Roughly eight years ago, The Red Dirt Radio Hour got its start on KVOO-FM 98.5 in Tulsa. The program specialized in spotlighting Oklahoma bands like the Red Dirt Rangers, whose unique sound can best be described as a mash-up of rock, folk, country and blues.

Rangers member John Cooper helped found the program. However, he said when the higher-ups at KVOO wanted to make some changes, they told him that the terms of his original agreement were going to change as well. They wanted to focus on newer, more mainstream country music.

“They wanted us to play songs from a playlist they created,” Cooper said.

Since that program would no longer be the program he intended, he left the station and took the show with him.

John Fullbright

‘It’s about entertainment’
In looking for a new home for The Red Dirt Radio Hour, Cooper connected with Kelly Burley, director of KOSU. They reached an agreement and Cooper resumed the show Jan. 27. A recent episode’s songs ranged from new star John Fullbright to the legendary Bob Wills.

Cooper said he shifted away from commercial radio for a number of reasons. For one, Red Dirt music, with its regional focus and hard-to-categorize sound, doesn’t exactly fit the conventional definition of commercial radio. For another, his ideals don’t match up with those in the industry.

“Commercial radio has forgotten that it’s about entertainment, not about sales and marketing,” Cooper said. “Public radio is a good fit. We get more thoughtful, engaged listeners here. Here, there’s no commercials, no playlists, no corporate hacks. It’s just wonderful.”

Rachel Hubbard, KOSU’s associate director and general manager, shares Cooper’s sentiment.

“Radio used to be a place of discovery,” Hubbard said. “Now, it’s become more and more homogenous. You can go to country, pop, and rock stations, and they’re all playing the same songs. It’s hard to differentiate, much less discover new music.”

Today, the Red Dirt genre is alive and well. The Red Dirt Rangers are celebrating 25 years together this year, and Cooper is seeing to it that his band and fellow Red Dirt musicians, continue to spread the gospel of their genre worldwide.

“It’s true, indigenous Oklahoma music, born in Stillwater,” Cooper said. “It couldn’t have come from anywhere else.” —Alyssa Grimley

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