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Bluegrass Junction was launched back on September 25 of 2001 as one of Washington DC-based XM Satellite Radio’s original 100 channels. The channel was retained following the July 2008 merger of XM with its New York-based competitor Sirius Satellite Radio (launched in July 2002), a merger widely believed to have saved both endeavours who as separate entities had struggled to gain sufficient market share to become profitable. Bluegrass Junction survived the merger, replacing Sirius Satellite Radio’s own well-received bluegrass offering (‘a Golden Child within the company’ according to John Lawless of Bluegrass Today) and is today billed as ‘America’s Bluegrass Home’.

RYMAN VIEWS | The Ryman Auditorium as seen from Bridgestone Arena tower, location for the SiriusXM studios, in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.

Since its 2001 launch Bluegrass Junction has had its primary residence in Nashville; it broadcast from a small studio space in Music City’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum until moving to a dedicated live performance studio, shared by all Nashville-based SiriusXM channels, in 2007. Located behind the blue glass walls of the cylindrical Arena tower of Downtown Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the lobby of which, seen here, houses the Music City Shop of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, the Bluegrass Junction studios are, rather appropriately, in eyeshot of the city’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, upon whose stage bluegrass, the very genre the channel promotes, is said to have been born in December of 1945.

Born of inspiration, steeped in tradition. Handmade, heartfelt bluegrass music on SiriusXM.

– SiriusXM

It has been trundling along (choo choo!) for almost two decades now, but it seems Bluegrass Junction lives a rather tenuous existence. That, unfortunately, seems par for the course for any such outlet for a niche music format, especially one run by men in suits sitting removed from the ground in high buildings with glass walls and with baying stockholders to appease.

Moves by SiriusXM brass in early 2014 led to some roster reductions, and not once but twice in recent years the channel has been temporarily and frustratingly taken off air (off the satellite feed while still available online and on the SiriusXM app) to make way for seasonal programming – in December 2015, when it was replaced by Radio Hanukkah for 9 days in honour of the Jewish celebration of lights, and for 11 days in November 2019 when Heart Strings Radio commandeered Bluegrass Junction‘s usual channel 62 for wall-to-wall Dolly Parton, an agreement with Netflix that coincided with the premiere of Dolly’s TV series, Heartstrings. (We won’t even mention the fact that in August 2016 the dial was shifted to move Bluegrass Junction from its then home on channel 61, a rejig to accommodate the September debut of The Garth Channel… what an affront… oh the indignity of it.)

With what would have appeared to be ample options to accommodate seasonal programming elsewhere on the SiriusXM platform, both interruptions caused some warranted consternation among the ‘I’m-only-here-for-Bluegrass-Junction’ SiriusXM subscriber. The hard-done-by bluegrass community rallied to have their voice heard. In 2015 a petition was started and people were prompted to call SiriusXM directly to vent their frustration. They did, but it still didn’t cause enough of a ruckus to fend off the 2019 sit-in by Dolly (bless her).
Act as though an important piece of the bluegrass music industry is at stake. Because it is.

Still Time to Speak Up for Bluegrass Junction‘, David Morris, Bluegrass Today, December 4, 2015

Maybe Bluegrass Junction isn’t the afterthought such moves would lead you to think it is. And maybe all of this shouldn’t be taken as a sign of the diminished value SiriusXM sees in its bluegrass product. Who knows, save for the powers that be in SiriusXM. But one thing is for sure; in the present climate – in the face of plummeting CD sales, iTunes this and Spotify that – Bluegrass Junction has more of a say in the growth and sustainability of bluegrass now than ever it did, while many involved in the industry (artists, songwriters and labels) still depend on its royalty payouts to, and if not fully sustain it, at the very least subsidise their craft.

KYLE CANTRELL | With Kyle Cantrell at the studios of SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.

The aforementioned roster reductions in 2014 – part of a broader cost-cutting plan by SiriusXM to eliminate voices from some of its music channels, and at a time when both the company’s stock price and subscriber base were up – saw long-time presenter Chris Jones pulled from his regular weekday shift, reduced to a solitary weekend shift instead (mostly broadcast from ‘the Northern Studio’ in Alberta, Canada). Ned Luberecki also lost his More Banjo Sunday slot (it has since thankfully been restored); Nedski’s popular Derailed show (‘two hours of bluegrass music’s wild side!’) and Jones’ Friday first-generation bluegrass showcase Truegrass, easily our favourite part of the whole weekly schedule, are ever-present and still survive through to this day. Today you’ll only hear two on-air voices on a daily basis, SiriusXM employees Joey ‘You and Me’ Black (who mostly broadcasts from New York) and Program Director Kyle Cantrell, seen here, who was good to us with his time and by gifting us a pair of Bluegrass Junction memento ball caps. A broadcasting veteran who has been with SiriusXM since 2002, he’s a four-time IBMA Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year and eight-time SPBGMA Bluegrass DJ of the Year. Kyle hosts the daily morning request slot live from Nashville (he also enjoys a gig as an announcer on the Grand Ole Opry). It was a pleasure to put face to the voice of Mr. Bluegrass Junction, the ‘voice of bluegrass’, to meet its manifestation in physical form.

We shouldn’t have access to it here in Ireland 🇮🇪 but — 🤫 shh! — we do. No, we wouldn’t go bluegrass destitute without it (there are of course other on-line outlets from which to get one’s bluegrass fix, one of which we actually have a weekly scheduled broadcast on) and we sometimes go days without checking in. And when we do, we notice the cost-cutting host-free and pre-programmed ‘filler’ segments in the 24/7/365 schedule, not to mention the playlist’s undeniable propensity for repetition and for bending/blurring the lines, for pushing and pulling the bluegrass envelope in all sorts of directions and in ways that invariably fires up the purist vs. liberal debate as to what/who is bluegrass these days. But, and even with all that said, our day is better for Bluegrass Junction being a part of it (in much the same way as our lives being all the better for bluegrass being a part of it); it keeps us informed, abreast of what’s going on and, most importantly, someway connected to the distant community we very much value being a part of. And I suspect, the distance aside, we’re not alone in that.

Here’s to the next two decades.

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