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Thacker Jr. Radio Hour Debuts Live This Weekend

When “Thacker Jr. Radio Hour” takes the stage at 6 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 25) in Nutt Auditorium, it will mean more than an opportunity for talented young Oxonians to create great free radio entertainment in the Thacker Mountain tradition.

And it’s more than a chance for a team of University of Mississippi music students to acquire production experience by producing a live radio show complete with hosts, guest artists, bands and musical numbers, although it will be those things, too.

It’s the dream of one Ole Miss student to share music with young people and to integrate that dream into both her academic experience and future professional life. Ava Street, a senior music education major from Purvis and member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, was a sophomore when she began thinking about her capstone project and thesis, requirements to graduate from the Honors College.

“I approached Professor Balach with an idea for my thesis,” Street recalled, speaking of Nancy Maria Balach, artistic director of Living Music Resource and interim chair of the Department of Music. “I wanted to learn about the challenges and benefits of creating arts programming for children, and I wanted to learn by doing. I wanted to direct the program myself.

“Right after that, Professor Balach was talking with the director of ‘Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,’ who wanted a partner to help with their children’s show, and she knew it was exactly the kind of opportunity I was hoping for.”

The 2020 show is the fifth annual “Thacker Jr. Radio Hour” and the second year that Thacker has collaborated with Street and Living Music Resource.

The taping is free and open to the public. The show will air at 7 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 30) on 92.1 FM, following the 6 p.m. live broadcast of “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.”

Performers include hosts Rebecca Cohen, Nora Lynch, Mary Hellen Rhodes and Laney Schuesselin; musicians Mac Edwards, Luke Zhang and Mario Bombelli; and Captain & the Sailors, featuring Captain Alexander, Tyler Huertas, Nathan Woo and Thomas Franklin.

Special grown-up guests include children’s author Sarah Frances Hardy, who will discuss inspirations both in her writing and artwork. This year’s feature book, “Dress Me!” tells the story of a young girl who, through a series of costume changes, discovers the value in “being yourself.”

And Mississippi Teacher of the Year Hannah Gadd Ardrey will be joined by Oxford High School senior John Meagher in a conversation about the value of music and the arts in unexpected areas of life.

Street has made her mark on the production.

“We’ve had the opportunity to grow the show to an hourlong format that is truly kid-driven,” she said. “I handle auditions and casting, contract with authors and special guests, work closely with the executive director and board of ‘Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,’ meet fundraising and promotion goals, and manage the budget.”

The Ole Miss senior is assisted by fellow students who work with LMR, but she directs the entire production.

“This is a great example of the tailor-made, real-world experiences that are available through the Living Music Resource,” Balach said. “As a result of producing ‘Thacker Jr.,’ Ava has developed an impressive set of skills that will appeal to future employers.

“She’s kept track of endless logistics, in addition to making one creative decision after another that has shaped the personality of the show. We are extremely proud of her excellent work.”

Next, Street moves on to completing her thesis.

“My thesis will be about creating nonprofit arts youth programming, using two years of experience with ‘Thacker Jr.’ as an example,” she said. Her thesis will include data, planning and evaluation information, practical steps, outcomes and a section on specific benefits of expanding opportunities for children to engage with the arts in school and in the community.

Meanwhile, Street hopes that with her thesis as a manual, the expanded “Thacker Jr.” that she helped create will be her legacy. “Next year, the show will have a new director, and I’ll know that it’s in good hands,” she said.

Although Street is excited about completing her work, the thing she most appreciates about “Thacker Jr.” is getting to know some pretty remarkable young performers.

“As much as I’ve learned from managing a project like this, the best thing about it is the chance to work with these amazing kids,” she said. “Kids like hosts Rebecca Cohen and Nora Lynch are up there at 7 years old, taking responsibility for their performances, asking great questions and lighting up the stage – it’s wonderful.

“As a future educator, I love to see kids perform, because that’s what I loved to do at that age. Giving kids that opportunity has been one of the best aspects of this whole project.”

By Lynn Adams Wilkins, UM Communications

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