Tag Archives: WETS

New Tech Tricks for an Old Radio Dog?

In which Jack is pleased with himself for getting his home studio going

I’ve been presenting Celtic music radio shows for more than twenty years now, in Scotland as well as here in the US, but I’ve always had the luxury of someone else handling the technicalities. Back at Heartland FM in Pitlochry in Scotland (of blessed memory) it was the ever-patient Alan Brown who sat across from me, running cassettes and dropping the needle onto LPs.

Yes, it was a long time ago.

Later Alan and I tried to get to grips with those new-fangled CD thingamajigs. That show went out live and was often built around a guest who brought favorite pieces of music. I interviewed them about why they had chosen them while poor Alan cued up tracks and cut over to two mics, all the time knowing that we were going out live!

These shows went out monthly for ten plus years, and wound up being re-aired as part of a weekly series of Celtic music shows on WETS in Johnson City, Tennessee – first with Keltik Korner and then in Music from the Stone Circle. So the shows were recorded (again on to cassette) as they were broadcast and mailed to the States.

Alert readers will have worked out that these were now (at least) second generation cassettes; those were the days, my friends…..

Wendy and I moved to Big Stone Gap following the untimely death of Denise Cozad, who had presented Music from the Stone Circle, so WETS no longer had a ‘home-grown’ Celtic music show. So once the bookstore was up and running (or tilting or walking or crawling, those first years) I emailed Wayne, the station manager, and within a week I was back on air. That was eight years ago and throughout that time I have always had someone else handling the technical stuff – all I ever had to do was talk.

Remember last winter? The one that had us snowed in for two solid weeks, no one driving anywhere?

I began to explore recording my shows completely here at the bookstore instead the three hour round trip and the hassle of pre-recording CD tracks to another CD in preparation. I downloaded Audacity, but being a bit of a technophobe just couldn’t make head or tail of it, going back every few months to work through the instructions but always giving up. Renewed impetus came with the discovery of DropBox and motivation from my pal Fiona, who constructs Thistle and Shamrock on a kitchen table in Scotland. She told me she used Dropbox to upload a complete program to a filing cabinet in the sky!

I now salute the wonders of Google, carefully constructed search terms and Youtube, for their assistance in unlocking the mysteries of Dropbox. Last night I was able to make the break through and do everything that I need to do to finally (I hope) schedule my radio time completely to my choosing! Wendy says I came downstairs on Old Christmas night with my face beaming as if I’d seen the Epiphany!

Maybe not quite that, but I was happy, yes.

PS – Although delighted at my new self-sufficiency, I must give most grateful thanks to the glittering array of true professionals who have sat on the other side of the desk over the years keeping me teched up – Alan Brown, Wayne Bean, Denise Cozad, Nick Roosa, Bob Hoffman and Wayne Winkler.

If you want to hear Celtic Clanjamphry, visit their facebook page for times and playlists.



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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Other Side of the Microphone

Jack’s weekly guest blog


DSCN1013Both Wendy and I have some experience of radio broadcasting; in my case that covers BBC Radio Scotland,  ‘Scene Around’ on Heartland fm in Scotland, and ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ on WETS fm out of Johnson City in Tennessee.

But when Wendy’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap was published we suddenly found ourselves on the other side of the microphone. Some of these interviews were on local NPR stations ahead of book signing events, others nationally syndicated shows like ‘Weekend Edition’. It was fascinating to see how other presenters worked and the studios were set up, from very relaxed and laid back to pretty frenetic.

Interviews get repeated from time-to-time and we don’t always know that will happen; messages or emails or phone calls from someone say they heard us as they were driving through some remote part of the country. Which is fun.

Even more fun is that for once we do know ahead of time. The widely broadcast NPR program ‘With Good Reason’ interviewed us in 2013, and it was probably the one we remember most fondly. Very relaxed and long enough to cover our road trip to small towns across America, seeking out bookstores and talking about our experiences with Little Bookstore.

