You can listen to old-fashioned radio shows on a couple places on the dial – where live musical entertainment in a variety-show format still somehow lives.
Weekends in Charlotte you can hear Garrison Keillor’s hugely popular “A Prairie Home Companion,” on WFAE-FM (90.7); you can also tune in to Charleston, W.Va.-based “Mountain Stage” via WSGE-FM (91.7) out of Gaston County. And there’s the grand-pappy of them all: “Grand Ole Opry” from Nashville, Tenn., online ( www.wsmonline.com) and via satellite radio.
But there’s more, if you know where to look and listen. Up in Galax, Va., the “Blue Ridge Backroads” is staged live Friday nights at the Rex Theater and aired on WBRF-FM (98.1).
And 90 minutes north of Charlotte, in Mount Airy, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, you can watch “Merry Go Round” staged live in the Historic Earle Theatre as it is broadcast on WPAQ-AM (740).
Mount Airy is best known as Andy Griffith’s hometown, but “Merry Go Round” debuted in 1948, before bluegrass-loving Griffith left for the big time. In fact, “Merry Go Round,” which still features bluegrass and old-time mountain music, is considered the third-longest, still-running live-music radio show in the United States.
Paul Brown, who made his name as a journalist on National Public Radio – and who is also an accomplished banjo player – was at WPAQ in the 1980s and said working there was “like walking into another era.”
The station itself is in a small brick building elsewhere in town, but “Merry Go Round” is staged at the Earle, which opened in 1938.
Any Saturday is prime for this fun, throwback experience, but this weekend is special because WPAQ is celebrating its 67 years of broadcasting.
Catch the regular live “Merry Go Round” show at 11 a.m. – admission is $6, and there’s a jam session that goes on in the upstairs lobby before and after the broadcast.
You can then spend the afternoon seeing the sights in Mount Airy before heading back to the cool-and-funky theater for the free 6-10 p.m. anniversary show. It’s also in the Historic Earle Theater on Main Street and features live bands, including the Nunn Brothers, the Zephyr Lightning Bolts, Rich ’n Tradition, the Slate Mountain Ramblers, The Country Boys, and Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge.