Popular Annapolis disc jockey Michael A. Buckley set out three years ago to do a weekly radio show on the Chesapeake Bay, but he wasn't interested in talking about water quality tests or the latest government study on the bay's health.
He wanted to tell the stories of people who lived near, worked on and loved the bay- the tugboat captains, backyard environmentalists and crabbers.
The result - "Voices of the Chesapeake Bay" - is nearly 30 hours of interviews, portions of which have been aired on Buckley's "Sunday Brunch" show on WRNR-FM, and two CD compilations.
Tonight, Buckley will showcase some of the musical, artistic and poetic voices he's heard at the second "Voices of the Chesapeake Bay" concert at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis.
On the bill are Tom Wisner, also known as the "Bard of the Chesapeake;" the Chesapeake Scenes, a five-member group from Rock Hall, and Them Eastport Oyster Boys, who have been known to bring the house down with a number called "SAV" (submerged aquatic vegetation).
The concert also will celebrate the 100th birthday of the Stanley Norman, a restored skipjack used as an education vessel by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"The concert is an opportunity to celebrate the music of the bay," said Buckley, "and it allows us to add to the canon of music out there, which is really a wonderful thing."
Buckley also hopes to raise money through concert ticket sales to continue his "Voices of the Bay" radio interview series, and transfer the tapes to CDs, work that he does in his home editing studio.
"My goal is to take what has turned into a substantial archive - about 50 interviews and still counting - and get them into regional and educational libraries," said Buckley, 45, who said he's borrowed $5,000 to make ends meet because he's devoting so much time to the project.
His commitment to the "Voices" show does not surprise friends and colleagues who have helped him keep it going.
"Mike is about identifying a cause, being it and living it," said Claudia Donegan, tributary team coordinator with the state Department of Natural Resources. She and biologist Robin Jung helped Buckley find subjects and conduct interviews for the first "Voices" series.
"Everyone talks about the bay with a focus on water quality - which is very important - and fish, and natural resources," Donegan said. "But I think what gets missed is some of the human and historical aspects of the bay that sort of connect people to it on different levels beyond the scientific."
Topics in the most recent "Voices" interview series, which concluded last month, included, "Citizens in Action for the Watershed," "Annapolis Sailing," "Wooden Boat Restoration," "Native Americans of Maryland and the Riverkeepers," and "Songs of the Chesapeake."
"The show has a nice balance," Donegan said. "It doesn't point fingers, it never said the bay is dying. It just draws out the human community that's been woven into the bay."
Buckley became captivated by the Chesapeake seven years ago when he moved to Annapolis after a peripatetic existence that took him to Philadelphia, Berkeley, Calif., New York and across Europe, working as a lighting technician, theater producer, curator and arts administrator.
"When I came across Route 50 and the scenic Severn River Bridge," Buckley recalled, "for the first time in my life after traveling all those years, I felt like I was at home and I still feel like that every time I cross over that bridge.
"There's something about this place, with the water all around, it's a magical place," he said.
Buckley made his home in a "little red house" on a bluff overlooking the Severn River, frequently kayaking into the nooks and crannies of area waters.
In 1999, Buckley began the first 10-week series of Voices with an hourlong interview on his three-hour "Sunday Brunch" radio show. The show took a hiatus until late last year when Buckley returned with eight weeks of interviews. Last month, he completed a five-week series.
The interviews air in three seven-minute segments each hour, so as not to alienate WRNR's devoted music listeners.
Bogs and seahorses
"We talk bogs and sailing, canoes, kayaking, seahorses," Buckley said. "It allows you to see the place you live in through fresh eyes. The whole idea of a sense of place, and lifelong learning are the driving forces behind the idea of this program."
Buckley doesn't envision continuing the "Voices" project beyond five years, enough time - he hopes - to place the CD interview collections in school and public libraries. The Key School in Annapolis and Salisbury University have the $100 10-CD set in their collections. He completed a two-CD set, which will sell for $20.
Buckley's looking forward to tonight's concert and hearing Chesapeake legend and bluesman Earl White - the 80-something former first mate of the Stanley Norman, and an educator on the vessel - debut a song about the skipjack. Singer Ronnie Dove is scheduled to close the show with his composition, "Save the Bay."
"I'm hoping he'll come up there in rhinestones or his Robert Goulet tuxedo and really lay it on thick," he said. "It's a very special moment. That's all I'll say about it."
The Voices of the Chesapeake Bay concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St. in Annapolis. Tickets are $22. Information: 410-268-4545.