A Tribute to Uncle Gram Tupelo

As college radio DJs, we’re often told how much of an impact our airplay has on the music industry. What we find out for ourselves is the impact it has on our local community.

Mark Lyvers embodied this community as Uncle Gram, the host of Red Bank Bar and Grill. For more than 20 years, Uncle Gram gained a following in Columbia and beyond playing Americana music to loyal listeners. The show first aired in 1978 – until his retirement Lyvers saw the station through some of it’s most vital historic moments: the shutdown of 1995, the WUSC feature in Rolling Stone Magazine and the infamous world record for simultaneous yo-yoing. He watched the station become what it is today, influencing nearly every DJ he crossed paths with along the way.

When the time came for him to hang up his headphones in 2015, it became even more clear to us how much Red Bank Bar and Grill had woven itself into the Columbia community. Mark witnessed a lot of history at WUSC, but more importantly he made history. His show was a constant in a market known for its inconsistencies, and a presence like his is not something that most college radio stations can claim to have.

This is why every WUSC disc jockey – past and present – felt the weight of his death this August. DJs like Mark keep our station’s identity rooted in our history and community, and WUSC will remember and honor Uncle Gram for years to come.

Tomorrow morning WUSC will host a final tribute to Uncle Gram Tupelo on air from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friends and fans alike are invited to tune in and listen as his family, fellow DJs, musicians and dearest friends gather in-studio – as he often did – and “play tribute” to Uncle Gram.

How our DJs and listeners remember Uncle Gram:

Mark—Uncle Gram Tupelo—and I crossed paths a lot by sharing Americana artists who passed through Columbia, mainly those who appeared at folk venues, on our respective radio stations, WUSC and WQXL. There was never any kind of “competition” but mutual sharing and respect for the artists we enjoyed, since Americana was for “The Red Bank Bar and Grill,” and Christian folk was for WQXL. Mark and I really loved seeing each other at the concerts, and he was the most genuine guy you could ever meet!

He was truly one of the good guys. I never heard him speak an ill word about anyone. He was positive and reticent and spoke when he meant it and he always meant well.  The word for him – in my mind – is FIDELITY. In his music, his friendship, his deep and sweet love for his wife, whom he always called “BabyDoll,” and his family. He was a treasure I am so fortunate to have known.

In my second semester at WUSC, in the late ‘90s, I lucked into snagging the show that followed Uncle Gram’s, and I’m forever grateful for that. Mark’s knowledge of all genres of music, his appreciation for his listeners, his professionalism on the air, and his welcoming persona off it are traits that many young DJs and I could aspire to but probably never equal. He turned me on to many artists that I might not have discovered otherwise, and he is the main reason I set out to do an Americana show many years later. I’m fortunate to have been able to call him a friend.

He was always so generous with the undergraduate DJs. I filled in for him a few times, and I knew I seriously had to step up my game to come close to his listeners’ standards. One show was a tribute to Gram Parsons, and another was to Jeff Tweedy. (Uncle Gram’s) influence was immense, and his show kicked ass.

I never had the pleasure of getting to meet Uncle Gram, but his impact on WUSC and the Columbia community through his love and dedication to Americana is unquestionable. WUSC will fondly remember him and all that he did for college radio in Columbia.

Uncle Graham was the epitome of WUSC-FM alumni DJ. His was the second longest running alumni show and he was one of the anchors of the station, those voices that were there year in, year out. You could count on hearing his voice every Saturday morning when you tuned in. He was a bright voice on the bright point on the dial.


Jordan Smith