Chris Roulhac sends love across the airways

by Brian Clarey

The studio of WQFS, Guilford College’s radio station at 90.9 on the FM dial, lies at the end of a labrynthine hallway on the second floor of Founders Hall next to a seldom-used elevator and a men’s room with the door propped open. Chris Roulhac’s name is misspelled on the station’s 2005 summer schedule thumbtacked to a bulletin board on the wall, even though she’ll celebrate her sixth anniversary as a community DJ and host of ‘“The North Carolina Music Show’” (Wednesdays from noon until 2 p.m.) this week, but she’s a pretty cool chick and she lets it slide.

She’s plugging a benefit on the air today, devoting in fact her entire show to the story of Lee Welker, a teenage guitar prodigy from Greensboro who was taken from this world too soon. The benefit at the Blind Tiger will include a host of local bands like Lube, Marcus & the Mantras and Blue Bambooza and the proceeds will go to a scholarship fund begun in the boy’s name by his mother.

‘“I’m gonna start off the next set with an original tune by Lee Welker,’” she breathes into the mic in her soft drawl and then hits the switch on ‘“Starlight Breaks,’” a gentle instrumental on acoustic guitar, before filling out the information on her playlist.

It’s freezing in here, a measure to protect the transmitter and rows of shelved vinyl against warpage, and Chris wears a red hoodie sweatshirt while she sits at the soundboard.

‘“I could play anything I want,’” she says while the tune spins away, ‘“but I feel grateful for the opportunity to help people. I think helping people is the most important thing you can do.’”

She’s known around town as a champion of causes major and minor. She’s the first to publicize benefits on her show, and she’s the type who actually shows up at the events as well. And her philanthropy spreads from her radio show into other projects. Just this year Roulhac organized a Triad-wide benefit for the tsunami in Asia, an effort that comprised 62 bands at 11 venues in three cities.

The benefit raised more than $8,000, she says, ‘“and it snowed that day.’”

Roulhac supports a community that once gave her a shoulder to lean on, when her grief seemed insurmountable and her burden too heavy to bear.

‘“I’m a widow. I don’t know if you knew that,’” she says in the studio, its walls busy with graffitoed ink drawings, pencil sketches, carvings, Magic Marker rantings and juvenile caricature. She lost her husband suddenly almost five years ago and was left to face the world with her son Will, then five years old.

‘“I know it sounds kind of sappy,’” she says, ‘“but when my husband died, having this show, being tied to this’… well’… the music is healing.’”

Now she fingers through a collection of CDs she’s brought with her in a case.

‘“What’s next’… I think I’ll go with some Marcus,’” and she pulls out the latest recording from Marcus & the Mantras, a four-piece outfit with a high profile on the NC bar circuit. While she’s queuing the cut an overhead light strobes, signaling a caller. She answers the phone and recognizes the voice right off.

‘“How’s it goin’, how’s it goin’?’… Oh cool’… I hear you’… well bless your heart, I was worried about that’…so do you have any shows? A tiki party? Hmmm.’”

It’s local musician Bob Sykes from the Revelators, among other bands, and he’s got some news about another benefit, this one for bassist Chris Carroll held at the Tiger a few days prior and where Roulhac worked the donation booth for most of the early evening.

‘“Chris was in the hospital for three weeks,’” she says. ‘“Can you imagine?’”

And the show goes on, with heartfelt love going out over the airways for local artists and anyone who needs someone to lean on.

‘“Lee Welker died when he was just nineteen years old,’” she says on the air. After she’s turned down the mic she says, ‘“Can you imagine losing a child?’”

The show was originally offered to her husband when WQFS was looking for community DJs in 1999.

‘“I said, ‘I kinda would like to have a little radio show,”” she recalls. ‘“So I ended up doing it and it has definitely been one of the highlights of my entire life.’” She fills out her playlist and shuffles a few CDs around on the desktop.

‘“You know I’m really shy,’” she continues. ‘“Who would have ever imagined I would do this?’”

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