Local Scene News

We have new feeds added From Charleston Underground and The Defintley Loud Podcast!!

These two cover much of the local art and music scene and if you are from out of town this will give you a great heads up on what goes on in Charleston and the Rest of WV.
You can Read it here on the Empty Glass site or click on the Links and read if on the on the original Site.

RIP Roots Town Radio 

The PopCulteer
October 31, 2014

Roots Town Radio, which we wrote about and were rooting for here in PopCult, is no more. The low-powered FM station lasted about six weeks and will go down as yet another noble failure in the pantheon of Charleston’s music scene.

Charleston’s other newspaper published a one-sided account of how things went down, and I’d link to it if I didn’t feel that it was unnecessarily lurid and slanted. It’s enough to say that the owners had a personal relationship, and when that relationship collapsed, so did any chance of Roots Town Radio becoming a lasting institution.

Weird things were happening on Facebook about a week after the station started broadcasting, with odd announcements about one of the founders leaving being posted, then deleted twenty minutes later. When I saw that happening, I knew the clock was ticking.

ROOTS RIP 01It’s a shame, because there was so much excitment about WXDB here in town. Unfortunately, most of the people who wanted to listen to the station were volunteering as on-air talent. I couldn’t pick up the signal where I live, and I only listen to CDs in the car, so I only heard snippets of the streaming signal over the internet. It was a nice alternative to what fills Charleston’s airwaves, but the broadcast signal was simply too weak to make much of an impact.

Early on I was in talks about reviving the radio incarnation of Radio Free Charleston with Roots Town Radio, but I backed out because I didn’t really think that the wide variety of music that I wanted to present would be a good fit on a station with a predominantly “Americana” sound. With RFC, I have no format. I can bring you music from artists who play Americana, but I can also bring you punk, metal, avant-garde events, soul, rap, country, electronica, hard rock, classical, blues and musical theater if I want to.

I do hope to have some big news about Radio Free Charleston’s return to audio in a couple of weeks, but October has been a hellish month, schedule-wise, for your PopCulteer, and that’s slowed down my progress a bit.

The word is that a new organization is looking to start a low-powered FM station and that they will pick up some of the programs and hosts from Roots Town Radio. I hope they pull it off and have better luck (and a stronger signal). Charleston’s music scene needs more exposure, and it’s a shame to see something with so much enthusiasm behind it fall victim to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Stuff To Do

I covered tonight’s Halloween festivities yesterday, but there’s still plenty of cool things happening over the rest of the weekend.

Fiddler on the Roof

The latest Charleston Light Opera Guild production of the classic musical opens tonight at the Clay Center and runs through next weekend, with 7:30 PM peformances Friday and Saturday and 2 PM matinees on Sunday. Full details are HERE.

No Pants Players

Saturday Night at the Alban Arts Center in Saint Albans It’s the last adults-only show of the year for West Virginia’s premiere improv troupe. After this they will wash their mouths out with soap and put the electro-shock collars back on Tony and Adam for the remainder of 2014. See the No Pants Players start at 7 PM.

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Music Saturday and Sunday

At 7:30 PM Saturday it’s practically a Radio Free Charleston reunion as three RFC guests rotate sets at Taylor Books. Dina Hornbaker, Spencer Elliott and Tofujitsu take turns on stage with no cover charge.

Dina Hornbaker, Spencer Elliott and Tofujitsu, comig to Taylor Books Saturday

Dina Hornbaker, Spencer Elliott and Tofujitsu, comig to Taylor Books Saturday

Another RFC alumni, Jonathan Glen Wood, will perform at 8 PM at Kin Ship Goods, teaming with Catherine Irwin. Three bucks gets you in the door.

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Sunday afternoon at 5 PM RFC faves The Big Bad and Time And Distance bring The Punk Rock BBQ to The Bowling Alley-Dunbar. It’s an all all-ages show with Silent Horror and Rockwell’s Ghost joining the bill. Eight bucks gets you the show, ten bucks gets you the show and food. And if that’s not enough, you can bowl while you’re rocking out.

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This is ALL AGES and it starts at 5 PM, so you have no excuse not to go and support the local scene. The Bowling Alley-Dunbar is located on Ohio Street, just around the corner from the library. Or just ask anyone who grew up in Dunbar.

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features and please do not drink and drive on what has become the drinkiest holiday of the year.

Stuff To Do Halloween 

That’s the latest Radio Free Charleston Halloween show at the top of this post, just to get you in the spirit of the holiday. There’s a metric ton of stuff to do Halloween night, so we’re going to dive in with a couple of hot picks that you might not have heard about. The big show in town will be at The Empty Glass with their 16th annual Halloween Hootenanny. I told you all about it HERE.  However, there are a couple of alternatives if you don’t want to make the drive in to Charleston, or if you want a quieter evening of macabre reflection.


First up, we have HarraH, whom you can see closing the show in the above episode of RFC, performing with the reunited Under The Radar at The Bowling Alley-Dunbar, which is turning into one of the area’s most fun music venues. The party starts at 8 PM with games prizes and a costume party. Under the Radar kicks off the music at 9 PM with Harrah picking up and taking the show to midnight. Five bucks gets you in the door, and if the spirit moves you, you can bowl a few frames while rocking out.

