Fort Wayne’s Julia Meek has been sharing musical folk tales for 35 years

Julia Meek flashes her trademark peace sign in the studio where she records her "Folktales" program at local public radio station WBOI, 89.1-FM. Meek has been hosting the weekly world tour of folk music for 35 years. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Julia Meek started playing folk and other music on Fort Wayne’s public radio station in the early 1980s to fill a half hour of air time after a classical music show.

Her love for musical storytelling eventually grew into “Folktales,” a tour of folk music from around the world related to each show’s theme.

“I really do love to tell a good folktale,” said Meek, 67, who recently marked her 35th year of playing folk music on local public radio station WBOI, 89.1-FM.

The station airs the one-hour “Folktales” at 8 p.m. Saturdays and rebroadcasts it at 8 p.m. the following Wednesday.

GETTING INVOLVED

Meek, a Fort Wayne native, started at what is now WBOI in 1981 when a “Save Our Station” drive prompted her to volunteer there. The station, which had been based at the IPFW campus, was transitioning to a self-supporting, community-based station with the call letters WBNI.

At the time, the station broadcast classical music during the week and folk music on weekends, Meek said. WBNI, which continues today as a sister public radio station to WBOI, now plays classical music at 94.1-FM.

By 1982, Meek was hosting the evening drive-time classical music show, “Serenades,” on Thursdays. A lover of all types of music, she used the last half hour of her time slot to play all genres of music, “but heavy on folk,” she said.

When the station added National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” evening news program in the mid-1980s, it knocked her classical music show off the air, she said. But the volunteer host job for a weekend folk music show opened up. Meek took it, and “Folktales” was born.

Station officials thought she’d pick one country each week and play music from that country, she recalled.

“That would bore me,” said Meek, who now works full time as WBOI’s arts and culture reporter.

For her first show, she picked a theme of going around the equator and pulled music from countries all along the line marking the Earth’s middle. She’s used the weekly theme approach ever since.

“Putting together one of my shows is like painting,” said Meek, who is a local graphic artist.

BUILDING A SHOW

Folktales themes have included seasonal celebrations, weather, good and bad character attributes, the back roads, urban living and many, many more.

“It can be anything,” Meek said.

She’ll be going about her day and something will happen and she’ll say, “That’s a folktale,” she said. She also appreciates theme suggestions from other people.

“I really, really, really do believe music is the best way to understand and appreciate the people of the world,” Meek said. “Music is their moving, walking pace, and you get the feeling of them.”

When selecting music for a theme, Meek turns to a spreadsheet she maintains that lists all of the folk music in WBOI’s collection and keywords for finding songs based on a theme.

Volunteer John Dawkins, a local musician and student who serves as co-producer and librarian for “Folktales,” usually pulls the music for Meek.

Most of the music is on CDs (compact discs), she said. Folk musicians and music groups, as well as record companies, send folk music CDs to the station for use on Meek’s show.

Meek also mentions the musicians on the show and uses social media to promote the artist or group’s music being played on her show.

“Folktales” has been available to other public radio stations as a syndicated show since 2012, she said. It airs on stations around Indiana and the United States, especially her seasonal specials.

The shows also are available internationally via web streaming, she said.

One of her proud moments came from discovering a radio station in New Zealand broadcast one of her St. Patrick’s Day specials.

A SECOND SHOW

About eight years ago, Meek also launched a second show on WBOI, “Meet the Music.” The program, which airs 8-10 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, gives local bands and musicians a chance to tell their own stories by coming to the radio station to chat with Meek and to play a sampling of their music.

“I love giving people a chance to tell their stories,” she said.

“She definitely has a good ear,” said Bob Roets, a friend of Meek and owner of the three Wooden Nickel Records stores in Fort Wayne.

When Meek hears a band and says they are good, she’s rarely wrong, Roets said.

“Probably the coolest thing she’s done is expose local music fans to acts that probably don’t get a lot of recognition,” Roets said.

Most bars and nightspots want bands that play covers of popular rock songs, he said. That makes it difficult for acoustic and Americana musicians to find places to perform and to build a following.

LOOKING AHEAD

“Every single day I get up, it’s a joy,” said Meek, who is known for flashing people the peace sign.

Her family always told folktales to share stories, and she’s been playing music since she was a girl. She loves making art – one upcoming project will involve refreshing the giant mural of Fort Wayne she painted on the south side of the building next to Hyde Brothers, Booksellers, 1428 Wells St.

“All of the things I love, I never quit doing any of them,” she said of her life and career.

That includes volunteering for WBOI. Her host duties for “Folktales” and “Meet the Music” both still are volunteer positions.

“The work I do, every day and every way, I hope it matters,” she said. “I’m so glad I get to tell the stories.”

HAVE A LISTEN

To hear past “Folktales” programs, go to Public Radio Exchange at http://www.prx.org. In the search window, search for Folktales and then click on a program title to hear the show.

LEARN MORE

Julia Meek’s local music programs on WBOI, 89.1-FM, are:

• “Folktales,” 8-9 p.m. Saturdays and encore 8-9 p.m. Wednesdays

• “Meet the Music,” 8-10 p.m. Thursdays and encore 8-10 p.m. Mondays

For more about “Folktales,” go to http://wboi.org/programs/folktales#stream/0 or search on Facebook for WBOI’s Folktales.

For more about “Meet the Music,” go to http://wboi.org/programs/meet-music#stream/0 or go on Facebook to https://www.facebook.com/meetthemusic/.

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