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Sanders Hits the Blues on a National Scale


Mike Sanders has the blues, but it's not over the success of his internationally syndicated radio show. Sanders is the creator and host of Blues Quest, a one-hour documentary and interview show airing on 38 public radio stations all over the U.S. and in Australia.

 

Show Has Unique Focus

 

What sets Blues Quest apart from other radio shows is that it focuses on one musician at a time. Sanders spends an entire hour telling the story of one blues man or woman, playing music he or she has been inspired by.

Sanders said that anyone who encounters the blues has to address its history, and the purpose of Blues Quest is to share the discovery of individual histories through music.

Blues artist R.L. Burnsides and Blues Quest founder Mike Sanders
Mike Sanders, '78, right, has found success producing Blues Quest, focusing each show on one blues artist, such as R.L. Burnsides before his death.
"People who discover the blues begin a backward journey into the historical influences to fully appreciate and understand it," he said. "The late songwriter and bassist Willie Dixon, described it best, 'The blues is the roots; everything else is the fruits.'"

Sanders graduated from UCM in 1978 with a bachelor of arts degree in mass communication. He also is a veteran of the UCM faculty. In 2000 he served as a visiting professor in the Department of Communication. It was at that time Jon Hart, the director of UCM's public radio station KTBG 90.9 The Bridge, offered Sanders the opportunity to do a blues show.

 

Wife Conceives Show Focus

 

However, it was Sanders' wife Janet, whom he met while attending UCM in the late 1970s, who actually came up with the idea to focus each show on one particular artist.

"Janet came up with an element that, I think, really makes the show," Sanders said. "Every artist tells stories of the first time music really hit them, or when the blues got a hold on 'em."

 

Broadcast Career Started at UCM

 

Sanders started his career in broadcasting while he was a student at UCM, working at different times for three different radio stations, usually during the night shift. Sanders said during his senior year at UCM, he worked the overnight shift at what is now Kansas City's Mix 93.3.

"Jon Hart worked an overnight air-shift at [then, KY 102] and we would car pool to and from Kansas City," Sanders said. "Then we'd try to stay awake in class. Looking back on it, it seems crazy, but by the time I graduated in 1978, all that experience really paid off."

 

Successful TV Career

 

After graduation, Sanders worked as a reporter for the ABC TV affiliate in Jackson, MS, where in addition to reporting the evening news, he filed a number of stories for ABC, CNN and Independent Television News in London.

Sanders returned to Missouri in 1983 to work for CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City, where he won a number of awards for his work including an Emmy. While working in television, Sanders earned his master's degree. In 2000, he was offered the chance to return to UCM to teach.

"Teaching had been a life-long goal for me," he explained. "It was a moving experience to return to UCM and inspire a new generation of students going into radio and television."

 

Growth of Blues Quest

 

In 2004, he and Janet set out to syndicate Blues Quest with 12 public radio stations in their pocket and a dream of reaching more. In their second year of distribution, they've more than tripled that number and are continuing to grow.

"Our goal is to get Blues Quest on hundreds of public radio stations around the world and showcase as many performers as we can," he said.

Sanders said that although he hasn't yet felt the financial effects of the present political controversy over the future funding of public radio, he encourages people to write to their representatives in Washington in support of it.

 

Public Radio Needed to Protect Musical Heritage

 

Sanders said America needs public radio now more than ever so programs like Blues Quest can survive. Sanders said they put their show together with public radio listeners in mind. He said commercial stations require too many breaks for advertising and disrupt the program's documentary feel. Sanders stressed the importance of paying homage to an important and diminishing part of America's cultural heritage.

"Sadly, we are losing older musicians who devoted their lives to this music and contributed so much to its legacy," he said. "We want to interview as many as possible while they're still with us so we can share their stories and insights, preserve this musical heritage and enrich the lives of our listeners."

Blues Quest can be heard on public radio stations nationwide including UCM's KTBG The Bridge Sundays at 7 p.m. More information can be found at www.bluesquest.org.

By Michael Bradshaw '05