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Paul Brown and his Band to Play Thalian Hall at Documentary Screening

The man who succeeded Carl Kasell as the voice of NPR’s top-of-the-hour morning newscast is coming to Wilmington. 

Paul Brown will play with his band at Thalian Hall for the screening of the documentary Broadcast:  A Man and His Dream

Less than a year ago, Brown stepped away from the high-pressure world of hourly news to focus on his health.  And while he admits that he’s still adjusting to life outside the newsroom, he hasn’t abandoned storytelling.   WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn talks with Paul Brown about why his banjo, fiddle and guitar are the messengers – and how he integrates his lifelong twin fascinations:  Old Time music and journalism.    


PB:  In general, they’re the same thing.  This is all about stories and peoples’ lives and how they live their lives.  To me, it’s always been simply the experience of hearing stories and representing them to others whether I’m singing a song, playing a tune or delivering a world newscast. 

My mom was a very engaged person in terms of appreciating the things around her and appreciating the stories of the people around her.  And she would point out the power of the lives that were represented in the songs that we sang and the tunes that we knew. 

RLH:  What do you mean by the power of the lives of these people?

PB:  I think that everyone’s life – each person’s life -- has a power to it.  Every person has a story.  So when you have a ballad, a story-song that tells the story of the trials and the tribulations or the happiness or the joy of a person’s life you have a very powerful piece of music. 

RLH:  For those people not familiar with the term Old Time music, can you describe it?

PB:  Well, if you’ve ever heard bluegrass – it’s a little bit like bluegrass and it’s related and, in fact, the two intertwine a lot in the South.  But this is traditional mountain music.  It’s a combination of ballads, story-songs, fiddle tunes for square-dancing, some gospel music and its chief characteristic tends to be that it is a home-based music.  It’s less performance-oriented than some of today’s modern bluegrass. 

The other really big distinguishing characteristic is that, for the most part, what we call Old Time music does not feature the fast-picked bluegrass banjo. 

RLH:  Your first job as a News Director was at a radio station in Mount Airy, WPAQ, which broadcast Old Time Music.  It sounds like it must have been a really intriguing entwining of these two interests.  Is that why you went there?

PB:  I didn’t know that was why I went there when I started, but I think that it became my reason for being there. 

I was enthralled by WPAQ’s sticking to its mission of broadcasting Old Time and traditional and bluegrass music in this community in North Carolina where I was living around Mount Airy and Surry County.  I thought this was just great. 

And when I walked into the station for the first time as a performing musician and saw the studios looking like very much like they did in 1948, I couldn’t believe the setting in which I’d found myself.

Later, when a friend suggested that I go and get a job there, I realized that there was tremendous effectiveness in a radio station that affirmed the values of its own community and put them back out there.  I would say that WPAQ more than any other place – really taught me the value and the positive value of radio and media. 

RLH:  Paul, you’re coming to Wilmington to perform at Thalian Hall on November 8th in conjunction with the documentary screening of Broadcast:  A Man and his Dream – which is about WPAQ and Ralph Epperson, who started it.  Will you be performing before the screening?  How will that go?

PB:  It should be a really interesting show.  We have a small radio band – myself, my wife Terri McMurray and Joe Newberry that will perform about a half hour before the showing of the documentary.   What we plan to do is portray some of the paths of traditional music up to the launch of WPAQ’s broadcasts in 1948 to give people a sense of where this music came from and why it’s important and what it sounded like. 

RLH:  Paul Brown, thanks so much for joining us today.

PB:  My pleasure.

[Music tag:  Paul Brown playing the fiddle at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C.]

To find out more about the November 8th screening at Thalian Hall of Broadcast:  A Man and His Dream, follow this link:


Or visit http://www.thalianhall.org/

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.