WHKP’s Charles Hayes shares love of bluegrass heritage, gospel

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Charles Hayes hosts WHKP weekend shows.

By Pete Zamplas- Charles Hayes brings vast knowledge, enthusiasm and folksy touch to his WHKP AM 1450 radio weekend shows, celebrating bluegrass as well as classic country and gospel.

Hayes’ three-hour “The Grass Roots Bluegrass Show” airs 6-9 a.m. on Saturdays. He plays country for an hour, then two hours of bluegrass. He is producer and host. On Sundays, he hosts “Gospel Train” 6-8 a.m. mixing in classic country, bluegrass and gospel.

Then he handles the control board for Sunday Morning Worship Service” from First Presbyterian Church. Hayes fills in at other times. He does technical setup for News Director Larry Freeman’s remotes. A licensed electrical contractor since 1987, Hayes maintains the station’s power generators.Hayes was profiled in Bluegrass Today last month, as a bluegrass expert.WHKP Vice-President Richard Rhodes lauded Hayes’ easy-going folksy style and his “love of Southern gospel and bluegrass. He paid to have a radio program on WHKP, for a long time” but no longer. A switch to Saturday mornings was a “good move,” Rhodes said.Hayes, 51, runs Hayes Enterprise which “allows me to play as a DJ,” he said. He has been on WHKP for 13 years, starting in 2002 by hosting a weekly “bluegrass-gospel radio ministry” for nearly a decade. Unpaid, he bought the air time as his own sponsor until “the economy slowed down.” Then “Richard offered me the Saturday morning slot” as a volunteer, but he is now paid. He is paid when filling in for others.Hayes explained his spiritual-musical mission. “I have always felt music exposes someone to the word of God better than anything. Subconsciously, you’re hearing that — no matter how busy you are. That one word or note grabs your attention. You stop, and listen to the message.” An initial result is “no matter how depressed or burdened you are, all the cares goes away. You feel relieved, and free.”For him “what means the most is getting calls during the Sunday show on ‘how much that song meant to me,’ or ‘I needed that.’”Rhodes and Hayes are excited how WHKP will simulcast programming by early April on the stereo FM “translator” frequency of 107.7, with less signal distortion and up to four times the power to reach into three neighboring counties. Power stays full-tilt at night, unlike on AM, to boost high school sports coverage. WHKP’s parent firm owned what is now My 102 FM, in 1957-85.Hayes is personable. “Charles is an easy guy to work with,” Rhodes said. “He put his tentacles out there, to connect with bluegrass groups” and also specialize in “older, classic country and Southern gospel.”Hayes shares with listeners his “joy of bluegrass. It’s the feel you get overall from the sounds. I call bluegrass the ‘heartbeat of America.’ The origins trace back to the Smoky Mountains area, to our heritage.” He cited such bluegrass pioneers as Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and Don Reno and Red Smiley.He is proud of bluegrass’ communal aspect — on front porches or a community center. “You can stop by with an instrument, and play with them.”

On Valentine’s Day last Saturday, Hayes played a segment of bluegrass and classic country love ballads. “Any one song you play can reach someone’s heart,” he said.He enjoys filling requests, especially when fitting the theme of an upcoming three-song segment. Every so often he puts the caller on air to make the request, as it starts to play. To put in a requested song, he searches for it in a computer folder. Within 15 seconds he clicks to select it, drags and drops it into the “play schedule.” He avoids replaying a song by the same artist that day. Hayes likes to “tell the history about the song and the musician, where the song came from.” He researches at home, but by now already knows about many artists and can “wing it” for details on air. He likes rediscovering songs “I have not played in several years or haven’t seen before.” He enjoys talking over song instrumental lead-ins, paced by a countdown clock. “If you have three seconds left (before vocals begin), and eight seconds worth of talking to do, you have to speed up.”A periodic treat is from live broadcasts of mainly bluegrass bands. “One of my greatest pleasures is to have bands sit in with me, and play a few songs live into an old ‘boom mike,’” he said.Hayes learned banjo for five adult years, I could “pick” well but lacked timing. Thus “by myself, I was great. But no one could play with me.” He turned down the lone request by a band for him to sing along. His cousins are adept musicians.His second uncle, a minister and banjo-guitarist, turned down a Grand Ole Opry gig. “He influenced me for liking that acoustic sound, when I was six. His bluegrass friends played in church services.Banjo is a lead instrument. Hayes. “The ‘twang’ reaches in, and grabs your soul.” Bluegrass banjo has loud three-finger picking pioneered by the likes of Don Reno, Snuffy Jenkins of Shelby and Earl Scruggs. Folk banjo has claw-hammer style.Bluegrass also features harmonious vocals and rotation of musical solos. In the Sixties, Hayes admired “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin as a “flamboyant showman, with a multi-colored suit and big cowboy hat with feathers.”Martin shaped Hayes’ bluegrass appetite. Through phone calls and emails, “we became close friends,” Hayes said. “He gave guidance about being in radio. He said ‘be true to the music.’ Like him, I’m a diehard bluegrass traditionalist. I do not care for any ‘newgrass’ such as with drums or electric bass. “You need a big, upright ‘doghouse’ bass as timekeeper of the tempo.”His favorite is Canton-based Balsam Range, a “premier bluegrass band worldwide.” The band won as 2014 International Bluegrass Music Awards’ Entertainer of the Year, and top vocal group. Banjo player Marc Pruett won a Grammy, playing with Ricky Skaggs. Others include mandolinist Darrin Nicholson, guitarist Caleb Smith, and bassist Tim Surrett from Jordanaires gospel acclaim. Fiddler Buddy Melton was ’14 IBMA Vocalist of the Year. His tenor on “‘Rudy’ hooked me on Balsam Range,” Hayes recalled. “He exceeded Bobby Osborne, hitting that high tenor note.”At home, he listens about “80 percent bluegrass, 15 percent classic country, and five percent a cappella” such as quintet Home Free. His musical library has 300,000 songs. Most are digital. He also has about 1,200 compact discs (CDs).He has lived here for a quarter-century. He grew up in Hamlet, near the Rockingham speedway where his father Charlie Lee “L.C.” Hayes raced late models on dirt.“Coach Hayes” to many, Charles coaches Little League baseball and fourth-grade recreational league basketball.His daughters are Samantha Patterson and Sarah Ray. Sarah helped with the Saturday show for five years, organizing playlists and introducing some songs. Sam’s son William Hayes, 10, now gets air time. “He really loves bluegrass,” and plays piano by quick memory.Charles Hayes can be emailed at bluegrass@whkp.com by listeners, or by artists sending their MP3 music files for airplay consideration.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Hill Photography.

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