There will be a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at The Alban Arts Center in Saint Albans, starting at 8 PM. Details in this poster…


If you want something a little quieter, then head out to The Electric Sky Theater at The Clay Center for a free screening of the silent vampire classic, Nosferatu. Directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as vampire Count Orlok, this is the earliest screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and what many film critics consider to be a “masterpiece of silent cinema.” The film begins at 11:30 PM, and as I mentioned, it’s FREE. You can’t beat that with a stake. 


The PopCult Bookshelf will return next week. This week we were too scared to read anything.


“Fiddler” Opens Friday! 

Joe Romangoli is Tevye

Joe Romangoli is Tevye

The Charleston Light Opera Guild will present Fiddler on the Roof as a co-production with The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia in the Maier Performance Hall on October 31, November 1, 7 and 8, 2014 at 7:30 PM with matinees on Sunday November 2 and 9, 2014 at 2:00 PM. Your PopCulteer and his wife were lucky enough to bring our cameras to a dress rehearsale so we could bring you this quick video preview.

10633134_10154951599550107_6973701302605028493_oFiddler on the Roof is the legendary musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Imperial Russia in 1905. It is based on the short story “Tevye and his Daughters” by Sholem Aleichem. This year marks a half-century since this landmark musical debuted on Broadway, and this is the fifth time that The Guild has produced this musical locally.

The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each one’s choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.

Fiddler on the Roof opens this Friday at The Clay Center, and you can expect the usual excellence from The Guild. The cast list can be found after the jump.


Joseph Romagnoli Tevye
Rebecca Mullins Golde
Beth Winkler Bowden Tzeitel
Brynna Horswell Hodel
Katherine Shaver Chava
Paige Isaacs Sprintze
Bria White Biekle
Stephen Hawyard Motel
Jonathan Tucker Perchik
Debbie Cannada Yente
Chris Terpening Lazar Wolf
Carl D. Simpkins II Fyedka
Mark Felton Avram
Eric Hudnall Mendel
Tom Marchio Rabbi
Ric Bertolotti Mordcha
Jim Damron Constable
Dennis Pauley Nachum
Marsha Isaacs Grandma Tzeitel
Laurie Pennington Fruma Sarah
Terry Terpening Shaindel
Bob McCarty Fiddler/Bottle Dancer
Horace Emery Bottle Dancer
Max Ross Sasha/Bottle Dancer
Kevin Swafford Bottle Dancer

Jane Auge
Stevie Brigode
Lora Adkins
Haley Burgess
Lindsey Duvall
Dawson Eagle
Marc D. Golden
Will Manahan
Shannon Mikeal
Erin Murphy
Cassandra Phelps
Toni M. Pilato
Megan Posey
Moira Reilly
Timmy Walker

Nina Denton Pasinetti is the Director/Choreographer.
John Marshall is the musical director.
David Patrick is the accompanist.

Personnel changes haven't derailed Yonder Mountain String Band 


Sometimes musicians leave their longtime groups.

Sometimes they part ways on heated terms, playing out like something made for VH1's "Behind the Music."

Other times the split is truly mutual, leaving both parties happy for one another with the future wide open for a possible reunion.

But there's also another possible scenario, where a band and their former member put out the token PR statement that appears to be friendly, while the truth of the matter is far from it.

That is seemingly the case for "jamgrass" unit Yonder Mountain String Band, which will perform on West Virginia Public Broadcasting's sold-out Mountain Stage this Sunday.

In late April, Yonder revealed mandolin player and de facto front man Jeff Austin would be leaving to pursue a solo career.

While the official statement indicated the split was amicable, stating the remaining members fully supported Austin's decision to part ways based on "creative differences," bassist Ben Kaufmann hints there were underlying reasons for the band's first personnel change in nearly 16 years.

"You'd have to pay me a lot of money to tell you the brutal and honest truth," said Kaufmann, frankly and somewhat sternly. "What we put out in our statement is the official word and the day I'm ready to write my tell-all book, I'll let everyone know."

While Kauffman refuses to elaborate on the details surrounding Austin's departure, his mood quickly shifts when asked about the current state of the band.

It's at this point where it's easy to understand the group will unrelentingly continue without the high energy of Austin.

They're refusing to let things get them down.

"We're having an incredible experience out there. I don't think the band ever had a more connected time. There's a very fresh energy that we're all experiencing and a lot of creativity," Kaufmann said, admitting the changes felt big at the time.

That "fresh energy" can not only be attributed to a renewed camaraderie among the remaining original members, but also the addition of mandolinist Jacob Jolliff and fiddle player Allie Kral.

"I'd like to think he's his generation's Chris Thile," said Kaufmann of Jolliff, likening him to the virtuosic playing of the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek front man. "He's just a talent on the mandolin that I don't think comes around very often."

Jolliff entered the fold through suggestions of friends and a former manager. While he hadn't ever heard of Yonder - which admittedly came as a surprise to the band - Kaufmann noted that Jolliff's abilities have allowed the transition to go smoothly.

As for Kral, she and Yonder crossed paths frequently for years but hadn't collaborated until about seven years ago. Although Kral was performing at festivals with the band Cornmeal, Kaufmann said he was impressed with her ability to excite crowds in guest appearances, drawing applause even before it was her turn to take a solo.

"I am absolutely thrilled to have female energy on stage. It's really, really pleasing to have these nightly reminders of how wonderful it can be when male and female voices are singing in harmony together," he said.

Kaufmann said the band originally went back and forth with the idea of permanently replacing Austin. They considered leaving their options open to invite a rotating cast of guest players.

