By Johnny Griffith
Chances are that at some point over the last 25(ish) years or so your radio dial has ended up on 89.5 KVNE, either by accident or by design, and if so, then you heard this really, really positive morning show guy over there named Mike Harper.
You might have wondered, as I often have, how could a person be that positive in the mornings, but upon getting to actually know the man, you realize that this condition doesn’t just affect him in the mornings; Mike Harper is this positive a vast majority of his waking hours.
Perhaps it’s born of a realization of the blessings in his life and appreciation of the fact he gets to enjoy mild Texas winters instead of being stuck in the deep freeze of his original hometown Cincinnati. Or perhaps it’s truly a by-product of doing what you love and loving what you do. Either way, we decided to sit down with the “Voice of Encouragement” and get a better picture of the man behind the mic.
Johnny: I read somewhere that you did a stint in the marching band. What instrument did you play?
Mike: I played the bass drum because it was the loudest. Seriously. I only knew one volume. Deafening.
Johnny: Being from Cincinnati, who are you more interested in trying to get an autograph from: Pete Rose, Boomer Esiason, Peter Frampton, or Venus Flytrap?
Mike: Pete is my sports hero, and I already have a couple of his autographs. I love Frampton, so he’d be next. I can relate to Venus, so he’s a close third. No offense, Boomer.
Johnny: I’ve read bits and pieces of your bio on the web. What prompted you to leave what had to be at the time, a decent, if predictable, career for something that was the opposite of predictable?
Mike: I’m thankful for my 13 years with General Motors, but I’m not sure I would’ve survived another 13. It appears I’m missing the “large, heavy, industrial-equipment” gene. My injuries were mounting, not only to my flesh and bone, but to my central nervous system as well. I think I did everyone a favor by getting out of there. Others may have also gotten hurt if I didn’t exit soon. (I notice, however, that the company has never been the same since my departure in 1990.) I also realized my heart was in more creative and musical endeavors, so when the opportunity came to jump into Christian radio, and my lovely wife and life partner Lois said, “Go for it,” I ran to Tyler like Rocky did after Adrian said, “WIN!”
Johnny: When did the idea first hit you that you could “do” radio?
Mike: When I was a toddler listening to 1360 AM WSAI in Cincinnati in the early 1960’s, I applied for the job, but they had a rule that all employees must be potty trained.
Johnny: When and where was your first radio gig?
Mike: WNSD, 1976, senior year at Colerain High in Cincinnati, doing the lunch hour. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was so cool. I’m sure some FCC laws were broken.
Johnny: How did your journey detour to Tyler from Cincinnati? What has kept you here this long?
Mike: I love Tyler! This has been a dream come true. Huge vats of God’s favor has been dumped on me with a loving family, a fantastic place to work, and more friends than I deserve. We actually bought a home in Forney to be closer to our kids and grandkids, but I still spend most of my waking hours in the Rose Capital. And we have Stanley’s BBQ here! So I’m here to stay.
Johnny: What brought you to the Christian radio market?
Mike: A Blue Geo Metro (badump bump). Seriously though, living in Shreveport at the time, I was a new Christian and always loved radio. When I heard about KVNE, I drove to Tyler to inquire about volunteering. I offered to do whatever was needed, but of course I hoped to land an on-air gig. There happened to be a Saturday afternoon shift available, and within a few weeks I was on as a part time DJ. I knew very little about Christian music, but I was a new believer, and doggone it, it was RADIO! I would have done it for free. I kept that part to myself; I think that was wise.
Johnny: So you’ve been on air with KVNE since the late 80’s and have certainly seen much evolution in the Christian music scene, who were your favorite artists, by decade since you’ve been in the business?
Mike: Well in the 80’s it was Petra; 90’s: DeGarmo and Key; 00’s: Third Day; 10’s Tobymac; with an Honorable Mention: Rich Mullins, Sara Groves, Steve Taylor, Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, MercyMe, and Picasso. (Just seeing if you’re paying attention.)
Johnny: Are there any local artists that have come along during your tenure who really stick out?
Mike: Dallas Holm, Paul Baloche, and The Tuxedo Cats.
Johnny: Every organization has its individual strengths and weaknesses, where do you feel KVNE hits it out of the park as far as accomplishing its mission?
Mike: A definite home run in recent years has been in community outreach. We have been very present in East Texas through billboards, hosting mini concerts, partnering with other ministries to collect food, supplies, clothes, and even Valentines.
We help promote local events and show up with our station van to encourage and pray with attendees. We’ve been able to put our tent in front of local businesses for our “Prayer Stops,” the purpose of which is to simply be there to pray for anyone who needs it. And, really, who doesn’t need it.
Johnny: What have been some of the challenges along the way with focusing on family, focusing on the job, the always awkward work hours, and managing to maintain a semblance of the positivity you are famous for?
Mike: As our four kids grew up, one by one they started to move away: three to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, one to the Houston area. (Was it something I said?) Two of our sons who live near the metroplex have since given us a total of three grandchildren. We knew then that we had to be closer, so we moved to Forney.
