"Figured that truckers might be the only folks up and listening at that hour," Cornell says.
He's since moved to a better time slot, 8 to 10 Saturday nights (EST), but WXDU also helped to expand the station's and Cornell's audience a few years later by broadcasting online at wxdu.duke.edu.
Anyone from Bangor to Budapest can now join Durham-area truck driving men and women and others in listening to "Border Radio." Cornell's not sure how many people actually do listen from far away places - he estimates getting 50 to 200 total listeners a show - but he says it has at least planted the "illusion of a larger audience" in his mind.
"Border Radio" is one of many quality local radio shows that can be listened to anywhere in the world these days thanks to the internet. In fact, until new medical breakthroughs make it so listeners can have multiple pairs of ears attached their heads, their choices will be overwhelming.
Largely found on public and college radio stations, the shows boast knowledgeable and passionate hosts, talented regional artists that out-of-area listeners are likely unaware of and frequent live performances.
Country rock, alt.-country, rockabilly, bluegrass, Cajun, western swing, honky tonk, hillbilly and basically any other form of twang that exists are all well represented on these shows.
All it takes to listen is an internet connection - preferably broadband so listeners don't go nuts from frequent signal interruptions. Shows can be played on a variety of computer audio programs including RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, iTunes and Winamp. Some stations conveniently archive these shows to listen to anytime. Technical problems/interruptions can arise, but most stations provide some help on their sites.
Besides, how much can you really complain? You're listening for free.
Cornell, also a freelance music writer, says being online has not affected technical aspects or the music he chooses for his show.
"I still plan the show at home ahead of time, put the 30 to 35 discs for the show in a shoebox, show up at the station at 7:55, and enjoy 2 hours of music of my choosing - and 2 beers, also of my choosing," he says.
From 8 to 9 p.m. on "Border Radio," Cornell plays a large mix of national roots artists such as Rosanne Cash, Peter Case and The Silos along with local/North Carolina artists including Kenny Roby, David Childers and the Modern Don Juans and Tres Chicas. During the second hour, Cornell hosts "Soul City, NC," focusing on '60s and '70s soul music.
Other shows of a roots or country slant on WXDU include the "Bull City Cosmic Hoedown" (6-8 p.m. Tuesdays) and "A Broken Heart and a Glass of Beer" (8-10 a.m. Sundays).
Doug Gesler has hosted "Lost Highway" on MIT's WMBR (wmbr.mit.edu) since 1998. He says he expanded the focus of the show when it moved from Thursday to Saturday mornings (8 to 10 a.m. EST), where it competes against what Gesler calls the "mothership of local country radio," "Hillbilly at Harvard" (WHRB, whrb.org).
"With that in mind, I began to let the show evolve and expand into areas that I knew they didn't cover as much or at all, like Cajun, zydeco, Tex-Mex - with an accent on the Mex - blues, polka and Hawaiian," Gesler says. "I've always covered the entire history of the music I consider American roots, though exclusive of jazz, from the '20s on up, though that usually happens in the first hour, with the second hour of the show concentrating on newer releases."
Gesler makes the show as international as possible, playing artists from England, the Netherlands, Germany and Mexico. He does an all-Hawaiian show once a year and a set of Hawaiian music in the first hour of the first Saturday each month.
While he doesn't have a lot of time for online exploration, Gesler, a woodworker, loves the idea of radio on the web. He compares it to the "Wizard of Oz."
"For anybody who loves to explore music, discovering online offerings would be like that moment in Oz when Dorothy opens the door of her house after it's crash landed, and everything goes from black and white to color," he says. "While commercial radio gets increasingly shunted into smaller boxes of seemingly smaller preordained playlists, the new listening frontiers are in satellite radio and online. But the most freedom is afforded online."
WMBR has several other roots-oriented shows including two that follow "Lost Highway" on Saturdays: "Backwoods" (10 a.m.-noon) and "American Primitive" (noon-2 p.m.).
Jon Ziegler is the man behind "Jonny Z's Chicken Shack" Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon (CST) on the Milwaukee School of Engineering's WMSE (wmse.org). His show can be streamed or downloaded.
Ziegler, who also serves as lead singer of the R&B/rockabilly band the Uptown Savages, says he hears from listeners from all over.