"Coming out of it we were definitely looking for a mandolin player because it's an important part of Yonder's sound. But we weren't necessarily attached to the idea of always being a four-piece," he explained.

Six months in and with multiple tours under their belt with Jolliff and Kral, Kaufmann said he and his bandmates want the current lineup to continue for the foreseeable future. He said the nonverbal communication on stage is quickly proving to be something they can't ignore.

Kaufmann likened that communication to a sixth sense.

"That's something I'm looking forward to continue to develop with this group and I think it's really important to keep this lineup together," he said.

Aside from contributing to Yonder in the live setting, Kaufmann said he hopes to include Jolliff and Kral in the writing of new material for the group. But first, the new members need to delve into Yonder's existing repertoire, which Kaufmann said includes hundreds of songs.

"We just made the list the other day of how many more songs we have yet to teach Allie and Jake. We've covered a lot of ground with what they know of the repertoire so far but there's 50 or more that we've yet to show them," he said.

Yonder Mountain String Band will perform on Mountain Stage at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Center Little Theater. The sold-out show also will include James McMurtry, The Devil Makes Three and Lily & Madeleine.

This episode of Mountain Stage will air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting stations statewide on Jan. 17, 2014.

After years of struggle, this tenor is on top 

By Zack Harold

There was a time, in his middle 20s, when Fernando Varela considered giving up on music.

"It's a grind," he said. "It got really hard. There was a long period of time when I couldn't get any work."

But Varela was persistent.

"I think a lot of singers in this industry quit right before things really happen for them," he said.

After 17 years of trying to make a career in music, Varela's persistence finally paid off.

He teamed up Sean Panikkar and Josh Page to form The Forte Tenors and compete in the eighth season of NBC's hit variety show "America's Got Talent."

The group did not win - they came in fourth, behind a comedian, a country singer and a dancing mime - but Varela said just making an appearance in the living rooms of 14 million Americans has had a definite effect on his career.

He has taken full advantage of that much-needed publicity boost.

"I feel like 'American's Got Talent' definitely opens a lot of doors. People already know who I am," he said. "People take my calls. They didn't take my call before."

Varela is now in the middle of a cross country tour. He will perform in Charleston this Sunday at the University of Charleston.

"We've got a really great show. A wide variety, it's not just the classical crossover style," he said.

Varela's show includes opera songs, classic rock tunes, pop songs and more.

"It all kind of lives in the same space. I go from Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban to Roy Orbison and Tom Jones. It's a lot of fun for the audience," he said. "We even throw a bluegrass number in there."

For the record, Varela will not be lending his vocal talents to "Man of Constant Sorrow" or "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

The bluegrass song in his concert is "Orange Blossom Special," performed by his violinist Megan Gertken.

"My wife jokes, she says I have musical ADHD," Varela said.

His musical choices are not random, however. Varela is careful which songs he performs.

"If I don't connect with a song, there's no point in trying to perform it. It has to somehow resonate with me," he said.

Sometimes they're inspirational songs. Sometimes the subject matter is a little darker.

Varela is on a two month tour right now, so he's missing his wife and young son. That's made him gravitate toward songs like Michael Buble's "Home" and Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind."

"It's almost like therapy to me. Sometimes I'll choose a song that means a lot to me because I need to sing it," he said. "I really like to be in the moment and go there, not just act. Go to a place that's real and raw."

Varela said being a touring musician can be difficult while also trying to be a husband and father.

But it has also helped him.

"I've got the best support system anyone could ask for. My wife is my rock and she's a singer as well, so she really gets it," he said.

He also wants to show his four-year-old son it is possible to achieve his dreams.

"Sometimes when it's hard, I try to remember that. I've got a little boy I've got to raise to be a man... and I've got to inspire him," he said. "Once he was born, it kind of made me a little bolder."

And even though he is an established performer now, Varela is still pushing forward.

He has written a few songs throughout his career, but songwriting has become a big focus for Varela in the last year.

He likes singing other people's songs but he's ready to begin releasing music that he helped create, from start to finish.

"I'm definitely trying to expand my artistic horizons," he said.

In recent months he has spent time working with songwriters in London, Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville.

"We're just writing, writing, writing. Some days a pop song comes out. Some days a classical song comes out. Sometimes an R&B song comes out. I think the important thing is to write. You keep writing and you figure out the process as you go," he said.

He plans to begin working on a new album as soon as his tour is over. It should be released next year.

Fernando Varela will perform at the University of Charleston's Geary Auditorium on Sunday, Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.

The concert is hosted by Community Music Live.

Tickets are $35 for adults, $10 for college students with ID and $5 for students 18 and under. Season tickets for Community Music Live's four concert line-up are $80.

Visit www.communitymusiclive.org for more information or to purchase tickets, or contact Trudy Oliver at 304-380-6782.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

Local actor reprises iconic role in "Fiddler on the Roof" 

By Shawnee Moran

In the weak morning light, just as the sun begins to wake below the horizon, a fiddler draws his bow. He is a silhouette sitting on the roof of a worn house, leaning on a brick chimney for support.

The fiddler softly rests his chin on the instrument and with one gentle, effortless sweep he breaks the peaceful silence of dawn with a tune.

He continues to play as the pink morning sun rises, signaling the start of another day for villagers in Anatevka.

Bob McCarty will portray the iconic fiddler in the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of "Fiddler on the Roof," opening this Friday at the Clay Center.

But McCarty says in a way, we are all the Fiddler on the Roof.

