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Arts and Entertainment


WKSU's "Godfather of Folk" retires
After 31 years, Jim Blum steps down and looks back at a lifetime of music
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
Jim Blum begins his final run of WKSU shows this weekend after 31 years on the air. He can still be heard on FolkAlley.com
Courtesy of WKSU archives
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:
Weekend folk music has been a tradition at WKSU for most of its existence, and Jim Blum has been the man at the mic for the last three decades. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports on Blum’s retirement, heading into his final weekend of shows.
Bye bye Jim Blum

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(Click image for larger view.)

Jim: “I have to find Spencer Cain’s upright bass bow…”

As on just about every Friday afternoon for the past 31 years, Jim Blum is weaving dozens of tasks together with the business of putting together his show. The ever-youthful folk host is in the home stretch of a career that’s blanketed Northeast Ohio with music heard almost nowhere else. What began as a few hours each week now also spans the globe through the 24-hour Folk Alley internet and HD radio channel, where Blum will continue to be heard.

From fan to folk
He started out as a fan of the station in the 1970s. It even inspired him to start a long-running bluegrass band. But constant touring burned him out and he returned to his native Chardon. And then:

“I got word that WKSU lost its bluegrass host. So I auditioned for it. I prepared a four-hour show. And they wrote back, saying, ‘It’s all good, but we only needed to hear you for about five minutes.’”

“When I first started, my goal was to present folk music in all of its different wardrobes -- we’re talking Celtic and bluegrass and blues and now this so-called Americana and roots music — was to give it the same professional platform that the classical music was already receiving. I really don’t like ‘pickin’ and grinnin’.’ I wanted to give these musicians -- and so many others like them whose names you don’t know yet -- I wanted to give them that same panache, that same presentation and professionalism and artistic integrity.” 

Looking back
WKSU played lots of music from lots of different genres.
“In the old days, I used to get a box of CDs, and I would pick them out of the box, and I play them through the night. Take calls. Do requests. And be exhausted. But it was an adrenaline rush.”

Today, Blum puts much of the show together digitally, during the day, so he can head out in the evening to check out live music. Many times, that’s at the Kent Stage. Owner Tom Simpson says he took the venue in a folk direction when it opened a decade ago specifically because of Jim Blum’s influence.
“I joke around about Jim, calling him ‘The godfather of folk in Northeast Ohio,’ but Jimmy truly is. We also look to Jim for advice on who to bring to the Kent Stage. Who’s coming up, who we should look at, what we should do, how we can reach the people, who to engage? Jim and I always talk about passionate advocates, and I think the folk radio community in Northeast Ohio will need to find another passionate advocate.”

The big announcement
Blum announced his retirement at the Kent Stage earlier this year, just before a concert by Tim O’Brien.

“Did anyone give him permission? I certainly didn’t. Listen, Jim, let’s talk about this. What if we let up and let you come out of the studio for maybe 10 minutes each day? Wouldn’t that be enough? And who in the heck is going to do the farmer’s market reports now? Sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, squash, Amish cheese, maple syrup. Maybe Matt Watroba will do it, I don’t know.”

Matt Watroba hosted folk music in southeast Michigan for 25 years before joining Blum at WKSU and on Folk Alley in 2010.
“The listeners feel like they know him. His little quirks as well as his -- everything. And I felt like I knew him instantly after hearing him for the first time. And luckily, for me, I share an office with the guy, so the truth is: that’s who he is. He’s just right out there. If you listen to Jim, you know Jim. And that’s not true of all radio personalities.”

Tough decision
Blum says, “My work life and my personal life have melded together to where I have not been able to separate the two. That’s been good, because I’ve always been told you’ll be the most productive if you’re doing what you like. I’ve met Judy Collins and Bela Fleck and Sam Bush. And I helped Alison Krauss get her first job in Ohio when she was 18. This has all been tremendous. But I’ve never been to two of my sisters’ homes. And I probably missed too much of my mother’s final years.”

Looking to the future, he’ll continue advising the Kent Stage and working on Folk Alley. But long-term, as he often does, he is getting his inspiration from music.

“I received some advice from a musician who goes by the name of Freebo. He played with Bonnie Raitt for nine years. When I told him my reasoning for wanting to step aside, he said, ‘You need to have the courage to close one door before you even begin to look at the next ones you might open.’”

