Greg Versen a.k.a. "The Professah"
Greg Versen was born and reared in Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is located on the Mississippi River at the southern end of the Mississippi Delta. The Mississippi Delta is reputed to have its beginning in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, Memphis, Tennessee and end at Catfish Row, Vicksburg. He graduated from HV Cooper High School and received his BA from Mississippi College, Clinton. At MC Versen was a member of the student government,and was selected for Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities. He ran cross country, was captain of the track team and in 2007 he was inducted into the Mississippi College Sports Hall of Fame.
After receiving his MSSW from the University of Tennessee School of Social Work, Versen served four years as a Captain, Medical Services Corps, U. S. Army. He served one year with the Correctional Training Facility, Fort Riley, Kansas, for which he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service. He then served three years at the US Army’s 97th General Hospital, Frankfurt, Germany.
Upon his discharge from the army, Versen taught five and a half years in the undergraduate social work program, Mississippi University for Women, Columbus, Mississippi. In 1977 Versen joined the faculty of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was an Associate Professor and Director of Field Placement in the Department of Social Work, which offers the Bachelor of Social Work degree. In 1991 Versen was given the Outstanding Faculty Award by the College of Health and Human Services. In 1997 the Virginia Social Work Education Consortium presented him with the Outstanding Teacher Award. The Virginia Chapter, National Association of Social Work presented Versen with a Life-time Achievement award in 2001. He retired in 2002 from JMU after 25 years and was awarded Professor Emeritus status.
Versen has had a life-long interest in music despite the discovery during third grade piano lessons that he had no musical talent. Blues and rhythm and blues music he grew up listening to on records and WLAC radio, Nashville, Tennessee, which broadcast that style music late at night, shaped his musical tastes. It was Jimmy Reed's music that hooked him on blues, followed by bluesmen John Lee Hooker and Freddie King.
After moving to the Shenandoah Valley, Versen discovered that cable TV also carried radio stations from Washington, DC. Here he discovered blues on the radio. WDCU and WPFW were two of the stations he listened to on a regular basis. It was only after the cable service discontinued providing these radio broadcasts and a growing need to get his blues needs met that Versen approached WMRA station manager Bill Miller with the request that the station "play some blues." His response, "Well, why don’t you do it." As Versen had never had any radio experience, he asked for some time to think about it before making a decision.
Versen contacted Bill Barlow, host of Blue Monday, WPFW, and asked for a chance to visit on a Monday night to talk about what was involved in doing a blues radio show. Barlow was very supportive of the idea and offered any help that was needed. The next challenge was finding enough music to play, as both Versen's and the station's blues library were severely limited. Stuart Downs, owner of the Music Museum in downtown Harrisonburg, made his new and used records available at no charge — "Just return them on Monday."
With the needed support in place, Versen agreed to host a blues show for one semester. The next challenge, what to name the program and what would be its theme song. Versen was aware of Blues Alley in Georgetown and decided to put a local twist on that revered music venue; thus was born Blues Valley. The first theme song used by Versen was from his own record collection: Jimmy Reed's "Down in Virginia."
On Friday, January 4, 1985, 9:00-11:00, Blues Valley made its debut. In a part of Virginia where bluegrass reigned supreme, public radio listeners opened their ears and hearts to music offered on Blues Valley. Listener response was so positive that Versen agreed to continue "for at least the next year." That was more than a quarter century ago and counting.
Over the years Blues Valley has experienced some changes. When Versen discovered a tune by Elmore James, "Madison Blues," he decided it would make a great theme song as WMRA is licensed to James Madison University. Blues Valley moved from Friday to Saturday night and program hours grew from its original two-hour format to its current time of 8:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m. In 2008 WMRA began streaming on-line, and now Versen can count Blues Valley listeners in such faraway places as California, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Mississippi, Canada, and Europe.
Versen is married, has three children and four grandchildren, who call him "Popa Blues."