This has been such a life changer. I now commute 170-miles round trip about 15 times a month. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but I get a chance to see my grands much more often, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Tobymac said, “I wanna be a daddy who’s in the mix.” They can’t get rid of me!
Johnny: Speaking of family, when is the next generation of Harper’s going to be hitting the airwaves?
Mike: You can hear the “Owen and Pops Show” coming soon to a radio near you. (He’s 4 years old. How did he get an agent so soon? Especially one who finagled his way to top billing?)
Johnny: As you sign off daily from your time on the air, what do you hope you’ve at least managed to accomplish?
Mike: I hope we’ve encouraged someone with word of hope or a laugh. And if I can get through a morning show without spilling anything, that’s always a victory.
Mike can be heard at 89.5 FM (kvne.com/mike) on the radio or online weekday mornings along with co-host Carrie Parsons from 6-10am.
No puns were harmed in the making of this article.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Jason Herrin, Shooter Jennings, Dirty River Boys in Concert this Weekend
March 9th (8pm) Jason Herrin will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door. Cover is $7.
March 10th (8pm) – Shooter Jennings – Shooter Jennings is an American singer-songwriter, active mainly in the outlaw country music and Southern rock genres. He is the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings. Tickets range from $35 -$45. Liberty Hall is located at 103 E. Erwin St., Tyler. Tickets are available at libertytyler.com.
March 10th (8pm) – Dirty River Boys with Pushwater will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $15 for general admission.
March 16th (8pm) – Parker McCollum will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are available at wildtexastickets.com. Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Parker McCollum treats each song he writes with a painstaking level of dedication, reverence, respect and as he will readily admit, even a bit of obsession. His new album “Probably Wrong” follows the Austin-based performer’s ultimate goal is to reinvent himself with each record he makes. Tickets are $13-$20.
March 17th (8pm-1am) – St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre will take place at Click’s Live, 1946 ESE Loop 323, Tyler. The St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre features Edge of Misery, No Due Respect, and LowLife. Cover at the door. Doors open at 8pm.
March 22nd (7-10pm) – Zach Winters and Jason Barrows will perform at The Foundry Coffee House, 202 S. Broadway, Downtown Tyler. They will be performing songs from their new albums and changing every city they visit to the city of brotherly love. Early bird tickets are $10. Pre-sale ticket are $12. At the door tickets are $15. Doors at 7pm and music starts at 7:30pm. All ages are welcome. For more info go to zachwinters.com or jasonbarrows.com.
March 24th (8pm) – Bibeau Record Release Party & Concert – will be held at Click’s Live. Tickets are available at the door with proper ID.
March 25th (8pm) – Texas Sunday Returns with Brandon Rhyder at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $15 for general admission.
April 7th (9pm-1am) – Post Profit with Travis Christian will be at Garage Bar, 418 E. Erwin St., Downtown Tyler. There is a $5 cover.
April 7th (7pm) – Sam Riggs will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are $15-$20 and available at wildtexastickets.com.
April 8th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Jason Boland & The Stragglers will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $20 for general admission.
April 12th (8pm) Wesley Pruitt will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door.
April 12th (7pm) – The Legendary Johnny Rodriguez in Concert – Texas Country Music Hall of Famer, Johnny Rodriguez, has had fifteen top-ten singles and 6 number-one hits since 1973. Some of Johnny’s classic hits include: “Pass Me By,” “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me),” “Riding My Thumb To Mexico,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” and “Just Get Up and Close The Door.” For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $35.
April 15th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Chris Knight will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $20 for general admission.
April 21st (8pm) – Mouse & The Traps – After more than 50 years together, Mouse & the Traps continue to be one of the best examples of “Texas Rock & Roll.” Formed in Tyler, Texas in 1965, Mouse, Nardo, Dave & Larry continue to give the public just what they want – great rock and roll. Whether you remember “Public Execution,” “Hit the Bricks,” or not, Mouse & The Traps has something for everyone. Tickets are $20-$25.
April 21st – Bowling For Soup at Clicks Live (8pm) – American pop-punk band Bowling For Soup emerged in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1994, but have since relocated to Denton Texas. Tickets are on sale at the door for $19, and may be purchased in advanced online for $15 at etix.com.
The Blacksmiths: Still Like That Old Time Rock & Roll
By Johnny Griffith
Bob Seger has a well known hit from the early 80’s called “Old Time Rock And Roll.” This song laments the lack of soul in the contemporary music of that time period and declares his intent to keep playing classic rock as a solution. I’ve never gotten the chance to meet Mr. Seger, but the closest thing we have here in East Texas is Chris Austin of the local classic rock band, The Blacksmiths. A native of Chapel Hill, Chris played drums on the drumline at Chapel Hill High School and went on to graduate from the Dallas Sound Lab with a degree in Audio Engineering and Sound Techniques. Blessed with parents that loved music and supported him in his endeavors early and often, Austin developed a love for classic rock through the sounds he heard coming from his parents’ collections and eventually started a band and is still playing to this day.
We managed to get a word in with Chris recently to find out more about The Blacksmiths
Johnny: What is the current lineup of the band? Any changes over the lifespan of the band?