But before closing any door, Jim Blum is spending a final Friday juggling his usual dozen tasks and a show he loves.
His final shows start Saturday night, with his annual holiday folk weekend. He can still be heard on Folk Alley on WKSU-HD4 and FolkAlley.com.

  A farewell video for Jim Blum by artist Warren Brown
Listener Comments:

Thank you so much for sharing the world of folk music; and providing us with many wonderful hours of listening and companionship; the weekends will never be the same......some of us are retiring, along with you so of course we wish you all the best in the new chapter of your story.
Thank you again.


Posted by: Ezee Peezee (Cleveland) on March 12, 2014 10:03AM
Hi Jim, Thank you for your years of service to our community. You and your folk music warmed our souls on those long winter Ohio nights. Best of luck on your next chapter. Sal


Posted by: Sal Ponzio (Girard, Ohio) on January 14, 2014 10:01AM
Jim. Thanks for all the evenings of great and diverse music and a friendly voice with which to pass the time away. For me, you were my introduction to folk music back in the 80's and it has since become a lifelong love of mine. You made folk music seem hip and cool to a young man who just happened to find your program down the dial from the Rock stations. Your show became an escape on weekend evenings that I will cherish forever. I will miss hearing your voice on those snowy winter evenings and quiet summer nights. Thanks so much and I wish you well.


Posted by: Adam (Olmsted Falls) on January 25, 2013 3:01AM
Hi Jim,

Great memories of music, radio and folk festivals - best wishes for whatever the future holds


Posted by: Michael Flaster (San Diego, CA) on January 3, 2013 1:01AM
A poem, if you will indulge me, inspired by hearing of Jim's familiar, comforting, grounding, warm voice and spirit soon to become less ubiquitous -- his essesce will endure:

A close friend of mine spoke of analog radio as a dinosaur in the age of satellite digital.

My only consistently reliable company has often been the all night commercialless orchestrial and NPR chatter coming out of Kent.

I imagine it rolling over the hills and valleys of Northeast Ohio.

Reaching out and into all the roads and trails and nooks I’ve travelled.

Upon the molecules of the air.


Posted by: Jordan (Schmidt) on December 23, 2012 11:12AM
Thank you so much Jim for everything, for you passion and professionalism that brought folk music alive to me, even when I am now so far from home. You will be missed but always appreciated for what you did for us listeners and music lovers everywhere.


Posted by: Adam Shaw (Wooster, OH and Philippines) on December 23, 2012 10:12AM
Bye Jim:
Enjoy your retirement catching up on all you've missed! I'll miss you on the weekend nights, but will catch you on folk alley and at shows around town. We are blessed by the programs you have nurtured and given us over the years. Even in your absence I'll keep supporting the folk programming on WKSU. Take care and all the best to you.

Marion


Posted by: Marion Watson-Hardy (Kent) on December 23, 2012 10:12AM
I've been listening to Jim's folk program on weekend nights since I first came to the Akron area 30 years ago. I am going to miss his presence in my home as I bake, read or mess around the house. Tonight I will wrap presents as I listen to his Christmas show. It is a good thing I have several years' worth of his Christmas shows on tape (yes, cassette tape. I still have a boom box I can play them on. I listen to them annually. Thanks for the music, Jim. Best of luck to you.
Trish, a faithful listener.


Posted by: Trish Saylor (Stow, OH) on December 23, 2012 7:12AM
Jim - I really thought you would be there long past my time here on earth - you seem somehow both eternally authentic and authentially eternal. Maybe that doesn't make sense - but you've grounded me - you've been a constant in a life that has really needed a constant. You re-introduced me to the music I love -the music that has been a moral compas and source of solace and inspiration. I've been with you most of your career. Your dedication and passion has shaped my life - and I've tried to pass that gift on to others. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The very best of wishes for the next phase of your life!


Posted by: Raymond Veon (Atlanta GA formerly of Kent) on December 22, 2012 12:12PM
Jim, here's the end of my note that got cut off when posted (being terse and concise has obviously never been my forte)
...nature hikes and of course the farmers markets. But I think the thing I will miss the most is hearing you talk about all the animals you have and the importance they add to your life.
Have a great retirement and a wonderful time exploring all the new opportunities that come your way.
Annie


Posted by: anne rawleigh (cuyahoga falls) on December 22, 2012 12:12PM
As a teenager I discovered folk music through Jim's show when it first came on, and when I went to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to do my Ph.D., I listened to Matt Watroba on "Folks Like Us", his show on WDET. I'm back in NEO Ohio, and the passing of the baton is very smooth from my point of listening!