"He represents all of us and the balance we go through between joy and the daily adversities we deal with, be it paying the bills, nursing a loved one or losing a good friend," McCarty said.

"The fiddler dredges up the joy that is found in faith when dealing with daily difficult situations. So, it should be very relatable to the audience watching the show."

The Charleston Light Opera Guild has put on this family-friendly musical five times in the past.

This marks the third time McCarty has acted in the show. The Charleston native fell in love with the musical nearly 25 years ago when he first played Motel, a supporting character, in the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production.

Fourteen years ago he was cast as the fiddler on the roof. That is when McCarty truly connected with the iconic character.

He said he is honored to play the character once more for the Guild's latest production.

Based on a short story by Sholom Aleichem, this classic musical held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for nearly 10 years and is still loved by audiences today with hit songs like "If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker" and "Sunrise, Sunset."

"But it's not a dated show in any way," McCarty said. "It's a very relatable show. There's going to be a character or situation for every person in that audience to relate to in their own current lives and that is what makes this such a universal story.

"It's a story about family and it's a story that families can come see. It's a very wholesome show, a very funny show, with tragic circumstances."

The story centers on Tevye the milkman and his family in a small village in Russia. In Anatevka, their Jewish religious traditions, including matchmaking and arranged marriages, is something they follow to be closer to God.

Tevye tries his best to instill these traditional values in his three oldest daughters, but in the face of changing times he must decide what is important to him - tradition or family.

"Every day we face people trying to change traditions. That's what this show is all about. It's about change and changes happening all around," said 16-year-old actor Max Ross.

Unlike McCarty, this is Ross' first time acting in "Fiddler." He plays a Russian and a bottle dancer.

Bottle dancing, a highlight of the musical's wedding scene, is a traditional Jewish dance performed mostly at weddings.

Dancers participating in bottle dancing wear the yamaka, a marker of their faith, on their heads in addition to a bottle as they dance. Then, at one point in the dance they get down on their knees - all while balancing a bottle on their heads.

McCarty also will portray a bottle dancer.

He said the bottle dance symbolizes their faith in God, how he is always on their minds and how they are always balancing him above them.

"There's all kind little traditions from the Jewish faith that you can see woven throughout the show, but it isn't strictly for the Jewish faith," he said. "Everyone can apply the same principles in their own lives - wish for the happiness of others, believe in yourself and in faith, dealing with difficult circumstances like losing a loved one or leaving a place that you once loved - all that is learned throughout the show and is applicable for people in the audience."

The Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" opens this Friday at the Clay Center. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Additional performances will be Nov. 1, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., along with Sunday matinee shows Nov. 2 and 9 at 2 p.m.

To purchase tickets, call the Clay Center at 304-561-3570 or purchase tickets online at https://tickets.theclaycenter.org/public.

You can also call 304-343-2287 or purchase tickets online at www.charlestonlightoperaguild.org.

Contact writer Shawnee Moran at 304-348-4872 or shawnee.moran@dailymailwv.com. Follow her on Twitter @shawneemoran22.

The PopCult ToyBox: The GI Joe That You Never Knew 

The Commando Sgt Savage, who came with the video you see above, and apparently no underwear

The Commando Sgt Savage, who came with the video you see above, and apparently no underwear

When you think of “GI Joe,” the first thing that pops into your mind is not “Sgt.Savage and his Screaming Eagles.” He’s the Joe that never really got his due.

One of the quirks of the hobby of collecting GI Joe is that there’s more than one hobby there. You have the collectors of the original 1964 12″ tall action figure, and you have collectors of the 1982 reboot, which shrunk America’s movable fighting man to 3 3/4″ and gave him more individual identities.

The original GI Joe from 1964

The original GI Joe from 1964

There are actually way more divisions than that, but we’ll take the basic route here. Each line had a healthy twelve-year run, and during that run spent time as the top-selling toy in the country.

The collectors of each line have been so numerous and enthusiastic that, at times, they have convinced Hasbro to revive their beloved childhood toy so that a new generation can enjoy their favorite plaything.

An example of the Real American Hero Joe

An example of the “RAH” Joe

The two types of collectors also don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that’s not the focus of this post. The fact is that these things run in cycles, and at the moment, the collectors of the 3 3/4″ “Real American Hero” Joes are the primo demographic for Hasbro to cater to in terms of nostalgia. That’s why the few token items produced to mark GI Joe’s fiftieth anniversary this year were made in the 3 3/4″ size.

However, as I mentioned, these things run in cycles. The original GI Joe was introduced in 1964 and was discontinued after 1976. Likewise, the Real American Hero GI Joe was introduced in 1982, and by 1994 was simply not selling any longer. Hasbro had made a half-hearted attempt at reviving the 12″ GI Joe concept, and discovered that it was way more profitable than the little guys.

So in 1994, Hasbro killed off the 3 3/4″ GI Joe, with one of the final releases being small-scaled versions of the classic 1964 GI Joe. They decided to relaunch the line with a different size, a different concept and really cool vehicles and packaging.

Imagine what a kid would do to get a tank like this

Imagine what a kid would do to get a tank like this

Largely created by Kirk Bozigian, who had worked on both previous incarnations of GI Joe, Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles took the concept of a World War II soldier, displaced in time, brought back to lead a modern anti-terrorist group. The toys were just a little taller than the Real American Hero Joes, but they were made using a plastic that held more detail and looked pretty spectacular compared to their immediate predecessors.