Chris: The current lineup consists of myself on lead guitar and vocals, Joshua Stewart on drums, Angelo Lopez on bass/rhythm guitar/vocals, and Ben Carter on bass and vocals. Angelo and Ben have both been filling the shoes of bass player when available, but recently we decided to shake it up a bit and go with a 4 piece instead of 3 with Angelo on guitar as well…as our busy schedules finally allowed. The lineup has changed immensely over the years. I haphazardly started this project about 6 years ago with a couple of friends just messing around in my kitchen,,,which was the only place we had to set up all the equipment at the time…typical broke musicians haha. We eventually gained a keyboard and rhythm player and were a 5 piece band by the time we started playing shows. We decided to go back to a 3 piece after about a year for convenience and scheduling issues. Our drummer at the time had to move for work but introduced me to Joshua before doing so. Joshua had played with Angelo before with “Something Blue” and I met Ben after watching him play for “King Richard and the Bayou Boys” …and as they say, the rest was history.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
Chris: My parents were very into music and had a plethora of vinyl records to dig through. I was turned on to The Doors, The Who, The Allman Bros, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, CCR, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, David Bowie…but most importantly Led Zeppelin. When I was 12 I received a cheap electric guitar and Led Zeppelin IV on cassette tape for Christmas and that changed everything..
Johnny: At what point was the decision made to be a primarily classic rock band? Have to say you guys are a bit younger than most of the other ones in the area.
Chris: That’s really the stuff I always enjoyed playing the most and felt most comfortable with, because those tunes were ingrained in me from a young age. When we first started, we tried a lot of 90’s stuff and some 80’s Metallica and Misfits which we were pretty decent at but learned pretty quickly what we had more fun with. Even though we’re a bit younger, I feel we were all entranced by that era of music growing up. We were very lucky to have Miss Robin Griffith from XLN on 5th street give us the chance to really explore our potential. We played every Sunday there for quite a while as the house band which gave us a lot of quick feedback from the crowd…and from the venue owner haha.
Johnny: Is there any specific period of classic rock you guys gravitate towards over others?
Chris: Not really, I’ve just personally loved the 70’s era most, but we cover the 60’s and 80’s as well. We do seem to cover a lot of Creedence Clearwater and The Doors though, if that says anything.
Johnny: Where did the band name come from?
Chris: The guys from the original lineup and I were hanging out after practice having a beer or two and trying to come up with something, After a length of time and much pondering, we looked around the room and noticed the main theme of what we were looking at…which was old, broken down, second hand, very junky equipment that I had been hoarding and frankensteining together with duct tape and zip ties for years. I’m really not sure how we didn’t shock or hurt ourselves but I remember us saying…”well, we sure know how to make something out of nothing…like a dang ole’ blacksmith” (speaking of the ramshackle but playable equipment). And just like that, it stuck.
Johnny: do you guys do any originals at this point or is it primarily covers?
Chris: I’ve had a couple of blues tunes in the works for a while but we’ve honestly been so busy playing shows and working full time day jobs or careers it’s been tough to find time, but I think this is our year to shine.
Johnny: You’ve been playing music in this area for a while now, do you have a favorite memory so far?
Chris: I’ve had a lot of really cool experiences along the way getting to play with some amazing musicians. I was the guitar player in a band with Jonathan Scott from Resident Hero for a while and grew up with the singer Ryan White. I also toured a bit as guitar player for Stewart Mann and the Statesboro Revue out of Austin. I’d have to say though, my favorite memory thus far is a recent one. Joshua and I were both taught drums by Nardo and I learned guitar from Larry Stanley. We had the opportunity to open for Mouse and the Traps for the New Years Eve party at Love and War in Lindale and man was it an experience! We got to open for the guys who taught us everything in a packed room. Too cool
Johnny: Where can people get their Blacksmiths fix over the next couple of months?
Chris: Our next scheduled gig is March 31st at Club 155 on Frankston highway…at least for the public. We do a lot of private parties, bike rallies, and events as well. But always keep an eye out for us at XLN on 5th street…that’s our main stomping ground
Johnny: What do The Blacksmiths have on the radar through the rest of the year?
Chris: We have a lot of new stuff planned for this year. A whole new set of songs, some killer merchandise and a new demo ep. Also, I’m told that you might see us opening for Mouse and the Traps again in the near future…so keep your eyes peeled
Johnny: What can a new listener expect to see at a Blacksmiths show?
Chris: A good ole’ Rock show with lots of classic favorite tunes played by guys that do the best they can to respect and represent the music for what it is….life and love
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Date Night: From Fancy to Simple, Tyler Offers a Lot of Romance
March 24th – Tyler Azalea 10k, 5k, and Kids Run plus MORE!
Theatre Guide: March 15-18th, “The Lucky O’Learys” on Stage
The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
March 24th: Save the Mayfair Fundraiser, Dinner & Live Music
“Playhouses on the Plaza” Downtown Tyler Through March 22nd
UT Tyler Graduate Student Exhibits Feature Steel, Wood Creations
DATE CHANGES!! April 2nd: Glass Rec. Center, Summer Camp Registration Open
The Skinny on Cooking at Home: The Cookbook Junkie
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