Posted by: Candice Castle (Minerva, Ohio) on December 22, 2012 11:12AM
It is finally time to let you go off to new adventures, but it is very, very hard. We shall miss the tales of your family of creatures and of your travels and of you...letting us know you. And how many of us feel that we really know you!We can hope to see you again in local theatre! The show is in good hands (voice) with Matt. Thanks for all you have taught me. Thank you for this final show of Christmas songs that I for one have never heard before! Happy Travels!!!


Posted by: Elizabeth Nelson (Akron) on December 22, 2012 9:12AM
Our Best wishes, Jim,

I've been listening to you since I moved to Ohio more than 20 years back. My wife and I have listened to a lot of great music thanks to you, so thanks! Happy Holidays, and good luck, you will be missed!


Posted by: Gary (Canal Fulton) on December 22, 2012 9:12AM
Jim, Wishing you all the best. Good for you for taking this step while you are healthy and able to enjoy life! There will be a giant void in the airways over NE Ohio, but thank you for the many years of amazing music, your voice and sharing your knowlege of the music. Good luck to you! Pattie


Posted by: Pattie Sonagere (Hudson, Ohio) on December 22, 2012 8:12AM
All too often it is thought, like the reoccurring cycles of the moon, everything remains in the familiar sphere of one’s life. And so it was with the WKSY’s “Godfather of Folk”. Though the cycles may be less frequent, Jim will remain a beacon in our hearts. Shine bright and long on FolkAlley.


Posted by: P Reeder (Butler) on December 22, 2012 8:12AM
Hi Jim, Over the years I have learned so much about so many bands thanks to you adding side stories after various songs. And I have also added such a wide range of music genre to my library that I would have never known about were it not for you. I will highly miss listening to you on WKSU, but I also wish you many years of doing what you want to do. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Posted by: Rhonda (Lakewood) on December 22, 2012 7:12AM
Jim,
You are an inspiration to us all. I will miss listening to your WKSU weekend show. You made listeners feel as though you had a personal connection to each one of us. You made us feel like friends sitting together enjoying an evening of conversation and music.
You taught us well, introducing us to the incredible variety of music that makes up this wonderful genre we call folk music. You kept us aware and up to date about live music in the area, the park programs


Posted by: annie rawleigh (cuyahoga falls) on December 22, 2012 7:12AM
Jim, my weekends will not be the same without you! I have been listening to you for so long your voice and music have influenced my life and my family and I will surely miss you a great deal. Thank you for your sacrifices and commitment! Sarah


Posted by: Sarah (Painesville) on December 22, 2012 7:12AM
Before I accepted my current position nearly 30 years ago, I needed to be certain that an excellent public radio station with NPR news and classical music could be heard in Oberlin. How satisfying to find WKSU and especially delightful to get to know Jim Bloom and folk music! Jim, you opened a whole new world to me. The combination of Prairie Home Companion followed by your show made me feel completely at home in northeast Ohio. Thank you for many wonderful years of listening, and for increasing my appreciation for folk music.


Posted by: Alison Ricker (Oberlin) on December 22, 2012 2:12AM
I promised I'd come see the dogs (and cats) this year... I am sorry I have been so tardy. Will be listening to you on Folk Alley. Will miss you on the air on the weekends!! Oh- say it ain't so.

Still it's lesson for us all not to let things slide.

Wishing you the best.


Posted by: Kathleen (Berea) on December 21, 2012 10:12AM
Jim Blum has been a gem in the crown of Northeast Ohio. I sure will miss his voice and music selection on my late night weekend drives. Thanks for everything, Jim.


Posted by: Noah Budin (United States) on December 21, 2012 10:12AM
Jim, It's been a long time since I've seen you, but I wanted to say "Have a great retirement!" Happy Holidays and good luck in the future-whatever you do! Cathy


Posted by: Cathy Petti (Westlake, Ohio) on December 21, 2012 6:12AM
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