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'Mr. Country Gold' signs off

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J.D. Higgins has retired after 24 years as a radio DJ with WBRF-98.1 FM in Galax

By Shannon Watkins

On WBRF 98.1’s, July 28 “Mr. Country Gold” show, DJs Derrick Davis and J.D. Higgins — Mr. Country Gold himself — played many songs about saying goodbye.

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That’s no great surprise; lots of classic country songs, like the old-time mountain music they spring from, are about sadness, loss and regret.

But there was a special poignancy to this episode: it was Higgins’ last one.

The DJ, residing in Sparta, N.C., but spending Saturdays 8-10 a.m. in Galax, has passed 24 years spinning country hits that true fans of the genre love and adore, giving just enough friendly patter to show his personality but always letting the music speak for itself.

“I’m for the hardcore country fan,” he declared.

“Back On My Mind Again” by Ronnie Milsap, “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You” by Ray Price, “Falling Leaves” by Grandpa Jones, “Frog for the Water” by Porter Wagoner and “I Miss You Already” by Faron Young were among the songs Higgins said goodbye with.

He and Davis swapped jokes like the old friends they are.

“If you don’t stay close to the country classics, I’m coming back here,” threatened Higgins.

Davis called off-mike, “Hand me that AC/DC!” cracking them both up.

“We might not have busted the town of Nashville open,” Higgins noted later, “but they knew we were here.”

With big hair, a big smile, a big voice and big style that conjures up images of the Grand Ole Opry at its peak, and a big-hearted love of country music and its loyal fans, Higgins has been a staple for WBRF listeners.

At his final show, he told them he’d received many phone calls from fans, and that the lobby was crowded with well-wishers “from all over creation,” some who indeed traveled a long way to say goodbye.

A man identified as Kevin and his wife, Carmen, drove down all the way from Red Line, Penn. to send Higgins off. Kevin had only been listening to Higgins for two months, he said (WBRF also broadcasts over the internet), but had fallen in love with it and was thinking of moving down to Galax as a result.

Higgins joked, “I said up ‘til now we’ve had a million calls, but now we’ve got TWO million calls.”

“Nobody can fill J.D.’s shoes — he’s irreplaceable,” said Debby Stringer, WBRF station manager.

Higgins, with a mischievous grin in his voice, told a story about Stringer: years ago, she and her husband had an argument in Hillsville that left the latter so mad, he walked back to Galax “and stepped on a skunk in the dark!”

Higgins spent the last show giving the same fan service as always by filling requests graciously.

“For a special lady in Asheville… nobody else down here will play it, but I will,” said Higgins, leading into Dierks Bentley’s “House of Gold.”

A little while later, he offered “Farewell Party” by Gene Watson “for a hard-boiled country music fan down in Salisbury, N.C.”

He made sure to let his co-host know that he’d be missed, as well.

“You’ve always been a good friend,” Higgins told Davis. Overcome with feeling, he asked Davis to play another song.

“Heck, I may be here until dark,” Higgins joked a little later.

“We’ve told a few stories, haven’t we?” asked Davis.

“And one of ‘em was the truth!” Higgins fired back.

After a while, though, the party wound down. “You people have given me memories that will last me for the rest of my life,” Higgins said.

Finally, Higgins ended, “I’ll leave you with this…” and played Willie Nelson’s “The Party’s Over.”

While Nelson got the last song, Higgins got the last spoken word as he told his audience “You’re my family. This has not been my show, it’s been your show.”