“I’m trying to become the king of all country music media,” Big Joe Matthews, managing editor of Nashville Music Guide, says jokingly to me one afternoon at the magazine’s offices. We have been talking about his foray into radio while sitting at the desk that doubles as a broadcast studio every Tuesday night for “Big Joe’s Big Radio Show.” At the time of our conversation, the show has only been on the air for a couple of weeks and I haven’t heard it, so I ask to come sit in on a live broadcast of the hour-long show.
If you’ve streamed the weekly broadcast of “Big Joe’s Big Radio Show” on Tuesday nights or caught it during one of the many times it re-airs during the week, you can hear that there’s a party going on in the studio. But listening to the show is nothing compared to sitting in on the broadcast.
When I arrived at the offices an hour early, several people were already milling about waiting for the show to begin, and Big Joe and co-host Jamie Saylor were laughing and cutting up like the show had already started. An hour before the broadcast—an hour before I’d ever heard the show—I knew I was about to witness something special.
Big Joe brings the human element back to radio and makes it fun again. In recent years, technology and statistics have changed radio for the worse. Tune in to most stations and you’ll hear the same songs every hour. Sometimes a DJ will still be spinning the tracks, but without much interaction with the listeners; often a computer will be choosing what’s next. How’s that any different from putting an MP3 player on shuffle? Why bother?
“Big Joe’s Big Radio Show” is different. You won’t hear many Top 40 radio hits on the show, if any at all. What you will hear is good country music, probably by artists that you’ve never heard before, chosen exclusively by Big Joe. And a lot of time on the show is spent talking with guests and listeners about the music that’s being played.
The first week that I sit in on the broadcast—I’ve since been back just to listen to the show and have a good time—Big Joe’s radio show debuted two new songs from two different artists and featured a live performance from another new artist, but that was nothing special. The show has debuted new songs and had a live performance every week, in addition to featuring a Merle Haggard song of the week, Jamie Saylor’s word of the week, and interviews with everyone from the Gherm Guys to The Naked Cowgirl, Sandy Kane.
“Mainly we just play good country music and have special guests like David Frizzell,” says Big Joe. “The Gherm Guys made their first radio appearance on my show. It’s like a honky tonk hour. We’re in here having fun and cutting loose. It’s just a fun time for me, after all the other things during the week, to sit here in front of a microphone and talk about country music.”
Apparently others love to listen to the show as much as Joe loves to do it. Number of members on the show’s Facebook page has grown exponentially each week of the broadcast, and every week listeners call in from farther and farther away. Listeners as far away as Arizona and Pennsylvania have called in to join the fun or request a song, and bars from all over stream the show on Tuesday nights for their patrons.
As the show rolls into 2012, it is becoming obvious that the show will only get bigger. Only a month into the new year, some big names—and others that will be big soon—have been featured on the show, including Eric Lee Beddingfield, Morgan Frazier, and Jesse Keith Whitley. Each week in January the number of listeners was greater than the week before, and though it’s only been on the Internet a short while, the show is already in talks with 75 Internet and radio stations for syndication. Big Joe is happy with the success of the show, but that’s not why he does it.
“I put on the show because I love talking about country music,” he says. “It’s what I love to do. It’s amazing how business gets in the way of your love of music but you’ve got to find a way to make it work both ways, and I think I have successfully.”
You can catch “Big Joe’s Big Radio Show” on Tuesday nights at 8 o’clock CST on NMGradio.com. Oh, and ladies, do Jamie Saylor a favor and call into the show; he’d love to hear from you, wherever you are.
By Andrew Miller