When WDVX first went on the air, in 1997, nobody could have predicted what the station would become. It had taken six years for the founders of the public roots-music station to broadcast at all—the chartering organization was established in 1991. When they did finally get on the air, it was from a donated camper on a hilltop just off the interstate in Clinton.
Now, with a studio inside the Knoxville Visitors Center on Gay Street, several transmitter upgrades, dozens of live-broadcast concerts a month, and thousands of listeners around the world via the station’s website, WDVX is one of the most influential and admired public-radio stations in the country. Much of the credit for that goes to Tony Lawson, who founded the station with Don Burggraf and has served in various on-air and behind-the-scenes capacities for WDVX’s entire history, currently as program director.
So the news that Lawson will be leaving the station at the end of this month to join a new radio station managed by the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol feels like the end of an era. For many people, Lawson is the personality most closely associated with WDVX, though several DJs have higher public profiles.
“WDVX is a great thing,” Lawson says. “I feel like it’s solidly placed in the community—all kinds of people contributed to WDVX’s success. I feel like it’s very healthy, so that makes it easier for me to move forward and explore something.”
Lawson says he got a telephone call from singer/songwriter and country-music advocate Jim Lauderdale—who hosted the first iteration of WDVX’s Tennessee Shines concert series at the Bijou Theatre—in August, just after the opening of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
“He said, ‘Tony, I know [WDVX] is your baby, but I want you to think about something. There’s some incredible things going on in Bristol,’” Lawson says. He did some consulting work for the new station, WBCM, last year, and started thinking about making a permanent move. His departure from WDVX and new position as manager at WBCM became official last week. The station is expected to launch in June.
“They have some wonderful people and have had some incredible donations of equipment, and some wonderful engineers have donated their time up there already,” Lawson says. “So they’ve been working hard to build community support in many ways. I feel very fortunate to be able to walk into an organization that’s got the foundation already built.”
The Birthplace of Country Music is the nonprofit umbrella organization overseeing the new station, the recently opened Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival, among other programs.
In May, the Birthplace of Country Music and Sony will release Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited, a two-CD collection of re-recordings by Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, and more of songs from the famous 1927 recording sessions featuring the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and others.
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