The vehicles were all souped-up versions of classic WWII machinery. Keeping the figures small allowed Hasbro to give them a great assortment of killer Jeeps and Aircraft.

One of the coolest toys that hardly anyone ever saw

One of the coolest toys that hardly anyone ever saw

Topping it off was beautiful package art by Joe Kubert, the legendary artist of DC Comic’s “Sgt. Rock.” In fact, the storyline was sort of a mash-up of Sgt. Rock with Marvel’s Captain America. It wasn’t the most original thing in the world, but it was still really cool.

All package art was by Joe Kubert

All package art was by Joe Kubert

At this point, you might expect me to tell you how Sgt. Savage went on to a healthy twelve-year run, but he didn’t. Before the full line of figures hit store shelves, Hasbro re-organized, moving all their boy’s toys to the Kenner Division in Cinncinnati. One of the coolest-looking and most innovative action figure lines since the 1960s never had the chance to sell at its full retail price. The folks at Kenner put Sgt. Savage in the “not invented here” file, and proceeded to dump all the product at deep discount stores in favor of their new line.

GI Joe: Extreme. The less said, the better

GI Joe: Extreme. The less said, the better

That line was “GI Joe: Extreme,” to this day considered by everyone as the single worst incarnation of GI Joe in the fifty year history of the toy. Kenner performed so poorly after being placed in charge of Hasbro’s boy’s toys that the entire company was shuttered a few years later. Hasbro moved their boy’s division back to Rhode Island and laid off hundreds of Kenner folks.

Meanwhile, Hasbro managed to successfully revive GI Joe as a 12″ action figure with the Classic Collection and the Timeless Collection, both of which lasted until around 2004. A few attempts at reviving the 3 3/4″ Joes during this time met with varying degrees of success, but never really came close to their former glory. Hasbro dabbled in a few other scales with 8″ and 2″ figures in their Sigma Six line, and totally screwed the pooch with a badly-designed line of toys in many different scales based on the first GI Joe movie. The most luck they’ve had of late is translating GI Joe into a LEGO-style building toy with their Kree-O line.

That’s why we really didn’t get much in the way of fiftieth anniversary product. The RAH figures released only at Toys R Us were designed over three years ago and were supposed to have come out in 2013.

But today we’re not focused on that. Today we’re going back twenty years to 1994 to watch the only cartoon made for Sgt. Savage. Just think what could’ve been…

Unofrtunately the toy world is littered with brilliant efforts that were undermined by fate

Unofrtunately the toy world is littered with brilliant efforts that were undermined by fate

Roots Town Radio goes silent after internal struggles 

By Zack Harold

A little more than six weeks after it went on the air, Charleston's first community radio station is nothing but static.

The community radio station collapsed in a heap of dysfunction.

Burr Beard, 95.7 FM WXDB's vice-president and station manager, moved to West Virginia earlier this year to set up the volunteer-run, low power FM station.

He spent months raising money for the project, collecting thousands of dollars from local donors.

The station's parent organization, Roots Town Radio, received a $9,000 grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, a $1,000 grant from the Tamarack Artisan Foundation, and $1,000 from a crowd funding campaign on the website Indiegogo. The station also held several fundraising concerts to help pay the bills.

Beard organized and trained a cadre of dedicated volunteer disc jockeys, who began broadcasting on local airwaves on Sept. 7, playing a wide variety of music from classic country, bluegrass, classic rock, Americana, gospel and more.

The music stopped last Monday.

That day, Roots Town president Dawn Warner, Beard's ex-girlfriend, contacted the Federal Communications Commission and surrendered the station's construction permit, shutting down the station for good.

The reasons behind the demise of WXDB's differ depending on who you ask.

Volunteers blame Warner. They say she created a toxic environment at the fledgling station, alienating staff members with a heavy-handed management style while remaining largely absent from WXDB's day-to-day operations.

Warner, meanwhile, alleges the volunteers attempted to wrest control of the station from her and Beard.

Emails obtained by the Daily Mail provide a glimpse into the drama.

Volunteers say around the second week of September, Warner and Beard ended their romantic relationship.

WXDB engineer Larry Hoskins said Warner notified volunteers Beard was fired from the station. Someone also posted an announcement on the station's Facebook page that Beard would no longer have any affiliation with WXDB.

But things had changed by Monday, Sept. 15.

In an email, Warner confirmed that she and Beard would remain owners of WXDB.

Her attempt to fire Beard apparently worried WXDB volunteers, however.

Emmett Pepper, co-host of the WXDB world music show "Beats Without Borders," suggested the station's parent organization add two additional board members to serve as secretary and treasurer.

He expressed concerns that Warner's son, Nemo, was serving on Roots Town Radio's governing board despite having no involvement with the station. Pepper said one of the new board members could serve Nemo's replacement.

"I speak only for myself, but given what has happened over the past month, I am very uneasy being involved with this organization under the previous/current structure, which has proven to be highly volatile," Pepper wrote in a group email on Sept. 25.

Volunteers also were becoming concerned that, despite repeated promises to move from Pennsylvania, Warner never made it to West Virginia.

"Beats Without Borders" co-host Alasha Al-Qudwah expressed this sentiment in a Sept. 26 email to Beard, Warner and others involved with the station.

"Dawn doesn't live in (West Virginia)," she wrote. "Why is she president? I don't have anything against her or any of you, just against the actions that caused a lot of drama and negativity."

Warner responded later that day in a tersely worded email.

