Not a sound can be heard except the pops of gravel beneath the tires of a 2003 Honda Civic LX. The car radio is off – music alive only in the driver’s mind. A rising sun casts a warm glow upon the royal-blue sedan as it delivers its lone occupant to his destination, his sanctuary.
The driver casually exits the car with a black composition notebook and engravings of a simpler time clenched firmly at his side. His confidence is palpable as he strides with intent toward the glass doors of the John Bragg Mass Communication Building. A card swipe allows access into his palace, and the flip of a light switch illuminates his dream.
The microphone within the WMTS broadcast studio eagerly awaits the warm voice of its Southern companion: the prodigious Justin Reed. The low hum of electronics buzzes in the background as Reed places a vinyl of Johnny Cash on to the studio turntable. His black notebook is opened to today’s schedule, and his white monogramed shirt is tucked in. The clock reads 6:59 a.m., signaling for sliders on the mixing board to be moved into position and for headphones to be firmly secured.
7 a.m. A bright red light displays “ON AIR” and a needle is lowered onto the rotating vinyl with a distinct scratch. “Get Rhythm” sounds triumphantly within the cars of commuters and devoted fans throughout Murfreesboro, Tenn. “The Justin Reed Show” has begun.
“I like to consider myself a country short-order cook,” Reed says. “I fry up a lot of bacon on every show with all the pops and cracks of the vinyl that I serve up.”
Avid listeners wait fervently for their opportunity to hear the only authentic county music radio show to be broadcast out of Murfreesboro each week. T-shirts and wristbands displaying he insignia of this well-crafted production can be seen scattered throughout the MTSU campus and Murfreesboro square. This fan base is no accident, though. No. It is the product of a constant dedication and commitment to excellence that cowboys of decades past could be proud of.
Sifting through his massive personal collection of music and tapping into The Center for Popular Music’s massive selections, Reed spends up to 10 hours a week preparing for his masterful three-hour broadcast. After listening to recording after recording to find “new old music,” Reed then zealously researches information for his interviews with the show’s well-established guests.
Fans set their dial to 88.3 FM to hear stunning conversations between Reed and legends of the industry such as Jimmy C. Newman, Billy Henson, Rhonda Vincent and Jim Ed Brown. “A lot of what we talk about off air is better than what is on the show,” Reed says. That may be the case, but listeners still yearn for these poignant college radio interviews week after week.
“What Justin has done here is really quite impressive,” explains WMTS General Manager Ali Dorris. “A lot of students come in and ‘freestyle’ their show, which is fun and exciting in its own respect, but Justin approaches it professionally. He steps it up to the next level, and I think that’s really what listeners respond to.”
Reed has taken the status of student-run-radio to new heights as he brings an air of expertise rivaling that of main-stream radio personalities. This professionalism is exuded not only in his show, but day after day as well.
Updated fliers of next week’s program adorn the walls of the MTSU campus. Facebook posts and status updates keep eager fans on track with the latest news. His website provides recent press releases, and a show calendar keeps his public well-informed. One can even purchase a T-shirt or a signed photo from his gift shop.
Reed is passionate about what he does and does not for a second take his responsibility lightly. “I wake up every morning with a hunger to make this show great,” he says. “It’s what the public expects of me, and I know I can deliver.”
9:59 a.m. “Are The Good Times Really Over” plays its last bar, and the needle is released from the classic record. Reed carefully places the Merle Haggard vinyl back in its cover and watches as the bright red light fades to black.
Gathering his musical treasures and black notebook, he strides valiantly to the parking lot where his Honda Civic, “Bluebird,” awaits his arrival. He allows the morning sun to enter in as he cracks his window and loads a George Jones CD into the deck. He turns the key, and he is off to his next show. MC
This feature was written by Matt Applewhite while a student in Sharon Fitzgerald’s Public Relations Communication class.