‘Bending the Strings’: Bluegrass and Broadcasting

Daniel Mullins has lived in Cedarville since the sixth grade. He works part time and attends the university part time. In May, he will graduate with a degree in American studies, and he will be the last student from Cedarville to do so.

The American studies program is being phased out once Mullins leaves. Kevin Sims, chair of the faculty for the liberal arts program and Mullins’ academic advisor, said there is a reason for that.

“Some think that maybe that major has outlived its usefulness and that maybe it’s not as appealing as it once was,” Sims said. “So I think it’s kind of disappeared from many college catalogues.”

The program is somewhat similar to the liberal arts program in that it allows students to explore a broad variety of topics.

Each student in the American studies major is required to pick two topics to focus on. Mullins chose business and communications, which has played a role in his other interests.

Mullins has his own show called “Bending the Strings” on the Classic Country radio station based in Xenia. Mullins has worked at the station for four years.

It’s sort of a family business, he said. His father, Joe Mullins, owns the station.

Bluegrass and broadcasting runs in the family. Mullins’ grandfather, Paul “Moon” Mullins, was a broadcaster for 45 years.

Paul’s station, WPFB out of Middletown, Ohio, was very popular at the time because it broadcasted to Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. Also, at the time there was a large migration from Appalachia to Ohio and Michigan for factory jobs, Mullins said.

“So he was very popular at that time because he was a great breath of fresh air and a slice of home for all these people that moved from the mountains to this area to work in the factories,” Mullins said.

Mullins’ grandfather was also a fiddle player, and he formed a bluegrass band with Daniel’s father called “The Traditional Grass” that started in the ‘80s. The band gained national recognition until 1995 when it disbanded and Daniel’s father bought the radio station.

His dad also formed his own band, “Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.” The band had the number one song in the bluegrass genre in the nation for several weeks last year, Sims said. Mullins said his father was elected to the board of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).

Mullins said that other than singing at karaoke night and “messing” with his mandolin, he doesn’t play instruments like his father and grandfather before him.

“I play the radio,” Mullins said.

However, he did follow in his father’s footsteps with recognition from the IBMA.

Mullins has been writing for a website called bluegrasstoday.com for three years. He was also recently published in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.

Mullins has been nominated this year by the IBMA for the print media person of the year for bluegrass. He will attend the awards ceremony in Raleigh, N.C., in October.

“Carrying on the family tradition, I guess,” Mullins said.

He said he plays bluegrass, newgrass and Americana music on his radio show, and he spends air time talking about the history of the music he plays. His historical knowledge comes from early exposure to the music and hanging around the radio station when he was a kid.

“Always had classic country or bluegrass playing in the house when I was a kid, so I soaked up a lot of it from hanging around my dad and my grandpa,” Mullins said.

He also said he makes a point to purchase the hard copy of an album so he can read the liner notes.

“If they’re really good liner notes, they’ll tell you a little bit more about how they wrote the song or where they found the song, so I learn a lot from that,” Mullins said. “But I do my best to try to be well-read on roots music.”

Mullins has connected his love of bluegrass and music history with his American studies major.

“He likes the history side, so he took a class that we offered last year called Music and Nationalism,” Sims said.

In the class, each student is required to do a presentation, so Mullins did his presentation on the history of bluegrass music in 20th century America.

“It was super well done,” Sims said. “It was really interesting, so that’s the kind of thing the major really did for him.”

Being Mullins’ academic advisor, Sims has gotten to know Mullins.

“He is a fine young man,” Sims said. “I really like Daniel.”

Sims said he could see Mullins ending up producing music.

“I would not be at all to surprised to see Daniel end up maybe in Nashville or someplace as a music producer,” Sims said. “The major will provide him a broad background and give him some skills that he’s going to need to be able to do those kinds of jobs, get into those kinds of careers.”

Mullins said he loves being on the radio, but the need for disc jockeys is getting less and less.

Mullins said he spoke to one of his favorite disc jockeys, Eddie Stubbs from Nashville, who told him, “The need for a radio personality is kind of like a typewriter repairman; they’re still in demand, but not like they used to be.”

Mullins said his game plan is to combine American history with his business and communication concentration.

“I would like to kind of focus on some music history, particularly on roots music like classic country, bluegrass and roots-oriented music,” Mullins said. “That would just meld a whole bunch of passions for me. My writing history and the music, it would be a good fit.”

He said he would look into working at the IBMA, the museum at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, or the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Ky.

“If I could do radio on the side wherever, that would be a great blessing,” Mullins said. “That’s kind of what I’m thinking right now. Always an option is the classic country radio in Xenia because I absolutely love working there. I’m never going to rule that out because I wear a lot of hats there — I get to do a whole lot of different things. I really enjoy it.”

In describing the broadness of the American studies major and where many of his past students have ended up, Sims said, “You never know what God’s going to do with you after you leave (Cedarville).”

 Kate Norman is a senior journalism major and a copy editor for Cedars. Kate wants to live and work overseas one day, but for now, she entertains herself with directing snark and sassery towards her peers.

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