"The fact is I am (president) and that is not going to change. That is not me being bossy or pushy that is simply a fact that both Burr and I felt needed to be explained," she wrote. "Burr and I need to regain control of an unfortunate situation. We either move forward together and let the past be the past or I am concerned about WXDB's future."

A few hours later, Warner sent another email with a much different tone.

She apologized for any her previous email, expressed her appreciation for the volunteers' hard work and promised to replace Nemo and add a secretary/treasurer to the governing board.

"Let's leave the past where it belongs and move forward," she wrote.

But on Sept. 29, Beard sent out an email announcing Warner's departure.

"Dawn decided to stay in (Pennsylvania) with her family and friends and will not be part of WXDB. She was happy to hand over the reins of the station to me. We are breaking up our previous business and personal relationship and are keeping up a friendly level of communication," he wrote.

This alone probably would have been the death blow for the station. FCC regulations forbid stations with pending licenses, like WXDB, from replacing more than 50 percent of their governing board members. The departure of Warner and her son meant two-thirds of the original board was gone.

But Beard and the volunteers held onto hope. He assured them he was "here to stay and be your leader" and urged the team to move forward.

On Oct. 6 volunteers received another email from Beard, announcing he was taking the week off. He said he lost his job with Friends of Old Time Music and Dance, where he was arts administrator, and needed to find new work.

Steve Ballman, a FOOTMAD board member, said both Beard and the organization agreed he would quit.

"The stress and difficulties of the radio station kind of overwhelmed him," Ballman said.

In his email, Beard made it clear he would not leave Charleston, however.

"I am not going back to (Pennsylvania) or leaving the station. Roots Town will prevail," he wrote.

On Monday, Oct. 13 - one week before the station would go dark - Beard sent an email to volunteers announcing he would step down as station manager but remain a board member.

Five days later, on Saturday, Oct. 18, Beard sent the volunteers an email announcing his complete departure from WXDB.

"I think I got myself in too deep. My time for starting up a new station came, happened and went, some 25 years ago," he said.

On Monday, Beard forwarded staffers an email from James Bradshaw, deputy division chief of the FCC media bureau's audio division.

"Please treat this email as the official notification of the cancellation of the construction permit, per the request of Roots Town Radio," Bradshaw wrote.

The email also included a note from Warner and Beard, saying the WXDB call letters were deleted from the FCC database.

"There is ​no legal authority whatsoever to continue operat​ing​ the station," they wrote.

Beard, in a short phone interview last Wednesday, said he was moving back to Pennsylvania. When asked about the closure of the station, he said he didn't feel like talking about it right then.

He has not responded to multiple requests for a follow-up interview.

Rookie mistakes

Warner's story of WXDB's demise is quite different than staff members' accounts.

"The volunteers bullied me out of my moving down there and wanted to take control of the station," she said. "You have a group of volunteers that never have done radio, never had experience with it, and it all goes to their head."

Warner said DJs were not providing station identification at the beginning of each hour, which is required by the FCC, and said some DJs were allowing profanity to go out over the air.

She also alleged the station was violating FCC rules because WXDB's antenna was not installed at the height specified by its construction permit.

(Radio stations receive construction permits before being granted full licenses, to allow the stations to test their equipment.)

Worried the FCC might fine her or Beard, Warner said she wrote a letter asking the agency to terminate WXDB's construction permit.

"Burr decided he was leaving the station because he had lost control over it. To protect ourselves from any FCC violations, that was the only thing we could do," she said. "The only way we could become not liable legally was to surrender the construction permit."

Hoskins acknowledged radio hosts sometimes forgot to give station IDs at the required times and profanity sometimes crept onto the airwaves, but he said volunteer DJs were not intentionally skirting the FCC rules.

They just did not have much experience in radio.

"It wasn't DJs cussing on the air. It was songs that had profanity in them, because they'd never (previewed them)," he said.

It's standard practice for radio stations to preview every song they play on air, no matter what. Hoskins said WXDB's amateur DJs weren't aware how important this due diligence was, so some explicit language slipped through.

"I chalk that up to rookie mistakes. I don't think any of that was intentional," he said.

He said problems with the station's antenna could have been fixed with a little paperwork.

Hoskins said the station had some trouble getting its antenna installed on West Virginia Public Broadcasting's radio tower, since the state government's new vendor hiring system did not include any approved tower climbers.

By the time WXDB finally got its antenna installed, it was only installed at about 50 feet instead of the 100 feet specified in the construction permit.

But Hoskins said the station only needed to modify its construction permit with the FCC to accommodate for the new antenna height.

"It wasn't like it was set in stone," he said.

Every WXDB staffer who spoke to the Daily Mail for this story denied Warner's accusations that the volunteers tried to bully her or Beard out of the station.

And while none claimed to have a close relationship with Warner, many expressed feelings of sympathy for Beard.

"Burr Beard did a really great job of pulling together some of the best people, most knowledgeable and most connected musicians and music lovers in the area. We had a really great station going," Pepper said. "It's not a good idea to mix your business with your personal relationships. I think this is an example of that."

Silver lining

Despite the demise of WXDB, community radio in Charleston might not be dead.

Chris Long, a local critical care nurse and chief operating officer of Pulmonary Associates in South Charleston, is working to set up his own low power FM station.

The FCC did not accept his initial low-power application because of a problem with his chosen frequency, but Long is in the process of reapplying.

He is working with the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based group that seeks to help communities start low power FM stations.