‘With Good Reason’ is broadcast in many states at different times. Find your local listening time and station here: Where and When to Listen

Or, if you’d like to listen to it any time during the week. the podcast link is – Little Bookstore Nov. 28 – Dec. 4

We hope you enjoy listening – we had a lot of fun making the program!


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Retire and Move to America, They Said. It’ll be Fun, They Said.

DSCN1410It’s not that Jack feels sorry for himself; it’s just that he’s got a lot to do…..

As a semi-pro Scottish folk singer I used to do two or three gigs per week, touring around Europe and the US , as well as helping to run folksong clubs and festivals. When I retired and moved to the US permanently, and then we opened a bookstore,  I thought to myself, Ah, this will be the life! The gentleman scholar in comfy sweater, spectacles perched on my nose, a cat or two purring in the background as I putter about the shop, perhaps even time enough to get back into my hobby of model airplane building ….could it get any more relaxing?

And God said “HA!”

Here’s my typical schedule now –

Annual tour of Scotland (www.scottishsongandstory.co.uk); weekly Celtic music program on WETS.fm and WEHC.fm (www.wets.org); annual Celtic music festival (www.bigstoneceltic.com); regular house concerts and events in the bookstore; regular book festivals all over the US with Wendy. Total per year: 30 average. Some of them here, some of them there and everywhere….

We’ve just come back from emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, as we have for the last eight years. It’s a real labor-of-love for us, plus we get to hear great music, see old friends and dip our toes into someone else’s last minute panics! It’s also a terrific way of getting us into the mood for BIG STONE CELTIC CROSSROADS which is two weeks later.

Now we are about to head to West Jefferson North Carolina for their annual book festival, then we have Big Stone Celtic. After a brief hiatus we have Wendy’s annual health conference ‘Head for the Hills’ at the glorious Breaks Park, then presentations to Lee High School students, a storytelling event with our old friend Lyn Ford, a bookstore concert here with the fabulous fiddle player Jamie Laval, another bookstore concert with musicians Ron Short and Willie Dodson, an author event with Willie Dalton (don’t confuse author Willie Dalton with musician Willie Dodson; she’s blond and willowy, he’s bearded and brings a banjo) and yet another shop concert with my Scots fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark. That moves us effortlessly (hah!) into Christmas – which we will spend in Dublin, Ireland with friends – who will make no demands on me whatsoever – – -right, David and Susan?????

Maybe I should go back to being an itinerant folk singer – the hours were easier and I got more sleep.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA


Jack’s weekly guest blog

One day, dashing into the grocery in Scotland, I met a college colleague who had retired a year earlier. I asked him how we was enjoying his retirement.

“Ah, Jack,” he said, “it was made for a younger man than me!”

I know what he meant, now.

We are approaching the end of the grand basement remodeling (and Wendy swears there will be pictures to follow). If I do say so myself, the place looks lovely and cozy and just like us. The construction work (my part) is done, and we are now in the process of moving stuff down there from our upstairs rooms (mostly Wendy’s job). The last job I had to do was to fit a dog/cat flap in the old door to the outside yard and show our animals how to use it. (I hope Wendy didn’t get a picture of me halfway through the flap, bum sticking out, saying, “See, Zora, see? It’s so easy, just come along there.”

I suppose in the back of my mind, I was thinking that now the building is done, I would relax and take it easy, read my favorite blogs (on Scottish Independence, Folk Musicians, and Reasons not to Care about the Royal Baby – hey, I’m Scottish.)

Not a chance on that relaxation thing….

Before the upstairs turns into the SECOND STORY EATERY we envision (read: Wendy wants) there are things to be done: among others, repainting the staircase and our  upstairs former bedroom, installing heat and air up there (that’ll be fun) and fitting in an extra sink in the kitchen (required by the health inspector).

Then there’s the approaching Big Stone Celtic annual festival (Sept 28; y’all come!) with all the attendant meetings and emailing and phone calling – – –

Meanwhile the bookstore still has to be looked after with all that entails (mostly box after box of trade credit books) and producing programs for my weekly radio show keeps nudging me as well. We won’t even talk about Wendy’s foster cats and their needs.

