Richard Winham is as charming and personable as his British accent would lead you to believe, with as much love for the local music industry as the musicians he features on his radio show on WUTC 88.1FM. He came to the United States in the early seventies, in search of more varied work than what was available at the BBC at that time. One of his biggest takeaways from jumping between different stations was that those unideal work opportunities opened up doors to jobs that he was looking for. Eventually, he and his roommate (who was also working in radio) moved down to Chattanooga to work at an FM station that changed hands and became WSIM, a station that allowed Richard to break traditional radio standards of that time and play long sets of rock and roll music, and even full length albums.
He went back to school and attended Chatt State, and then transferred to UTC, whose radio station became independent the year he began their radio program. At the time, WUTC relied heavily on streaming classical music from Knoxville, which was not producing good numbers for ratings. At Richard’s suggestion, they began to play NPR and feature local musicians.
What is your official title at WUTC?
Richard: My official title is Senior Programmer, but I do a little bit of everything. I write stories for the news magazine that we have, host and produce the daily music show, interview musicians, writers, poets, and artists of all types. My overall goal though, is to touch people and make them see the world differently. Music has the power to do that.
Why is the radio still important to the development of the music industry? Especially here in Chattanooga?
Richard: Good question. I wonder that myself sometimes. The first time they began predicting radio’s demise was with the invention of the television, which played everything that was already on the radio. Then people like me came along and started playing rock and roll records, showing people that they can do something different. There is concern that online streaming is direct competition to the radio, and while I see where that can draw listeners away from us, those listeners can’t listen to our specific Chattanooga programs unless we upload it online. If you want to get a sense of New Orleans, listen to WWOZ. That station is the personification of New Orleans on the radio to everyone around the world. What radio does and has always done is create community by mirroring community.
Radio is portable; people are always listening to it in their cars. Frank McDonald, the man who ran the Times Free Press, said that at some point everybody gets their picture in the paper. That way, someone or their friends will buy the paper. It may be low rent journalism, but he’s right. If I put Callie and Jennifer (Rye Baby) on the radio, then I know that people on Facebook will know about and start listening, and then the radio will be the conduit for audience growth. We carry NPR and other programs, but we are the only ones putting Callie and Jennifer or Monday Night Social on the radio. As long as we continue to do that, it would be difficult to compete with us. But radio is a medium to deliver the content, whether it’s mP3 or otherwise, it’s an alternative to computers or phones. And it’s still around for after 100 years.
Who have been some of your favorite people to interview on the show?
Richard: A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Eileen Ivers. She first gained a reputation from her time playing with Riverdance, which doesn’t have a featured star, and yet she stood out from her fellow musicians because of her blue plexiglass violin, which she dubbed “Wild Blue.” She was so talented that the producers gave her the freedom to improvise over set pieces. She’s originally from the Bronx and when the show wanted to come to Broadway, she declined to perform, much to the chagrin of her fans. Instead, she came to play with the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra a few weeks ago. She plays all over the world and has a huge reputation. She started out as a traditional Irish player, played in competitions over the years, and then wanted a change, so she fused her sound with hip-hop and South African township rhythms.
Earlier this year I also interviewed Glass Hammer, a local band that has the opportunity to tour in Italy later this year, where they are going to play a festival for thousands of fans. They are also local studio owners who have done audiobooks and work with a lot of local players. It’s crazy to think of these two dads who are also rock stars, featured in magazines and go on tour around the world.
What advice would you give rising musicians that want to perform on WUTC?
Richard: When you listen to somebody, think about why you listen to them. What about them keeps you listening? What do you feel when you listen to their music? Where do you feel it? In your stomach? Crawling up the back of your spine? If you can make me feel that, I’ll put you on the radio. The truth is, I’ll give anyone a shot. But the answer to your question is to have at least two or three songs that you know well enough that you’re thinking about connecting with people, rather than thinking about what you’re playing. The same energy that allows you to connect with people in a performance hall will also work on the radio. I’m always looking for passion and energy, exactly in that order.