School of Rock
Way back in the dark ages of 1982, in the throes of Reaganomics and New Wave and really big hair, Scott Black was the first voice heard on the University of Tennessee’s freshly birthed student radio station, the venerated broadcasting entity we now know as WUTK FM 90.3. “We put an ad in The Daily Beacon that we’d be on at noon on a certain day,” said Black, then a broadcast journalism major at UT and now a vice-president of communications at Sebree Architects in Indiana. “Something went wrong with the transmitter, so we didn’t start ’til two or three in the afternoon. Then we literally turned on the transmitter, introduced ourselves, and started playing some music.”
Black can’t remember the first song he played that afternoon. “It may have been Weather Report or the Clash,” he said. “Those were my favorites.” But he recalled other details of that fateful first day at a reunion for WUTK veterans on Nov. 7 at Patrick Sullivan’s, the first such reunion to be held in the station’s nearly 27 years on the air. Conceived by longtime station faculty sponsor Dr. Sam Swan, the reunion was a means of celebrating both the station’s longevity and its latter-day resurgence under current full-time station manager Benny Smith. This year’s on-air student staff is 60, only slightly below the station’s all-time high, compared with eight on-air volunteers when Smith took over in 2004.
“Everyone who’s studied broadcasting at UT has been through WUTK,” Swan said. “Literally thousands got their start here, guys like [local sports broadcasters] Brent Hubbs and John Wilkerson, [Tennessee Titans announcer] Mike Keith, Ken Stevens at WIVK. It’s where students learned whether they had the passion for radio. Because it sure isn’t the money that draws you in.”
Smith was in attendance, of course, looking dapper in a Volunteer Orange sports coat. And so were 50 or so other station vets. John Tupps, an ’07 graduate who’s now a DJ and producer on local FM rock station 94.3, was there, as were current WUTK seniors Alicia Lark, aka DJ AliaD, and Kassiah Johnson, aka DJ KJ. Smith says the aforementioned Keith was held up by the little matter of a Titans away game, less than two days hence, with the Chicago Bears.
Ever the tireless promoter, Smith worked the room for the entire three hours of the reunion, even taking it in stride when one of the old-timers pulled out an ancient station program, opening it to a page depicting a very young Benny Smith, who looked not so much different from today’s version, save for being a little smoother around the eyes, with a slightly more pronounced mullet but lacking the peppery goatee.
“I talked to a lot of folks who couldn’t make it this year, but are excited about coming next year,” said Smith. “We’re trying to make this an annual event. I think with the progress we’ve made, we’ve got local folks who worked here who’ve started listening again. And they’re calling their friends out in L.A., or wherever. People know we’ve raised the bar.” (Mike Gibson)
A cryptic report on the local message board KnoxBlab, unverified at press time, has it that renowned composer Philip Glass will be performing in Knoxville sometime in the near future. According to the post, made on Monday, Nov. 10, by “AC,” Glass will perform as part of the Big Ears Festival. Big Ears is a project launched by AC Entertainment in February to promote cutting-edge and non-traditional performances. The 71-year-old Glass, whose work has spanned more than 40 years and includes minimalist composition, film work, and collaborations with Kronos Quartet, would certainly qualify as both “cutting-edge” and “non-traditional.” (Matthew Everett)