Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Visit to Judith Burnette at WBRF in Galax

On a lovely Thursday afternoon we drove from our campground in Hillsville over to Galax to visit evening on-air bluegrass host Judith Burnette in the studio of WBRF-FM. Broadcasting 100,000 watts and streaming worldwide, WBRF has a vast local audience and an unlimited world wide audience for the bluegrass music it spins nightly from 6:00 PM eastern time until midnight.  Judith Burnette, a lifelong resident of Galax with a lifetime passion for bluegrass music is the host from Tuesday through Saturday along with maintaining a part-time position at a local jewelry store. She has been at both since her graduation from high school.  

Judith Burnette at the Console

WBRF-FM transmits its 100,000 watts at 98.1 FM to a four state region including portions of SW Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia as well streaming world-wide on the Internet. Here's a map of the station's coverage area:

WBRF-FM Coverage Map

WBRF is housed in a small building our GPS took us to down a sharply winding road through a pretty neighborhood making us wonder whether we could possibly be on the right road. We even turned around and asked one time and were told we hadn't gone quite far enough. We should have traveled the extra couple of hundred yards, for there we were in front of what was obviously a radio station.

WBRF-FM's Studio

We were ushered into the studio, where Judith Burnett was preparing to go on the air. She stood behind a sound board with a computer screen in front of her pushing buttons to cue up adds, public service announcements and bluegrass songs she had chosen from the station's huge catalog. Judith has complete freedom to choose what songs she programs, but must include a proportion of Old-Time string band music because of its popularity in the region. There's also a distinct preference for traditional bluegrass, which the station emphasizes heavily in its programming. 

Judith Burnette at Work

  Watching Judith at work is a study in both efficiency and concentration. She manages to keep pushing computer buttons and chat animatedly with us before donning her headphones and changing to her on-air personality to announce the next song for her audience. Even her accent makes a subtle but distinct change to a less regional "radio" voice. Her love for her job and the music she presents to her audience comes through in everything she does. She tells us she has a listener in Oregon who tunes her in each day.  We chat for a while, and then Judith adjusts the mic in front of me, and we begin to talk on air. I'm uncomfortable at first, but we quickly settle into a conversation inserted between songs, talking about my blog and our mutual interest in bluegrass music. She's an experiences interviewer who asks open ended questions and lets me talk without letting me go on for too long. 

Judith and Me on-the-air

 A few minutes more, and it was all over. We shook hands and headed back to our campground in Hillsville after an interesting and new experience. 

Tune in to WBRF-FM 98.1 when you're in the service area, or listen on your computer to the station as it streams bluegrass music each evening from 6:00 PM eastern time until midnight. You won't be sorry.