Retirement? Pshaw!! I’ve never been busier in my life!

For those following the story of Hazel the elderly foster cat, she now has her own Facebook page in  her new home. Keep up with her exploits by liking CLAN HAZEL.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

Sorry for the Delay, Kinda

I’m sorry about missing yesterday as a blog-writing day, but I had an unexpected appointment. Jack was scheduled to record radio programs at WETS, the university public radio station across the border in Tennessee. He does a month at a time ahead and Celtic Clanjamphry runs Sunday mornings at 7.

Impulsively, said, “Hey, come with me and we’ll go out after and get lunch and walk around the antique stores in Kingsport and have a general good time.”

I hesitated. “You mean, like a date?”

Jack scratched his head. “I don’t remember if that’s what you call them, but we can pretend we’re not married and just starting to like each other again?”

“Darling!” Men in general tend to have romance as a recessive gene. Jack… well, he’s very good around the house and he tells funny jokes.

In honor of the occasion I looked out a linen dress that is form flattering. Just to make sure it still fit from last summer, I slipped it on – and discovered my handy-around-the-house husband had washed it in warm water with the other white laundry. The built-in slip hung two inches below the somewhat tighter dress.

Jack cut the slip off with my crafting scissors and gave me an appreciative look; apparently the curves worked just fine.  Smirk.

The next morning he wore a good flannel shirt over a clean tee, and I knew we were going to have fun, fun, fun til Mommy took the t-shirt away. So we raced down to WETS, whipped out his three radio programs, with me a guest on one just for fun, and tripped off to lunch at Jack’s favorite Indian restaurant.

Which is closed on Mondays.

Okay, regroup and find another curry house. We did, and sat outside in the sunshine, but as Jack pushed felafel around on his plate, I could tell he was being a good sport. Asian yes; Middle East, not so much for him.

Never mind; off we went to Kingsport – where the recession had not been kind. Jack and I remembered it as a land of never-ending bargains, true antiques among kitsch, shop after shop.

Now many teeth were missing from this downtown’s smile; empty shop fronts boasted low rents; inside the antique stores, shopkeepers greeted us with hungry eyes and appraising glances. Browsers or buyers?

Browsers, it turned out. For whatever odd reason, antiques become luxuries in a recession; prices had gone up instead of down. Way up. When we saw a simple folding metal music stand like the one I use for my harp music, priced at $70 (got mine for $10) we packed it in.

But as we wandered, somewhat disappointed, out of the shops, Jack laughed and pointed. Yarn bombers had been at work. Tree trunks with knitted casings. Statues sporting shirts. Here and there a random wraparound, crochet stitches stretched to capacity.

Jack grinned. “Day’s not a total loss. You got to see yarn. I got to see you in that dress.”

Ah, such a nice date!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Holding her Grandmother’s Book

Yesterday before picking up my friend Cami from the airport I recorded a radio program for “Inside Appalachia.”

During the interview, the strange relationship between bookstores and fires came up. Most rural bookstores owners will be familiar with this phenomenon: one of the first things people replace after a house fire, once they have the basics covered, is their beloved childhood books. It was a shock, the first time a man who looked stronger than the mountains surrounding us got red about the eyes as we handed him a replacement copy of Beautiful Joe. “Had it since I was eight,” he said. “Stole it from the school library ’cause I liked it so much.”

Wayne, the radio host, laughed at this story, then nodded. “You know, the other day my daughter was looking through our bookcase, and she pulled out some books of my mom’s, things she sent us before she died, that she’d had since she was a little girl. And my daughter was just idly leafing through one of them, and I got a catch in my throat. There was something so wonderful, seeing that, her grandmother leaving this trail. They’re just objects, but objects that contain thoughts that inspired my mom all her life. And it never would have occurred to me to be that sentimental about them, but yeah, I wouldn’t have missed that moment for the world.”


