Rolling Hills Radio Show: Music to Your Eyes and Ears

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Rolling Hills Radio's Ken Hardley. Submitted by Lori Savaree.

Article Contributed by
Joni Blackman

“Music does something to me. It alters the consciousness,” sighs Rolling Hills Radio’s Ken Hardley. Ken has been making music for fifty years. At 13 years old he played his first public gig. From there on, other than taking a few years off for college, music has been a constant in his daily life. He grew up listening to a variety of artists but really connected with the Kingston Trio. It wasn’t long before Peter, Paul and Mary hit the air waves. Ken was hooked. He chuckled and said, “My parents told me that when I was really little, about one year old, I would dance in my car seat when “Rock Around the Clock” came on the car radio. I loved it.”

Fast forward ten years. Ken started playing drums in a garage band. He has added guitar, banjo, harmonica and the ukulele over the years. He sings with ease and palpable feeling. “I’ve always had a day job. I was a Psychologist in the Finger Lakes region,” he added. He still practices part time and fills the rest of his days producing, hosting and performing on the Rolling Hills Radio Show. The Show is modeled after the radio shows of the 1930s and 40s.

Ken enjoys meeting talented musicians from across the nation. He interviews them and joins them in performing new and old songs. The Rolling Hills Radio Show is a non-profit organization that depends on volunteers to manage the shows. Ken is also a volunteer. Grants, ticket sales, sponsors & donors support the production’s financial bottom line. The show began nine years ago on Jamestown’s local arts station WRFA. Ken found his first guests by calling on his many friends he had made throughout his years performing across the state and the northeast to help him get the show going. The radio show has grown from a local cable access show in the Jamestown region to a nationally syndicated Americana music program. “There are only six or seven shows like Rolling Hills Radio in the country,’ said Ken.

Rolling Hills Radio at Shawbucks. Submitted by Lori Savaree.

What is Americana Music?

Americana music, defined by the Americana Music Association (AMA), is “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots rock, folk, gospel and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

“The Americana genre is having a nation-wide resurgence. The 20 and 30-year olds are really interested in it. Musicians are calling me to be on the show. I have a waiting list,” said Hardley, “The audience exploded when we started sharing on YouTube and other social media outlets. While the audience in Jamestown is a bit older, all ages are interested in the music.”

The show began on WRFA as just a radio show. By the second year it was filmed and shared on cable access TV channels in Jamestown and Mayville. Ed Tomassini, Media Works owner and Jamestown’s go-to guy for anything in the film/video sphere, introduced some of his students from the Jamestown High School Video Works program to the real world of radio and TV broadcasting by letting them use the new cameras, equipment and technology to record and share the show. They filmed using three cameras, and then edited the three camera feeds for the final product. “It was a practical learning experience for the students. They are exposed to behind the scenes radio and TV broadcasts. It’s good communications industry preparation.” said Tomasinni.

Rolling Hills Radio at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival. Submitted by Lori Savaree.

Spreading the music

Ed contacted past Reg Lenna Center for the Arts Executive Director Philip Morris at his new post at the Procter Theater in Schenectady, N.Y., “Philip runs three cable TV channels for the Albany, Troy and Schenectady, NY region. One for arts, one for education and one for the community shows. He started playing the Rolling Hills Radio Show on the arts channel. There is exposure to millions of more viewers.” Eventually the show became nationally syndicated. Ed added, “I was so busy last year I had to hand the job over to Kranky Plate Productions in the middle of last season. They will continue to film the shows this season too. This production is giving the community more exposure than most residents know. It’s national exposure for the greater Jamestown region.”

The Rolling Hills Radio Show is held at the Shawbucks Restaurant on Lafayette Street across from the National Comedy Center. The show starts at 6:30 and is about 90 minutes long. There is an hour long meet and greet prior to the show followed by a 30-minute mini-concert when the taping is complete. Ken said, “Kurt Johnson, Shawbucks owner, told me there have been 15-20 Grammy winners and nominees in the past three years. Darrell Scott is performing at the season opener on September 30 and has been a Grammy winner four times.” This writer hears a bit of awe in Ken’s voice, like he can’t believe the fun he gets to have with the talented musicians and songwriters who want to play with him.

When asked how much longer he thinks he’ll keep producing the show he confidently says, “maybe twenty more years.” Well, let’s hope so, Ken and the Rolling Hills Radio Show is a local treasure that is putting Jamestown on the map.

To get your seat at the Rolling Hills Radio Show:

Tickets are available at www.rollinghillsradio.com or by calling 716-24-0416. They are also available at the door if not sold out. Cost is $25 per person.