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FOOTMAD's first paid staff member looks ahead

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In its 32 years of existence, FOOTMAD has been powered by an all-volunteer crew in its aim to serve as a conduit for, well, friends of old-time music and dance in the Greater Kanawha Valley.

Starting in August, FOOTMAD brought on board its first-ever paid professional staff member in the form of new arts administrator Burr Beard.

"I'm glad to be part of a community organization that builds community," said Beard, who relocated from Pittsburgh to Charleston.

In his new position, made possible partly by a grant for staff support from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, Burr said he hopes to further FOOTMAD's musical and dance-centric mission.

"The economy has caused a downturn in attendance for FOOTMAD events, and I'd like to see that rebound and grow through more concerted marketing of what I think is already a great product."

The organization's musical offerings mesh squarely within his own tastes, said Beard, who himself plays hammered dulcimer with the band Devilish Mary.

"I like the term 'Americana,' which I see as encompassing various kinds of American roots music. So to me, what FOOTMAD is doing -- with old-time music, Celtic, blues, bluegrass, Cajun, zydeco -- fits firmly under the heading of 'Americana.' I like all of it."

Speaking of headings, Beard's unusual first name is a family legacy. "It's a family name. It was my father's and a great-uncle's before -- there are three 'Burr Beards' that I know of."

Beard, 60, has more than 35 years' experience in communications, public radio broadcasting and station management. He has a BA in history education from the University of Pittsburgh and earned a master's in communication from the University of North Carolina in 1980.

He went on to develop and become the first station manager of WNCW-FM, in Spindale, N.C., in 1988, where he designed a music format with NPR News that would become one of the first AAA (adult album alternative) stations combined with what would later become the Americana format.

He went on to manage a host of other stations, including a stint as manager with WTJU at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, in 2010 and with WOWL noncommercial radio in Iuka, Miss., in 2012.

Last year, Beard and partner Dawn Warner formed Roots Town Radio Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission of founding a low-power FM radio station.

The idea is to create a noncommercial LPFM station that would take a up a niche on the FM dial, broadcasting a low-power signal to encompass the Charleston city limits.

"I'm hoping to partner with FOOTMAD and try to see FOOTMAD grow that way -- get FOOTMAD people involved in doing radio and doing a good healthy dose of West Virginia music, reflecting the musical culture of West Virginia in this station."

If everything goes smoothly with their FCC application, "I'm hoping by mid-2014, with the support of the community, maybe by this time next year we could go on the air."

He has launched a small crowd-funding campaign to cover the FCC filing fee, so get in the ground floor by searching for "LPFM for Charleston WV" at www.indiegogo.com.

Meanwhile, a new 2013-14 FOOTMAD season of concerts and dances approaches, and the group's new arts administrator will be at the center of it.

"My job, one way to look at it, I'm like a hub for all of these volunteers that have been doing a great job all around," he said. "Most of them are musicians that are passionate about this. I don't have to do all of the hands-on work. I just have to kind of be the glue."

FOOTMAD has the benefit of being located in a musically rich region, Beard said. "I'm happy to be here to help grow that and get people from all walks of life coming out to dances and concerts."

For more on the new FOOTMAD season, visit http://footmad.org.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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