DELTA, Ohio — A canoe, lying on its side, dips into the reeds of a pond stocked with trout and bass. The wind barely whispers through the nearby pine trees. Empty chairs encircle a fire pit nearby.
The idyllic scene in the northwest Ohio countryside could be on a postcard.
Inside one of the homes on the property, Jerry Eicher slips on a pair of white sunglasses and slides behind a microphone.
“Hey there, thanks for tuning in to The Ol’ Hippie Bluegrass Show. I’m Jerry Eicher, high atop Indian Ridge. We’re going to have a great show tonight. We’ve got the top 10 of the Ol’ Hippie Countdown and an interview with Billy Strings, a great guitar player from Michigan who is making waves right now.”
And so it goes from the man with the long, white beard wearing a psychedelic T-shirt.
From 10 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Eicher’s welcoming voice booms out to WQTE-Q95 Country listeners in Adrian. But his voice also can be heard on the Internet at olhippiebluegrassshow.com. The Ol’ Hippie Bluegrass Show now has an estimated 300,000 listeners around the world — including in Brazil, Russia, and New Zealand. He was just reading an email from a listener in Great Britain.
“I love the sound of bluegrass. The instruments used — the mandolin, guitar, upright bass, banjo, and fiddle — if you put the five of them together and play in harmony, it’s a beautiful sound to the ear,” Eicher says.
A little more than 10 years ago, J.J. O’Shea and Jim Van Deilen were wrapping up a run of about five years for their local bluegrass show, Sunday Ramble. Their departure meant that bluegrass would not have a home on local radio.
“I remember thinking that was too bad that the show ended. Next thing you know, Jerry is calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, you want to do a radio show?’ “ says Randy Shaffer, Eicher’s first co-host.
“Hippie” and “Bluegrass” seem to be an odd word pairing in a radio show title, “but if you see us, you can tell that we look like a couple of old hippies,” Shaffer jokes.
The show in its early days focused on the local bluegrass scene and building a loyal following, eventually leading to syndication on the Internet.
Health issues forced Shaffer to step aside after show No. 143, but Eicher carries on, with a number of different hosts filling in for Shaffer. Sometimes, like for episode 523, Eicher is alone.
“Here is some music from the Dead Horses. Check this out,” Eicher tells his listeners after coming back from a break.
Dead Horses has been recognized as one of the rising stars in bluegrass and Americana. The group’s current album, My Mother the Moon, has been critically acclaimed for its raw, honest storytelling.
“I’m starting to get into more Americana music. A lot of the older folks are dying off, and the younger folks are getting into it, so I am trying to keep the young folks involved by playing their music,” Eicher says. “I think it’s a great time to be into bluegrass because of all the young folks taking it up. They are going to college now for bluegrass and taking it to a whole new level.
“Back when Bill Monroe came around, he took the old-time music to a whole different level. The old-timers thought he was jazzing it up. Now the old-timers think the young folks are jazzing it up. They are doing the same thing Bill Monroe did. I don’t blame them. You can only play ‘Rocky Top’ so many times.”
Last month, The Ol’ Hippie Bluegrass Show celebrated 10 years on the air. Episode 500 featured four bands who performed live sets of 20 to 30 minutes in Eicher’s Indian Ridge Recording Studio, adjacent to the room where he cuts his radio program. The property often hosts musical guests. Nu-Blu, a quartet from Siler City, N.C., recently rolled its tour bus up to the house and debuted its whole album on Eicher’s show.
“I think it’s really cool that the show has lasted so long. It shows that there is a real desire to hear that type of music,” says Brad Long, an occasional co-host. “Jerry is very passionate about the music — and knowledgeable. With the recording studio, he is really tuned into the pulse of bluegrass music.”
During a break from recording, Eicher gives a tour of the more than eight-acre property he owns in Fulton County. Eicher bought the neighboring home years ago and used a studio inside to record the first two years of The Ol’ Hippie Bluegrass Show. Now, music plays continuously to keep the squirrels away, and the building houses a museum of sorts to the radio programs. Thousands of CDs fill shelves, and signed memorabilia and photos compete for space on walls covered with banners, logos, and other show merchandise.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I thought after nine years that I would just do this for 10 years, then quit. But I get so many people who say that I can’t ever quit playing that music,” Eicher says.
Eicher is now 63 years old. He retired from Jeep when he was 60, after 31 years on the job. For years, it was a struggle to divide his energy between Jeep and the radio program, but Eicher is all in on the program now. He proudly points to a map with pins stuck in various countries, each pin representing either an FM station that plays his show or where he gets listens on his website.
“I’m on an FM station in New Zealand every week,” he said. “If I don’t download the show, they email me pretty quick.”
The tour includes a trip to Eicher’s driveway, where a motor home sits. A banner reading worldwidebluegrass.com draped across its side. Inside is even more recording equipment that allows him to do remotes for worldwidebluegrass.com, an Internet show that airs live 7 p.m. each Thursday and has about 70,000 listeners each month. On June 21, Eicher rolled the motor home into the Eaton County Fairgrounds in Charlotte, Mich., for the Charlotte Bluegrass Festival.
“It gets exciting with the motor home. It’s fun to go on location,” Eicher says. “I guess I’ll do that show until the motor home breaks down.”
Eicher references the Charlotte festival and other regional shows when he returns to his home to finish recording episode 523 of The Ol’ Hippie Bluegrass Show, telling his listeners: “Three things that I know our listeners love are fast banjo picking, pretty singing, and local music. So get out there and support these local festivals.”
The beat keeps rolling on for the bluegrass-loving, old hippie in the sunglasses and ball cap.
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