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Reflections on the WTIP John Prine Tribute Show

WTIP Music Director Will Moore with a pair of John Prine albums. Photo by Joe Friedrichs
WTIP Music Director Will Moore with a pair of John Prine albums. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

As the coronavirus continues to dominate news headlines in Minnesota, across the country and beyond, there were two golden hours of community radio that unfolded at WTIP yesterday morning.

Our music director at WTIP, Will Moore, dedicated his entire Sidetracks program from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday to the great John Prine. The music was amazing, but the connection the show created to our community, the feelings it stirred, are something that will not and should not be forgotten.

It was only hours before Moore’s program began that WTIP and many other news outlets across the globe started to share the news of Prine’s passing. The singer-songwriter died Tuesday at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was 73.

We’re operating with a bare-bones staff at WTIP these days, with many of our employees working from home. People we’re accustomed to seeing daily we haven’t seen in weeks. Much of our staff and the many volunteers who make this radio station what it is have not set foot in the building for going on a month. It’s a challenging time for many in our North Shore community. As we report on these hardships daily over the airwaves, WTIP itself is not removed from this complicated equation.

Meanwhile, Moore walked into the station yesterday morning and went straight to work.

“I’m going to play Prine today,” he said quite matter-of-factly and to nobody in particular.

Soon after taking to the airwaves, Moore put out a call to our WTIP listeners. He simply and only once had to ask if there was a particular John Prine tune anyone wanted to hear to celebrate the man who Rolling Stone magazine deemed the "Mark Twain of American songwriting.”

“Call in with requests,” Moore said.

And just like that, magic happened. The phones started to ring instantly. They came on slowly, a few here, another there. Soon though, the sounds of Prine were barely audible throughout the building as the phones continued to ring and ring. Call after call came in with requests from excited listeners.


“Angel From Montgomery."

“Spanish Pipedream.”

The list of requests went on and on.

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, this experience in and of itself would have been remarkable. We love hearing from our listeners at WTIP. Each day Monday through Friday during our popular ‘Pop Quiz’ segment on the North Shore Morning program we experience a similar rush of calls to the station. On Wednesday, however, it lasted for two full hours.


“Fish and Whistle.”

“Sam Stone.”

Nearly everyone who called sounded refreshed by what was happening. The airwaves were alive. For those two hours this community radio station was the center of something good amid so much chaos, so much uncertainty. We needed to hear some John Prine yesterday, and not just a song or two. We needed two full hours.

And yet, the news goes on. We will continue to report on COVID-19, every interview seemingly connected in some capacity to this very difficult time and what the virus has done, and continues to do. What’s even more poignant about Prine’s death is that he died from complications related to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, no one who called WTIP yesterday with a song request elaborated on, or even mentioned this. It didn’t need to be said. All we wanted were the words. Prine’s words.

Will Moore and John Prine gave us all a much needed break yesterday. It was one of those moments in community radio that was brilliant as it was happening and even more beautiful in hindsight. The John Prine tribute show on WTIP from April 8 will likely be the thing I think of the most when all of this is over. I certainly hope it is. And I am grateful for that hope.

Thanks, Will Moore.

And thank you, John Prine. Rest well knowing your voice will be shared on the airwaves of this community radio station in northeastern Minnesota for many, many years to come.

~Joe Friedrichs
WTIP News Director & John Prine fan