"They're very optimistic that with the reapplication on the right channel I should be able to (be approved)," he said.

He said the Prometheus Project has warned him the process will take at least three months, however.

Long also said he is in "preliminary talks" to assume control of WXDB's equipment.

"We're thinking we can easily turn the keys over to my organization," he said. "All of the volunteers are still interested. All is not lost. There's a very big silver lining."

Warner said Beard left everything associated with WXDB in Charleston.

"We walked away from everything. The assets - equipment, computers, antenna - that is all there in Charleston for this group of volunteers. We did not take any of that," she said.

It is unclear, however, who owns the equipment WXDB purchased.

Because Roots Town Radio was not a registered nonprofit organization, it partnered with FOOTMAD, which served as the station's fiscal agent.

FOOTMAD received donation money from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and other donors on behalf of Roots Town Radio, then made purchases for the station.

Ballman, who was FOOTMAD's treasurer at the time of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation grant, said there is no money left in the station's accounts, but wonders if his organization now owns the equipment purchased for WXDB.

"That's a murky question, we're seeking legal advice to figure that out," he said.

Ballman said FOOTMAD has no interest in using the equipment but would like to hand it over to another community radio group.

It might not be that simple.

Sheri Ryder, senior program officer with the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, said no one had notified her group that WXDB has gone off the air. Ryder was not aware the radio station was defunct until a Daily Mail reporter called last week.

Even though FOOTMAD served as the station's fiscal agent, Ryder said the organization does not own WXDB's equipment.

"They would need to contact us and we would need to see if we could work something out," she said.

Ryder said in the past, organizations have returned grant money to the foundation when projects failed.

Other times, the foundation's board has required the money (or items purchased with the money) be given to another organization.

On some occasions, the foundation has not received anything back.

"The money was given, it was gone and the organization was gone," Ryder said.

She said the fate of WXDB's equipment ultimately rests in the hands of the foundation's board of directors.

The fate of the station's legacy - the volunteer DJs who, however briefly, filled the air with unique programs - also is unsettled.

Al-Qudwah said she initially wanted to help with WXDB because community radio stations allow DJs a large amount of freedom to choose music for their shows.

"That's inspiring to me," she said. "I'm obsessed with world music and instrumental music. I think it's important people hear those kinds of sounds."

She's determined to continue her efforts even without WXDB, and said other DJs feel the same way.

Al-Qudwah and Pepper also are looking for ways to take "Beats without Borders" to online audiences.

They had a few dozen people listening online during their first few shows, which they consider a success for an unknown show on an unknown station.

The duo, like many former WXDB hosts, also has agreed to join Long's station whenever he gets it running.

But Al-Qudwah said she's disappointed WXDB didn't work out.

"I feel very sorry for Burr, honestly. He had a big vision for this radio station," she said. "When love gets involved everything gets messy."

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

Spirits Right In Your Face on RFC 202 

Image6The 2014 Radio Free Charleston Halloween Special is here, and you can see it above. This year we decided to go back to our roots and do a more elaborate set of host segments. As you may remember, for the last two years we just recorded stuff at ShockaCon and used it for our Halloween programs (you can see those shows HERE).

While those made for great Halloween episodes, they were also a bit of an easy out for us. We just had to point our cameras and record the cool stuff, then sit on it a month before we brought it to you. This year we didn’t want to make you wait for our ShockaCon coverage, and we wanted to do something a little more special. Although we do bring you a couple of tunes from The Jasons, recorded at West Virginia’s premiere horror/sci fi convention.

This year I had the idea of gathering together some friends and using a Ouija board to summon spirits for the show. I thought it would be hilarious. My wife and co-producer thought differently and chose not to be involved with shooting the host segments. Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve.

Mic, Penny, Mark, Kitty and Rudy plot to kae over the world

Mic, Penny, Mark, Kitty and Rudy plot to take over the world

Mark Wolfe, in addition to being one of my best friends, has offered his services to Radio Free Charleston many times. He made a cameo appearance on episode 85, one of our previous Halloween specials and he’s the perfect person to call on for this sort of show, since he also created HallowEast and ArtMares.

So I drafted Mark to run camera and direct the host segments. We decided to shoot the host segments in Mark’s office since my original idea of using the Ouija at Spring Hill Cemetary freaked too many people out. Mark is celebrating 20 years of running Mark Wolfe Design, and we’re delighted that he took the time to help us out.

I asked Penny Maple and Kitty Killton to join me in summoning spirits because I enjoy working with them and I know they can deliver on camera. Kitty has been participating in our Halloween shows since before she was Kitty Killton. Penny is the headmistress of The Wayward Girls School of Burlesque and a frequent model for Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.

The cast, hard at work trying to summon evil

The cast, hard at work trying to summon evil

Back at ShockaCon I ran into Mic Bradford and asked him to be part of this because I knew he was into this sort of thing and would make sure that we were as accurate as possible and not do anything too offensive to the spirity folks. Mic’s wife, Melissa joined us and was an invaluable assistance as an extra crew person.

The shoot was great. It was just like a Halloween party, only much shorter and nobody got drunk. Since October is an insanely busy month, I didn’t have time to write the script until the afternoon of the shoot. So I wrote the words around 2 PM, and we wrapped by 7 PM.

Penny, Kitty and Mic all came in after a full day at work, and we banged the show out, almost entirely in one take. We do have a few fun continuity errors, but it’s all in good fun, and nobody got paid, so what do you expect? I cannot express enough my gratitude to my cast and crew for coming together so quickly and flying through the shoot in such a professional manner.

