like or what I think will fit with the station format.
What was the first artist that got you into roots music?
I was first introduced to roots/Americana music in the mid ’90s and one of the first artists I heard was Guy Clark, even before I started doing my own radio show. He still remains my all time favorite singer-songwriter, although there are many others I enjoy. His Dublin Blues album was probably the first album I was introduced to in full from the genre. Great stuff!
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Guy Clark … and many others as runners-up!
How do you define Americana music?
I first think of Americana as being “real” music — artists writing and performing their own music, in large part, and writing about real-life stories and issues. Americana to me is like taking old-time country, bluegrass, gospel, folk, and a little roots rock and mixing it in a blender.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
In my opinion, local radio will remain strong because I think people enjoy getting to know the personalities and hearing them talk about local issues, or weather, or events. Our station focuses as much as we can on these things, while also playing as much great Americana/roots music as possible. There are so many options for listening to music these days that if that is all you do as a radio station, you will get lost in the mix, but by offering local content and something extra, I think you can still pull people in and keep listeners.
Americana radio is unique among formats because it is very regional. Top 40 mainstream country stations all pretty much sound the same regardless of where you go in the country, but Americana stations, or stations that play at least some Americana, can sound very different. Some areas are more into the bluegrass side of the format, while others may sound a little more AAA, or blues oriented, or any other combination. I think that is great!
What are your most memorable experiences from working in the music industry?
I have had the chance to work with some great music promoters in the world of Americana. I have also interviewed and met some great artists. I never had the chance to meet Guy Clark, but did meet Verlon Thompson, with whom he collaborated for years, in Nashville a number of years ago.
What projects are you working on next?
In terms of the station we are always trying to make improvements. Mainly we keep playing as much Americana/roots music as we can. We offer a live web stream and just recently added RDS capability so listeners can see what is playing from their car radios.
What inspires you?
I still just love radio and love the realness of American music. My inspiration comes every time I go on the air live and start “spinning” tunes and when I listen to new music and something gets my toe tapping.
Do you have any other interests you wish to share?
In addition to music and radio, I have interest in the local community, local news, issues, and events. I have volunteered countless hours on local events, local Chamber of Commerce, and other community efforts in the past.