Home is where the heart is

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
November 13, 2005

As one of the first radio stations in America, WNOX was also the first electronic beacon of country music. The signal, which could be heard as far away as New York City, introduced the east coast to future legends such as June Carter, Roy Acuff and Archie Campbell.

The station’s live performances, first from its studios at the top of the Andrew Johnson Hotel, then later from the site of the old Whittle Springs Hotel, were the precursors of similar live radio programming at the Grand Ole Opry. Legendary guitarist Chet Atkins played at WNOX and honed his heralded picking skills with hours of practice in a studio on Gay Street.

Atkins, who like Kenny Chesney was a Luttrell native, is credited for creating the “Nashville sound,” not the “Knoxville sound.” Thousands of would-be country music stars are toiling away at restaurants in Belle Mead rather than 180 miles east in Knoxville, as was our birthright.

We Knoxvillians were either ashamed of this redneck, unsophisticated musical sound or were oblivious to this community asset perched squarely underneath our nose. We were in position to be the home of country music. Our “Cradle of Country Music” signage downtown is interesting and informative, but I would love to swap those signs for Nashville’s annual Fanfare convention and the CMA awards.

Knoxville ignored a natural, organic economic and cultural strength – and now it’s gone.

Take a few deep breaths and repeat after me while you click your heels together: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” it may be that everything we’ve been looking for is right here in front of us, if we’ll just see it.

I am a huge fan of the Knoxville Zoo. So are most people I talk to. The frustrating fact, however, is that a bunch of those Zoo fans haven’t visited the park in years. A review of the top 50 tourist attractions in Tennessee reveals that the only Knox County entity on the list is the Knoxville Zoo. Other than UT football, the Zoo is the most popular entertainment in town. Although the Knoxville Zoo is a municipally owned facility, it receives only 18 percent of its operating budget from government sources, less than half what most zoos get. The zoo is an organization that very quietly leverages its public dollars, attracting 400,000 people a year through its gates – many of them from out of town. Whether we realize it or not, the Zoo is already Knoxville’s year ‘round tourist attraction. Just look at the license plates in the parking lot.

But this column isn’t about the Zoo. It is about us, the citizens of Knoxville. An old business joke is that an expert is anyone from out of town. Perhaps the community equivalent is that a great economic development opportunity is something (anything?) from out of town. Human nature is to assume that the grass is always greener in Chattanooga. What’s closest to us, personally as well as civically, we tend to consider inadequate—and we have the face lift and breast augmentation statistics to prove it.

By the way, first quarter 2005 attendance at the Tennessee Theatre placed it among the top 50 theater-style concert venues in the world, ahead of the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. There’s no place like home.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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