I have to really slather on the thanks to Mark Wolfe for providing the location and running camera, and for using my camera, which is far less sophisticated than what he normally works with. You’ll want to watch the whole show and stick around after the end credits and “Fake Rudy” for an Easter egg with Mark and the cast.

I also need to point out that no Ouija were harmed in the making of this show. We did not actually place planchette to board during the filming of the “spelling” sequences. We shot all the bits where you see us using the board first, which may explain why hardly any of the movements shown correspond to the letters we’re saying out loud. We shot those bits before I handed out the scripts.

Then we took the Ouija board out of the house and locked it in the trunk of my car.

Which then burst into flames.

Not really.

As you can tell if you’ve watched the show before reading these notes, we don’t actually summon any spirits. We do, however, summon requests for appropriately Halloween-y songs by our musical guests.

Babie and Ricky of Radio Cult, recorded at a Marriott in Atlanta

Bambi and Ricky of Radio Cult, recorded at a Marriott in Atlanta

After the “Annoying Halloween Cartoon” by yours truly, we get to hear Radio Cult. Bambi Lynn and Ricky Zero are friends from Atlanta and always provide the music for JoeLanta, the GI Joe Collectors convention held every March, which Mel and I have been honored to be part of for the last couple of years. Radio Cult’s song, “Saturday Midnight Double Feature,” was a natural for our Halloween show, and marks Radio Cult’s debut on RFC, although they’ve popped up in a few PopCult videos before. In this video you will hear Jas Ingram playing the saw, and you may even see Timothy Price running around shooting video on his iPad. This is important for later.

I’m hoping that Radio Cult will trek Northward sometime so that more Charlestonians can get a chance to hear them perform live. They put on an amazing show, mixing originals with classic 1980s rock and pop tunes translated into their incredibly fun style.

The Jasons at ShockaCon

The Jasons at ShockaCon

Next up we have The Jasons, recorded at ShockaCon last month. You may notice that the audio is really good on these two songs. That’s because we cheated. I combined elements of the live recording with the studio versions of the song. I would like to say that I did this for artistic integrity and quality, but in truth, the idea of syncing up studio audio with live video of a group who performs wearing hockey masks over their face was simply too much fun to resist.

I told you more about The Jasons on last week’s RFC MINI SHOW.



Next up we have an honest-to-God music video by The Possum Kingdom Ramblers. The Possum Kingdom Ramblers are the brainchild of Buddy Finethy, who just happens to be one of the organizers of the aforementioned JoeLanta convention in Atlanta. He assembled a Bluegrass band consisting of master musician and Kaiju expert, Timothy Price, multi-instrumentalist Jas Ingram, and Radio cult mainstays Bambi and Ricky. There mission is to apply their bluegrass style to rock and pop tunes.

Hence the brilliant cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” in this music video.

I begged and pleaded for them to let us show this video as part of our Halloween special, and they granted me permission. Not only do we get to see a CGI “Big G” himself, we also get some very funny band comedy and a possum riding in a GI Joe Adventure Team Helicopter.

Giant Possum vs. Bambi

Giant Possum vs. Bambi

They were just pulling this project together last March when I was at JoeLanta, and I remember the band being a bit modest about dabbling in Bluegrass music when they felt they were lacking in Bluegrass cred. This was a refreshing change from the scene here in West Virginia, where you can’t swing a dead wombat without hitting a Bluegrass musician (who will then write a song about it, like “Some Guy Done Hit Me With A Dead Wombat And Bent My Banjo”). After this version of “Godzilla, I’d say they mastered the style in record time.

HarraH at The Blue Parrot

HarraH at The Blue Parrot

10712892_293035730904344_2298924780540867546_nOur final musical guest is our old friends, HarraH, who just appeared on episode 200 of our show. The night we recorded their song for our milestone show, We grabbed this quick run-through of their song, “CODA: I Gotta Get Out,” which is based on the comic book, CODA, written and drawn by RFC Big Shot, Frank Panucci back in the 1980s. I thought it was close enough to sci fi for our Halloween show, plus it shows off the new line-up of HarraH, who you can see Halloween Night at The Bowling Alley-Dunbar as part of their big Halloween party, complete with a costume contest, bowling and all sorts of other cool stuff.

Joining HarraH on stage at The Bowling Alley will be Under The Radar, our old buddies from the early days of RFC, reuniting for one night only. Five bucks will get you in the door for the only Halloween party in town that will feature bowling, costumes and songs about comic books, horror movies and John F. Kennedy.

That’s the story of our Halloween Special for this year. Our title shirt comes to us courtesy of the WVSU production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” and we had a lot of folks to thank in our credits this time around. This show was a ton of fun, and I even get to flash my “crazy eyes” in one scene. Check back next week for a non-scary RFC MINI SHOW.




Monday Morning Art: Alien Overlord 


Img_207302Last Friday I posted a photo essay of the HallowEast ArtMares exhibit, which I was happy to have two new paintings in. You can see me posing next to one of them, “Alien Overlord,” to the right. Above you see a new digital version I did, painting over a photograph of the painting. I used silver paint, which did not photograph well, so I decided to just digitally paint the crap out of it for our Monday Morning Art. Click to enlarge.

And check back later Monday for the full production notes on the 2014 Radio Free Charleston Halloween Special.