Volunteer Profile: “Blizzard” Bob Wade

Now come and hear a story ’bout a man named Blizz. Somebody called me up one morning during The Quilting Bee when I was playing a set of bluegrass:
“Yo Blizz!”
“He’s not here, this is Michael.”
“Wadd’d he just leave he’s been playing great bluegrass all morning.”

I had a time convincing him that Bob was nowhere to be found, and that phone call stands as one of the greatest compliments I’ve received in my ten years on the air at WMPG.Let me explain. Blizzard Bob is Robert Wade III, aka Blizzard Bob, aka The Lonesome Traveler. The Blizzard part comes from working at the post office and has something to do with the Dairy Queen dessert. Bob has been playing bluegrass on Wednesdays from 9-11 a.m. as part of WMPG’s Folkwaves programming for about ten years. He’s built quite a following, evidenced by the familiarity with which people greet him when calling him on the listener line. Around begathon time you can often find bluegrass legend Al Hawkes pitching right beside Bob.

What’s amazing is that bluegrass wasn’t Bob’s first musical love. It wasn’t even the first type of music he played as a volunteer dj at WMPG. Insomniacs with good memories will remember The Beat Basement, an eclectic workout that could best be described as formatless, Bob has an impressive record collection, but before discovering WMPG there wasn’t a bluegrass record in the lot. First he discovered the Evenin’ Sun blues programming, in particular Ed Noyes’ show. This was years before Ed opened the club Morganfield’s, when WMPG was a low-powered station tucked in a basement in Gorham.

Next Bob discovered The Lonesome Highway, the legendary Wednesday morning bluegrass show hosted by long-time WMPG Station Manager Peter Twichell. By the time Peter left WMPG, Bob was up to speed and ready to step in and keep quality bluegrass programming alive every Wednesday morning.

Bob’s contributions at the station go well beyond the glory of being an “on-air talent” (to use that that preposterous commercial radio phrase). Before he had a show of his own he was filing records and contacting record companies for new releases. Every year he can be seen around the station helping out during begathons and Fat Tuesday.

In addition to volunteering at WMPG, Bob is Vice President of the Bluegrass Music Association of Maine, an organization founded six years ago which now boasts over 400 members. He is also Senior Warden of the Deering Lodge of Freemasons. Ask him about the Masons and you’ll see his excitement about his fraternal organization and his many brothers — which include, he’ll tell you, everyone from Ralph Stanley to Louis Armstrong.

At this point in the conversation Bliz will break into an impression of Satchmo. Did I mention his impressions? If you listen to his show regularly you’ve probably heard some. In fact, when I first met Bob he wasn’t doing Blizzard Bob, he was doing John Wayne. It was a begathon and he was sitting in making the phones jingle with his Jimmy Stewarts and Ronald Reagans.

There’s nothing like tuning in to a community radio station and catching a show when a volunteer DJ just really gets the music they’re playing. No consultant or computer-generated playlist can capture that quality, and it can be a joy to behold. Before I discovered bluegrass on WMPG I thought it was corny and cliched. Now I know better, and it is the greatest compliment that someone would confuse my programming with someone who knows best.