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They are three men on a mission – seeking to serve up an appetizing smorgasbord of eclectic music that may otherwise not hit the local radio airwaves.
John L. Horst, Ted Grimsrud and Jim Bishop produce and host weekly programs on public radio station WEMC, 91.7 FM. They do it on a volunteer basis because they believe there are sufficient numbers of people hankering for their special brands of music.
And, while they acknowledge that their programs appeal to a “niche market,” they get enthusiastic listener response to shore up their conviction.
Horst, a retired physics professor at Eastern Mennonite University, hosts “Mostly Mennonite, Mostly A Cappella,” 8-9:30 a.m. Sundays. He plays blocks of, as the program suggests, mostly unaccompanied sacred choral music by local and nationally-known artists and groups.
Horst draws from years of musical experience, which included singing with the former “Mennonite Hour” radio broadcast’s chorus and male quartet in the mid-1950s to the mid 1960s as well as composing. Music from the 15 CD reissues of Classic Mennonite Hour singing often appears on the program.
Listeners on a given Sunday morning may hear groups ranging from local favorites such as the the Eastern Mennonite High School Touring Choir, the EMU Chamber Singers, the Shenandoah Valley Men’s Chorus, the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir and local composers Jim Clemens and Brad Lehman. A sampling of contrasting music outside the Mennonite tradition is usually part of each program.
Bishop, who dubs himself a “hopeless nostalgic,” dishes up an hour of dusty discs from the decade of the 1950s, the “Friday Night Jukebox,” 8-9 p.m. Fridays. The show features straight-ahead rock and roll, street-corner doo-wop harmonies, top ten instrumentals, off-the-wall novelties and sock hop specials with artists as diverse as Chuck Berry, Perry Como, the McQuire Sisters, Marty Robbins, Duane Eddy and Little Richard who shared the charts during this era.
The last 15 minutes of the show every week is devoted to unabashedly romantic tunes to watch the submarine races by. Requests and dedications are welcomed by calling 540.432.4211.
Bishop also teams up with WSVA radio personality Jim Britt for the monthly “Warped Records Show,” a two-hour montage of, as the title suggests, weird, wacky tunes that were once stables of radio but today don’t “fit” any station genre, 10 a.m.-noon, usually on Thursday. The show will feature warped holiday tunes twice in December – on the 8th and 23rd of the month.
“I’m not aware of any commercial radio station anywhere doing a program like this one,” Bishop notes. “Even WSVA doesn’t know what to make of the avid listener response.”
Rumor has it that if Ted Grimsrud’s CD collection was laid end-to-end, it would stretch from Harrisonburg to Hinton – maybe even Rawley Springs.
Dr. Grimsrud, professor of Bible and religion at EMU and – yes, he’s a rockin’ jock PhD – is host of “Wavelength,” 3-6 p.m. Saturdays. He modestly describes the program as “music from the intersection of country, folk, rock and roll, blues and gospel.”
On any given week, one might hear Waylon and Willie, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and the Beatles followed by the Everly Brothers, Bruce Cockburn, Nina Simeone and Los Lobos – and it “seams” to work.
The Bible prof-music “duff” even manages a “Wavelength” blog at http://peacetheology.net/category/wavelengthpopular-music.
WEMC, Virginia’s oldest public radio station, founded in 1955, is owned by Eastern Mennonite University but now managed by the staff of James Madison University’s public radio station, WMRA. WEMC operates out of WMRA’s studios at Cantrell Avenue. The station can be heard online at www.wemcradio.org.