Back below the hills of Tennessee

The television version of Bluegrass Underground, now distributed in high-def and Surround Sound by PBS Plus, permits the audience to appreciate more vividly the unique auditorium where it’s recorded: southeast of Nashville in Cumberland Caverns, 333 feet below ground near McMinnville, Tenn. Over the past 3.5 million years, water carved out what is now the acoustically pure Volcano Room with room for 500 seats. By 2008 the erosion was far enough along that concerts could be held there and Nashville’s famed country-music carrier, WSM-AM, could begin airing Bluegrass Underground’s original radio version. (It airs monthly on Saturdays, just before Grand Ole Opry.)

The video version is produced by a partnership of the production company Loblolly Ventures, PBS member station WCTE in Cookeville, Tenn., and Emmy-winning producer Todd Jarrell. So far, PBS stations have picked up the show in 60 markets, including Boston, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle.

Seun Kuti

Musicians’ stories join their music in Sound Tracks for PBS

Steve Talbot worked in public TV for more than 20 years before trying his hand as chief fundraiser for one of his own projects. His timing was not the greatest. On the day in 2008 when Lehman Brothers imploded, PBS agreed to back the pilot for Talbot’s Sound Tracks, a newsmagazine-style show about contemporary music around the world. The hourlong debut, which aired in January 2010, got positive feedback from viewers, programmers and PBS, but the recession has hampered Talbot’s efforts to make more episodes of Sound Tracks ever since. He’s still raising money to produce additional episodes.

The ears have it: classical that’s upbeat, melodic, forward-moving

Looking to lift up your midday radio audience? Try some uplifting music. That’s a lesson from 10 classical radio stations that have been jiggering their midday playlists with help from a listening study backed by CPB and conducted by the Public Radio Program Directors Association. Eight of the 10 stations saw their midday audiences grow after changing their mixes of music — some grew quite significantly — and the two that lost audience suffered only very small declines. The study began in 2007 when researchers hired by PRPD played 150 half-minute samples of classical pieces for test audiences in four cities.

For WAMU and its listeners, HD Radio means more slices of pie to go around

As a self-proclaimed evangelist for HD Radio, I am often asked why I have inculcated it so deeply in the workings of WAMU in Washington. We devote several full-time employees to produce more than 50 hours a week of live original programming for our multicast channels — bluegrass and Americana music on Channel 2, and news and information on Channel 3. We further demonstrate our commitment to multicasting on our main channel. For the first year after we started multicasting three HD Radio channels, we spent at least 15 seconds of every hour on our flagship signal cross-promoting Channels 2 and 3, and our hosts still give them at least four spots a day. Reminding listeners of the other offerings in our “radio community” requires a sizable investment in airtime, as well as the traffic department’s writing and logging.

Austin City Limits rides its brand downtown

Austin City Limits is a hot commodity based on a cool brand built over 33 years on PBS. In two years it moves its entire production site downtown in the Texas capital city to a cornerstone 2,500-seat theater in a $300 million redevelopment.

Gene Parris, 82

Gene Parrish, a longtime pubradio broadcaster known for his programs on classical, jazz, opera and choral music, died Jan. 2 [2009] of lung cancer in Harbor City, Calif. . . .