Jim Blum has witnessed the graying of the local folk audience and the emergence of a new generation of gifted young musicians in the 25 years he has been been a folk music host on Kent State's WKSU.
These days he is busy with preparations for the 39th annual Kent State Folk Festival, Nov. 11-19. Headliners for the 2005 series of concerts include John Gorka, the Holmes Brothers, Over the Rhine and 60s icon Donovan.
Blum got his start as the host of an hour-long bluegrass show on WKSU. The Kent graduate had no radio experience, but had played in a bluegrass and swing band, and had worked as an actor and voice-over announcer.
"I submitted a tape and it came down between me and a professor and they thought, 'let's give it to this young guy, he may stick around a lot longer,'" Blum said.
They were right.
He split his time between his radio job, work as a salesman for a construction company, and acting in industrial films for General Electric and Sherwin Williams. It was a tough time, and then it got tougher. The market for the industrial films dried up in the sour economy of the late 90s, as did Blum's marriage.
He was hosting two evening folk shows on WSKU and spending one day in the office. The station management wanted to add a third night of folk programming, but was having difficulty finding someone to host the extra show. At the urging of station colleagues, Blum approached management with the idea of taking on the new night and rounding out a full-time schedule with work organizing the folk festival and other concerts.
The station agreed, and in 1997 Blum became a full-time folk radio host and music programmer.
In September 2003 those roles spilled over into Folk Alley, when WKSU launched the Web site to reach a world-wide audience with a 24/7 digital stream of folk music. Folk Alley now has more than 50,000 registered users, and countless others who listen via iTunes.
What goes into selecting the music for Folk Alley and WKSU? "People say it's all subjective, that it's whatever you like," Blum said. "Oh, no it ain't."