That didn’t take long. Just a little more than a year since he left his longtime position as program director at WDVX, Tony Lawson is back in Knoxville and back at the award-winning roots/country/Americana/folk community radio station he co-founded nearly 20 years ago.
“I’m pretty excited to get back in a new role at the station,” Lawson says.
In March 2015, Lawson left WDVX to join WBCM, a new radio station associated with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol. The move surprised many people; Lawson founded WDVX, with Don Burgraff, in 1997, and had remained involved as the station grew—moving from its original home in a trailer on a hilltop in Clinton to a studio inside the Knoxville Visitors Center on Gay Street, establishing the Blue Plate Special series of six-days-a-week live-broadcast concerts, and attracting a worldwide audience through its online stream.
But a change in management in Bristol has sent Lawson into business as a “creative consultant,” and his first contract is with his old station. (He did some consulting work with WBCM before he took a job there.)
“I’d had thoughts before I joined [WBCM] about becoming a sole proprietor on my own and maybe start consulting on some projects, so what a great place to begin a new venture,” Lawson says of his return to WDVX.
Lawson will be involved in programming and fundraising and will also appear on the air in the afternoon. His first day back on the air is Thursday, July 7.
That’s just one big change at WDVX. The station announced in late June, just days before Lawson’s return was made public, that Katie Cauthen has been promoted from AAA music director to Lawson’s former post as station program director/content manager. Cauthen, a 2011 University of Tennessee graduate, has worked at WDVX in various positions since 2008, including host of the country-music showcase Category Stomp on Monday nights.
“I’m jumping right into the fire,” Lawson says—the station is holding its annual one-day fund drive on July 19 to raise money for technological improvements to its transmitter. But the music industry is changing, he says, and more people are adopting the model he helped establish.
“It’s not going to be that much different,” he says. “We’ll just jump in and see what we’re feeling. There’s some great music out there, and it’s amazing—and sometimes it’s a little scary, too—to see these guys get popular, like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. The stuff we’ve been playing for 20 years is starting to get more recognition. It’s a Billboard chart, it has a Grammy. It’s amazing, and I think more stations are probably going to look at more niche programming.”
Lawson also says Knoxville has made big strides since he left a year ago, based on his impressions during a WBCM stint back here at the Knoxville Stomp Festival of Lost Music in May.
“I’m really excited about Knoxville since I’ve been gone,” he says. “We came down and did video sessions at Knoxville Stomp and had a blast. … It was so exciting—in a 15-month span, this town has gone to another level.
“And Suttree’s has all those pinball machines now. That’s so dangerous.”
Senior Editor Matthew Everett manages the Knoxville Mercury's arts & entertainment section, including the comprehensive calendar section—Knoxville’s go-to guide for everything worth doing in the area. You can reach Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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