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January 09, 2015

WXPN's 'Folk Show' to continue post-Gene Shay

Media Radio
Radio Broadcast File Art /for PhillyVoice


Departing "Dean of Folk DJs" Gene Shay might've told the Philadelphia Daily News that the folk scene is "not where it used to be," but WXPN's certainly not about to give up on the genre anytime soon.

"We're going to continue with folk music, and we're in the process of looking for a host," Bruce Warren, assistant general manager for programming, told "Hashtag, 'No pressure here,' of course, because it's going to be really hard. ... Nobody I hire is ever going to be as good as Gene; it's about finding someone who's equally as interested in the future of folk music and indie-folk [as the older material], and someone who can curate a great experience for the audience and be on air with them."

The announcement about Shay, who's been a presence in the Philadelphia folk community since the 1960s, was reported earlier this week, but all was silent as to whether Shay would get a replacement. 

Warren lamented in conversation that it's "really hard to find great, young talent these days," as far as DJs go but pointed to WXPN "Folkadelphia" host and 20-something Drexel University student Fred Knittel as proof that folk isn't a dying genre. Warren handpicked Knittel after hearing his folk radio show on Drexel's WKDU; Knittel now hosts the 10-11 p.m. time slot every Wednesday for WXPN.

"Fred is Ground Zero for this stuff," Warren said. "He's really smart and passionate about the music."

But is he just a one-off 20-something who has passion for the genre?

No -- or, at least, not if we're taking Knittel's word for it.

"Young people are absolutely into folk music," Knittel told "I'm no genre purist, and I think that's common with younger people. The more bastardized, the better. These up-and-coming musicians are building off the traditions of folk music past and making it their own in the present. And I'd like to think we're seeing folk of the future developing each new day."

He said he sees his "Folkadelphia" show as a means to bridge old traditions with newer music and audiences. 

As for his thoughts on Shay's departure, which will be effective in February: 

"Gene has done so much for folk music -- in Philly, nationally, on the air and more, and I personally would love to see someone build on the groundwork and traditions that Shay has put in place but make the show and experience, whatever form that takes, wholly their own," Knittel said. "There are so many opportunities to engage with audiences of all ages on all manner of platforms -- on air, online, concerts, mobile, etc. And I think we'll see that happen with WXPN soon."

For more on Gene Shay's legacy, see WXPN's (thorough) writeup on its "The Key" blog.