Phil Shapiro arrived at Cornell University as a graduate student in 1967 — and made a bee line for the radio station.
“I had done radio as an undergrad. It wasn’t new for me,” he said.
But he wanted to be a DJ and was after the production director for two weeks.
“You say you have been on the air for four years? Let’s do a show on Sunday nights,” the production director told him.
“OK,” Shapiro said. “I have been on the air ever since.”
The Caroline man is looking at his 53rd year as host and producer of WVBR Bound for Glory folk radio show.
The program airs live with sets by folk groups at 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sundays from Anabel Taylor Hall on Cornell University.
It runs from 8 to 11 p.m. on 93.5 and 105.5 FM. When Cornell University is closed, he plays albums from the studio.
Shapiro was looking forward to the Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio, who appeared Sept. 8.
“She is wonderful. She shares a lot of herself with the people in front of her. She’s just lovely,” said Shapiro.
“On Oct. 6, Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters will appear. They are kind of a bluegrass show and they do other stuff. I think they are wonderful. Larry Kaplin is coming on Oct. 27.
He’s a wonderful song writer and such a nice person,” Shapiro said.
Bill Staines is another person he’ll have on the air.
“He’s probably the most famous person I have on Bound for Glory. He kind of has a national reputation.”
Shapiro, 73, got his master’s degree in economics from Cornell.
“For most of my life, I sold ads for the radio station,” he said of WVBR, a commercial station.
Shapiro is retired from that post but still does the radio show. He is also a guitarist and singer.
“For many years, I played with a fiddle player out of Binghamton, named Carrie Shore. Now I am not as physically intact as I was,” he said.
“My real love is traditional folk. I don’t get that much any more. A lot of people think Bill Staines is traditional. No he’s not. He wrote his songs,” said Shapiro.
“A traditional folk song is a song that has an unknown author. It’s a song passed along for generations. Nobody knows where it came from,” said Shapiro. “We do a number of those. We did traditional songs last Sunday.”
In the meantime, he likes to be in the midst of Bound for Glory’s long standing folk emphasis.
“It’s really important to me to be a serious contributor to all the music that’s coming … I like being part of that.”
Shapiro works with a team of sound engineers and crew members.
“I don’t get paid to do Bound for Glory. I have never been paid to do Bound for Glory,”he said.
In fact, no one does. Not Shapiro, not his staff, and not his guest performers. And anytime Cornell students worked the show, they didn’t get paid or college credit.
There’s probably 15 people involved with staging the show, Shapiro said. “It’s a labor of love.”
He lines up his acts by calling musicians or sending them emails.
On the day of the show, the performer comes around 6:30 p.m. and works with his crew for sound checks, headed by Terry Kelleher. He’s joined by Davie Rice and Ted Robinette and others.
“I have this wonderful staff,” said Shapiro. “As long as they are willing to mix mics, sell the sodas and CDs and get our stuff into newspapers, I will try to continue to do it.”
Terry Kelleher, chief engineer on the set at Anabel Taylor Hall, has been manning the sound board for 25 years.
“I love the music and I enjoy working on the show,” said the Ithaca man, an engineer.
“Phil is very attentive to all the details for the show but he lets us do our job. Obviously he loves the show and that keeps it going,” said Kelleher.
Kelleher likes the challenge of working with large bands.
“Tanglefoot from Ontario, they are a five-, six- piece band with lots of instruments, five part vocals. The show was a real challenge to mix with the sound, but a lot of fun.”
Carrie Kerr of Willseyville is treasurer of the Friends of Bound for Glory, which raises money for the mixer, the mics and all the equipment the show needs. People pay for memberships to support the show.
Kerr came to Bound for Glory as a student in 1972. Her husband, Dick Warner, is a sound man.
“It’s always been important to me. When I retired 11 years ago, we started coming regularly. I was recruited to become a treasurer.”
She’s done the job more than 10 years. The staff is working with Cornell University to have Bound for Glory archived at the campus, as well.
On Sept. 8, Shapiro and crew were doing a sound check with the Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio.
“I am hearing a little more bass than I should with the fiddle,” Shapiro said, listening to Shawn Nadeau on his upright bass. Singer/pianist Heather Pierson and Davy Sturtevant were on the stage. Sturtevant had a rack of instruments, from mandolin to trumpet.
Someone adjusted a plug.
“OK. I think we are in the realm of OK,” Shapiro said. “What else do you need to do?”
Sturtevant pulled out a dobro to check the sound.
Pierson of Conway, New Hampshire, has been playing music professionally a good 25 years. On Sept. 8, it was her third appearance on Bound for Glory. Her group was on the way home from the Turtle Hill Folk Festival in Rochester, where they were headliners and taught music workshops.
Shapiro knew that and invited the band to play.
“It’s such a great program,”Pierson said.“It’s been going for a really long time. It’s great to be part of tradition and part of the community.”
And she liked how the show airs out on the Internet (boundforglory.org or wvbr.com), the radio, and will be archived.
“I am really grateful for it.”
Jack VanDerzee of Trumansburg has heard Pierson play twice and was looking forward to her third show. He likes Bound for Glory for its collection of folk music performers: “It’s just great folk music you don’t necessary hear any place else.”
Joanna Bock of Enfield comes to the live shows fairly frequently. “We actually know Heather. We have seen her several times,” she said.
Bock liked the WVBR folk studio: “It’s a small, intimate venue. It’s a unique place,” she said.
“We do a lot of touching around, making it sound good,” Shapiro said of the sound check. “In the process I tell performers what they have gotten themselves into. We cover some territory. At 8 o’clock, I go on the air with some CDs and commercials.”
The performers play for half hour stints. Shapiro does half hour sets at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.
“The live audience is very important part of what we do,” said Shapiro. “Everyone is welcoming. The show is free. And if I have done my job correctly, most of the people are on the radio or Internet.”