Cowboy Jack was feeling blue until he saw Red.
When Cowboy Jack Clement agreed to appear on Knoxville’s Blue Plate Special radio show, he thought it was just to be interviewed. So the legendary singer-songwriter was a little confused when he walked into the WDVX studios and found an audience waiting. Luckily Red Hickey was there to put him at ease.
“Cowboy Jack’s one of my favorite performers on Blue Plate Special,” Red says. “He’s a former Sun Studios engineer and producer who recorded with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. But he didn’t know we’d have an audience, so he was a little nervous at first. Once he started playing, though, it was great.”
Blue Plate With Red
As cohosts of the one-hour Blue Plate Special show, Red and Matt Morelock are used to working with famous―and not-so-famous―musicians. In addition to Cowboy Jack, they’ve welcomed stars such as Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, and David Grisman to WDVX, one of Knoxville’s publicly supported radio stations.
“We’ve been doing the show for several years, and as word has gotten out, more people want to be on,” Red explains. “We have some of the biggest names in music as well as some lesser-known people. It’s a real mix. Because we’re a live show, we never know what’s going to happen.”
One thing she’s always sure of when WDVX serves up Blue Plate Special―there will be plenty of people in the audience. Four years ago, the station moved from its studios outside of Knoxville to downtown where it shares space with the city’s visitors center in the One Vision Plaza building.
“The show’s free, so folks will come in to get information on Knoxville and stay for the music,” Red says as she prepares for the day’s broadcast. “We just move the tables out of the center’s main room and set up some folding chairs.”
From Fashion to Frets
A Knoxville native, Red spent 15 years designing women’s clothes before taking to the airways. “I studied fashion in London and Atlanta, where I got a job working for a lingerie manufacturer,” she says. “I’d grown up loving American roots music such as folk, bluegrass, and old-time country. Every weekend my friends and I would go out trying to find it, the kind of music you usually didn’t hear on the radio.”
Red suddenly started hearing her kind of music after a new radio station went on the air in 1997. “Whenever I drove home to Knoxville, I’d tune it in as soon as I got in range,” she remembers. “When I moved back here a few years ago one of the first things I did was volunteer at WDVX.”
She was volunteering when program director Tony Lawson asked her to emcee a new classic country program called Hillbilly Fever. “I’d never done radio before, so I was pretty nervous,” Red says. “But that’s the wonderful thing about everybody at WDVX, we all love the music so.”
A Talented Twosome
That love comes through at noon every Monday through Friday when Red and Matt step on the stage tucked into a corner of the visitors center.
A talented banjo player who toured China with his band last fall, Matt entertains audiences with his precise picking and his encyclopedic knowledge of bluegrass, country, and international music.
“Matt knows so much about music, and I’m still learning, so I think that’s why we make such a great team,” Red says. “That’s one secret to the show’s success―none of us are professional announcers, so we don’t sound canned. We just try to have as much fun as possible and make everybody feel special on the Special.” •
Blue Plate Special broadcasts noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, from the Knoxville Visitors Center, 301 South Gay Street. Tune to 89.9 or 102.9 FM, or visit www.wdvx.com to hear the show or for more information.
Live From Downtown
Blue Plate Special continues a tradition that started in the 1930s with Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round. That show was broadcast live from downtown Knoxville for more than 20 years. Hoping to re-create that experience, WDVX started doing Special in a camper near its broadcasting tower. “We were kind of limited,” says Red Hickey, cohost of Blue Plate Special. “Things got a lot better when we moved into these studios.”
"On the Air With Red" is from the April 2008 issue of Tennessee Livings, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in Tennessee.