Kathy “Sully” Roddy loves and deeply appreciates all music genres, but her passion is Americana, roots, country, and bluegrass.
Born and raised in the Bay area of California in Palo Alto, Sully grew up in the Hootenanny era of music. “When I was eleven or twelve, an older sister brought home records by Judy Collins, Doc Watson, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Woody Guthrie, and Jim Kweskin. We listened to the records on my parents’ big wood stereo system.” Later, another sister discovered country music, and Sully began listening to Loretta Lynn and George Jones, as well as Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. “My parents were very musical. My dad had a beautiful voice, and he sang in church choirs. My grandfather was from Ireland, and he played the concertina.” Sully recalls her mother loving music and dancing to it around the house. The family has talented musical offspring as well. “My sister is the mother to my talented niece, Molly Tuttle.”
After high school, Sully attended a local Foothill College, where she did a folk and bluegrass show on KFJC, the campus radio station. After college, she took a job at the Tiki Inn Motel.
“They only had an AM radio, and the best station I could find was a country station. I really fell in love with country music. I thought that if young people could be introduced to country and bluegrass music, as well as roots music, the way FM music was presented, they would love it, too.”
In 1975, Sully heard there was a progressive rock format station, KFAT, in Gilroy, an hour away. “They were country and roots music based. I drove there and convinced the program director to give me a shot. As it turns out, several of their on-air staff had walked out, and he was tired of doing a show, so he led me to the studio and told me to have at it.” Having never been in that studio, Sully did a two-hour show, not knowing that the program director was listening from a bar downstairs. “He hired me and gave me the graveyard shift. He hired more on-air staff, and we all loved music. If someone discovered a new kind of music, they would bring it in for everyone to hear. The format kept expanding until, sadly, the station was sold.”
Sully moved to Oregon and worked for a station there that had a progressive rock format. The station sold in the early 1980s, so she moved back to California and worked at KFAT part-time while doing other jobs, including writing a Top 40 countdown show of popular music. “I stopped in a 7-11 for a soda on the way to my interview for that show and saw Sting on the cover of a Rolling Stone magazine. I didn’t know who Sting was, but I figured I needed to find out. People just assumed I knew all the top pop artists of the day, and I found that if I kept my mouth shut, they wouldn’t know otherwise.”
Sully got to know Rob Bleetstein, whose first job out of college was at KHIP, a renegade country station that also played rock music. “Rob loved music, and he went to the music industry magazines about doing charts for the kind of music we were playing.” He coined the term ‘Americana’ and started the Americana music chart in 1995 in the Gavin Report, a radio trade publication.
What Sully wanted was a show on KSAN, the Bay area’s largest country station. Despite her efforts, she couldn’t get in.
“One day, I put a note inside a glass bottle along with a silk orchid and some seashells. I boxed it up and sent it to the program director. He loved that and called me in for an interview. I was eight months pregnant. He waited until I had my baby to put me on the air. That was in early 1989. I started doing a show called ‘All Kinds of Country.’”
Her next stop was at an early internet station called Spinner.com in San Francisco. “I played all kinds of music, from bluegrass, Americana, country, rockabilly, to Southern Gospel. AOL bought it and called it Roots Music Radio. I was the director until it merged with Time Warner, and we were all out.”
Not certain about the future of radio, Sully went back to school and got a teaching license in special education. She taught for a while, but Covid shut that down. But she is still very much in radio.
“I am on KKUP, a non-commercial station, one time a month, and on Bluegrass Country out of Washington, DC, once a week. I also do a show called Bluegrass Signal on KALW-FM once a month. I do the shows from home on my own little studio setup. I will do one original show live; then the stations run it a few times a week.”
Sully says she listens to all kinds of music but can’t do anything else when she is listening.
“I can’t even listen to music when I drive. When Bela Fleck’s “My Bluegrass Heart” album came out, I almost wrecked the car listening to Slippery Eel.”