The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is a weekly live radio show featuring author readings and a wide array of musical performances from the square in Oxford, Mississippi. The show is recorded and broadcast every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. during the fall and spring and rebroadcast every Saturday at 7 pm on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and 9 pm on Alabama Public Radio. Admission is free.
The show was founded by former Oxford musicians Caroline Herring and Bryan Ledford, and Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books, a much-beloved bookstore on the Oxford town square. The show was named by Howorth after a fire observation tower atop Lafayette County’s Thacker Mountain, five miles south of Oxford. The tower somewhat resembles a radio tower and Howorth felt the approximately 700-foot elevation of this “mountain” was appropriately modest for the show’s beginning aspirations.
The first Thacker Mountain Radio show was broadcast from Off Square Books, a remainder and used books ancillary store of Square Books, on October 15, 1997. Guests on that first show were author John Bentley Mays and musician Tony Furtado.
Those early shows featured an author reading and music by a visiting band as well as songs by the house band, a format that continues today.
Through the years The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour has hosted a variety of literary and musical artists. Some of the most recognized authors are: Nathasha Tretheway (former U.S. Poet Laureate), Joy Williams, Caroline Kennedy, Jim Harrison, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Elizabeth Gilbert, Larry Brown, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Jesmyn Ward, Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly, Chris Offutt, Ace Atkins, Lee Smith, George Plimpton, Brad Watson, Bobbie Ann Mason, Kiese Laymon, Roy Blount Jr., Andre Dubus III, Billy Collins, George Saunders, Frances Mayes, Candace Bushnell and Erik Larson.
Musicians who have performed on the show have included: Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, Olu Dara, Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Bobby Rush, Dorothy Moore (pictured), T-Model Ford, Blue Mountain, North Mississippi All Stars, Charlie Musselwhite, Kenny Brown, Jimbo Mathus, Jon Langford of the Mekons, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, Drive By Truckers, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Jojo Hermann, Grammy/Oscar winner, Paul Williams, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Mighty Gospel Warriors, Dent May and the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Some guests such as Radney Foster, Willy Vlautin, Kinky Friedman, Greg Iles and J.D. Wilkes have done double duty as authors and musicians.
The show now broadcasts some 30 shows a year, 12 in the spring and 12 in the fall as well as 5-6 on the road in various cities across the state.
Its Oxford home is now Off Square Books at 129 Courthouse Square, with occasional shows at the nearby Lyric Theatre (1006 Van Buren Ave, Oxford, MS 38655).
In 2001, the program went statewide after being picked up for broadcast by Mississippi Public Broadcasting which now airs the show every Saturday night at 7 pm on radio and online. The show was picked up for Saturday on air and online broadcast at 9 pm by Alabama Public Radio in September 2018.
In 2005, Thacker Mountain Radio received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Broadcast Excellence. In 2017, the show was awarded a “Citation of Merit” from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour celebrated 20 years on the air in 2017.
Alice Pierotti gained national attention as a rural librarian working in Como, MS. She envisioned a marketing campaign that positioned the library as the go-to location for Mississippi hill country blues information. The campaign won the prestigious John Cotton Dana Prize. She established a partnership with Alan Lomax’s Association for Cultural Equity that resulted in music repatriation projects in Panola and Tate counties that reconnected local citizens with their musical roots and revitalized musical communities. Interested in the space where arts + story + social justice intersect, Pierotti loves organizing information and connecting people with the resources they need.
Claire Byrne, originally from Dublin, Ireland, has made Oxford, Mississippi her home over the past few years. She’s been working in not for profits for 14 years and has experience working in overseas aid, youth development and volunteer management. Her passion for the arts and volunteering has led to her working with festivals and events like the Dublin Fringe Festival, Web Summit and The Moth. Claire loves to mobilize people for social good, organize data and manage the day to day running of things. She has been working with Thacker Mountain Radio Hour since May 2019.
Jim Dees is the author of The Statue and the Fury, which won the 2017 Independent Publishers Association’s Bronze award for best non-fiction in the South. The book was also nominated for the “Best Nonfiction Book of the Year” by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. Dees has hosted The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour since Fall 2000.
In a creative field that demands excellence and innovative thinking, Emmy-nominated engineer, Jeffrey Reed combines experience and intuitive talents to make him a reliable and multi-faceted audio engineer. Reed is the owner of Oxford-based studio Taproot Audio Design, specializing in Mastering, 5.1 Surround Audio Post-Production for film, as well as 3D Spatial Audio (Ambisonics) for VR360 Film and Gaming. Reed initially gained experience as an engineer while working for Malaco and Parallax Records, both independent labels based in Jackson, MS. and later, the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN. Reed joined Thacker Mountain Radio Hour in 2011 and brings more than 30 years of experience in audio engineering and production to the table. Superb listening skills coupled with an innate love and feel for music and audio in general, make him a top choice of some of the industry’s legendary professionals.
Paul Tate is a 30-year veteran of the North Mississippi music scene as a multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, and arranger. A New Albany native, he studied Music Theory and Composition at the University of Mississippi and the University of Memphis. Tate joined the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour house band in July 2016.
Native North Mississippian Slade Lewis has been the backbone of the Yalobushwhackers since the house band’s inception in 2005. A part of many musical outfits over the years, Slade has also scored soundtracks for film and documentaries. He plays a lousy trombone, makes a lot of racket around the house, and loves to play bass on the backside of the beat.
Mark Yacovone, originally from Providence, Rhode Island, now makes his home in Oxford, Mississippi. Mark is probably least known for his brief television appearance in the reality series “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels.” Mark’s piano, Hammond B-3, and accordion “sideman” contributions span several decades and multiple genres. Yacovone has shared the stage and/or the studio with musical greats such as Mojo Nixon, Jody Williams (Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley), Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage), Maria Muldaur, Jeff Daniels, Kenny Brown, Bill Payne (Little Feat), Shannon McNally, blues great Charlie Musselwhite, Amelia Eisenhauer (American Idol finalist) and Jack Sonni (Dire Straits).
Professor Ricky Burkhead has been on the Ole Miss faculty since 1994, teaching applied percussion, percussion ensembles, steel drum and salsa band. He formed the popular University of Mississippi Steel Drum Band in 1995. Burkhead has performed extensively in a wide variety of venues from blues clubs to jazz ensembles to symphony orchestras. He has presented steel drum clinics across the US South as well as in Jamaica, Argentina and Uruguay. Burkhead endorses Remo Inc., Zildjian Cymbals, Latin Percussion, Mapex/Majestic and Vic Firth Sticks.
Burkhead became the drummer for the Thacker house band, the Yalobushwhackers, in 2016.
His latest release is Perfect Peace: A Lifetime of Songs, which features his original compositions and musical contributions from Thacker regulars Effie Burt, Damein Wash and Kell Kellum.