Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is a weekly live radio show in Oxford, Mississippi that features author readings and a wide array of musical performances. The show is broadcast live on line and on air every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. on WUMS – University of Mississippi during the fall and spring and heard every Saturday at 7 pm on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and 9 pm on Alabama Public Radio; 3 pm (ET) on WUTC – University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Fridays at 8 am on WYXR – Memphis Public Radio.
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/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. Every Thursday during the spring and fall at Off Square Books, shelves of books on rollers are moved aside, rows of wooden chairs are set up and an attentive audience assembles. For one magical hour, a bookstore transforms into a live radio show complete with a house band, host and a succession of very cool guests.
Through the years The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour has hosted a variety of literary and musical artists. Some of the most recognized authors are: John Grisham, Natasha Trethewey (former U.S. Poet Laureate), Joy Williams, Caroline Kennedy, Jim Harrison, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Elizabeth Gilbert, Donna Tartt, Richard Flanagan, Robert Stone, Larry Brown, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elmore Leonard, Rick Bragg, Nikki Giovanni, Alan Garganus, George Pelecanos, Sloane Crosley, Jesmyn Ward, Karen Russell, Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly, Chris Offutt, Ace Atkins, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Lee Smith, George Plimpton, Brad Watson, Ron Rash, William Gay, Jill McCorkle, Bobbie Ann Mason, Kiese Laymon, Mary Miller, Roy Blount Jr., Julia Reed, Andre Dubus III, Billy Collins, Daniel Woodrell, George Saunders, Kaye Gibbons, Jessica B. Harris, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Frances Mayes, Candace Bushnell, Sarah M. Broom and Erik Larson.
Musicians who have performed on the show include: Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, Drive-By Truckers, Jon Langford of the Mekons, Grammy/Oscar winner, Paul Williams, Suzi Quatro, Olu Dara, Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, Paul Overstreet, Jennifer Nettles, Victoria Williams, Bobby Rush, Dorothy Moore (pictured), The War and Treaty, T-Model Ford, Blue Mountain, North Mississippi All Stars, Lucero, The Como Mamas, Charlie Musselwhite, Kenny Brown, Jimbo Mathus, Jon Cleary, Southern Avenue, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, JoJo Hermann, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Lilly Hiatt, The Sensational Barnes Brothers, Larkin Poe, Songhoy Blues, Dent May and the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Some guests such as Kathy Valentine of the Go-Gos, 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 Southeast US.
In 2005, Thacker Mountain Radio Hour 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, which is currently broadcasting in-studio shows without an audience, looks forward to its 25th year on the air in 2022.
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. 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, makes him a top choice of industry 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 current 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.