(If you want to hear the “Inside Appalachia” interview, it airs the week of Sept. 28; check your local station, or visit the WETS website for live streaming on the day. Don’t forget caption contest VI is under August 29 if you want to enter, and Big Stone Celtic Festival is Sept. 22; come one, come all!)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, small town USA

Tying Up Loose (week)Ends

Today’s post is just pulling together a few loose threads to tie into the weekend.

First, let me remind everyone that CAPTION CONTEST III (scroll down to July 8) closes next week. If you haven’t entered yet, take a look at the winsome photo of a kitten surrounded by books, and have fun. First prize is a free copy of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: a memoir of friendship, community and the uncommon pleasure of a good book.

(BTW the kitten in question, who was known as Mr. Edwards while with us–from our Limited Edition Little House Summer Series Foster Collection–has been adopted and is now being spoiled rotten under his new name: Karl Pilkington. His forever family said their permanently-worried facial expressions were too similar to ignore.)

Second, I blogged a list of fun bibliophile sites online last week, and then found another that night. Goodwill Librarian is on Facebook, posting great photos and memes. Kimberly–the GW–also runs Good Reads Missoula, a website dedicated to books and book lovers. (Google it as for some reason it’s not posting right here.) They’re great places to visit on a Friday–or any day! Pretty and erudite at the same time.

Next, for those who looked at yesterday’s “I’m looking for a book” hints: nice job! I guessed Life of Pi too, for the first customer, who said “It’s about a guy in a lifeboat.” But of all things, he was looking for Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat! (This is a comic novel about a boating holiday, published in 1889.)

Customer hint:”All these people are mad at each other, because their dad gave away his land.” Jane Yolen got closest with her guess, King Lear. The lady was looking for A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. (Her next statement actually abbreviated a frustrating search: “It was a movie on Lifetime.” Well why didn’t you say so? Now we can skip a few false trails.)

“It’s about a woman whose husband dies, and she writes it all down.” Joan Didion, A Year of Magical Thinking, is what the customer wanted. I must admit to bookstore keeper snobbery here, because I thought anyone with literary sensibilities suited to Joan Didion would be able to ask for her by name. Instead, I suggested first  The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess, then Carole Radziwill’s What Remains.

The woman shook her head. “This man keeled over at the table, and his wife was already a writer.” At that moment I began to suspect she was toying with me, because anyone who knew that much MUST know Joan Didion’s work, but in fact the lady just couldn’t remember the book’s name. C’est la bookselling vie.

“It’s about a girl who gets raped, except everybody blames her.” Speak is a great book on this subject (which as comments point out, is all too frequent) but the customer wanted We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates.

It’s about this guy’s dog. Easy Peasy: Marley and Me. But just to separate it from the rest of the pack, I asked the gentleman requesting the book, “Who dies, the man or his dog?” This eliminated London before the search started.

Now, see that zombie thing? We went several rounds. I started with graphic novels; let’s face it, the kid was a goth and we do judge books by their covers. Nope. I won’t bore you with all the other wrong guesses. Believe it or not, what the lad wanted was I, Robot by Isaac Asmiov. His teacher made it an extra credit reading assignment, saying something about (remember, this came via the kid’s filter) people not caring about their feelings and letting machines do all the work and sort of living while being dead while the machines were coming to life.

Yes, it’s a new description of a classic text, but hey, I’m just glad the boy was willing to do an extra credit reading assignment. I do kinda hope his teacher never tries to describe Moby-Dick to him, though, because he’ll come in asking for Jaws.

And the final loose end: WETS FM is rebroadcasting a Community Forum interview I did about bookstores, at 7:30 Saturday morning and 2:30 Sunday afternoon. If you want to hear it, go to www.wets.org at these times and click on the listen now button at the top of the screen. The page that opens has all their channels (3 or 4 I think) and you just choose your preferred listening software. I think you can also download it via the website, but these programs are not archived.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA