Annie Stillwater Gray

Excerpt from Annie’s afterword in Welcome Radio:

Tales From the General Store Andy, Julie, and I sat at a table in a down-home restaurant in Fort Kent, Maine. Harlequin had just purchased one of Julie’s books and she was rosy with success.

“Thanks for the CDs of your radio show,” she said, a gleam in her eyes. “You know, you’re crazy if you don’t write a book about this show.”

I realized she was right. I had already penned hundreds of scripts for The General Store Variety Show. Why not compose a book around some of them?

“Good idea,” Andy and I agreed. “Even people who have never heard the radio show will enjoy this material.” My love affairs with both radio and writing began when my age was in the single digits. My mother had the radio playing all day long. I remember listening to the musical hits of the day while creating little eight- and ten-page books filled with stories and illustrations. Following my graduation from Boston University with a BFA in graphic arts, with a minor in English, I worked designing knitwear in a textile mill outside of Hartford, Connecticut.

My office was on the third floor with the giant machines that chugged along, spinning the double-knit fabric. Radio was my constant companion. One day, I walked into my favorite station, WHCN, and introduced myself to the deejays. Less than two years later, I traveled to Boston to take the engineering test to get my FCC license with broadcast endorsement, and my radio career began. After a stint on college radio, I was hired by WHCN, Hartford. Throughout my years working on the commercial end of the dial, I continued to volunteer on the noncommercial end.

Due mainly to the Communications Act of 1996, commercial radio changed quickly. Many small stations that served local communities were purchased by large corporations and homogenized. I hung on, working at four stations broadcasting out of Skowhegan, Maine. Everywhere less and less of the broadcast day was actually live. On one station, I voice tracked, that is I entered my voice into the computer for later airplay. I’d drive around and listen to myself back rap the music.

On one computerized, prerecorded, dedication show, there was no way to actually take live phone requests, so I made them up. Once in a while, a listener would snail mail an actual request to me, but mostly I created people, relationships, and scenarios, including the start of John and Lucy’s storyline. Late one snowy February night in 1999, my husband Andy and I were talking radio. In a rant about what radio had lost and what it could be, we came up with the concept of our program, and The General Store Variety Show was born.

We were both so excited that we stayed up most of the night talking and planning. My intention when designing the show was to be innovative while employing the best elements of radio, some of them long forgotten or little used, such as theme-based shows and a radio serial. I also wanted to create a sense of place, somewhere the listener could visit each week to relax and be entertained. After setting up a recording studio in our home, we enlisted friends and acquaintances that do theater, radio, and performances. We could never have gotten this project off the ground without the diverse voices from the community. The General Store Variety Show debuted on WERU, our flagship station, in March 2000.

When I sat down to begin writing this book, I realized I wanted to give the readers something extra, something more than they get when listening to the skits and characters on the radio show. After all, Andy and I only have an hour each week on the radio. The book allows me to go into greater depth with the location, the store, and characters, especially Annie. Beyond this, I add a new level to life in the radio village. I take the readers and everyone in the mythical valley of Angels’ Notch to a new place, a magical place.

Besides being a radio producer and a writer, I am a mystic. This is a choice I made two decades ago, and I have since been nurturing my psychic abilities and employing them to help people. I teach people how to activate the telepathic centers in their brains so that they can communicate in many ways, but especially with their spirit helpers. Three very dynamic Spirit Guides appear in this book, though I have yet to introduce any on the radio show. Darci Stillwater deserves special notice, because he is my personal Spirit Guide, my life guide, and often my partner in writing. Although he has never appeared on the radio show, he is a pivotal character in this book.

Thank you for reading this book and entering the world of The General Store in Angel’s Notch, Maine.

Visit Annie and Andy at the General Store Web Site!

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