CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For a radio show with 30 years to its credit, the cast and crew of "Mountain Stage" have been remarkably stable. Many of the key people who began with the program in the early 1980s have stuck with it as it's grown, expanded and evolved from a rough "Prairie Home Companion" knockoff into the indie music institution it has become.
The people who work on the show are fiercely loyal to the program, but some do leave.
While "Mountain Stage" is one of West Virginia's cultural jewels, it's a job -- and for most of the staff, it's only a part-time job. And people leave jobs. They retire and quit, but just because they've moved on doesn't mean they've completely lost touch with the show. Here's what's happened to a few of them.
Associate producer Linda McSparin was the most recent departure, leaving the show at the end of 2011.
The 63-year-old joined "Mountain Stage" during its chaotic early days, back when the very fragile project was trying to figure out its identity. She came along when help was desperately needed to manage the millions of little details that come with putting on something the scale and magnitude of a nationally distributed radio program.
While host Larry Groce was always the heart of the show, executive producer Andy Ridenour and McSparin served as the left and right sides of the show's brain. Ridenour was the music guy, the taskmaster and lobbyist. McSparin kept track of the paperwork, figured out legal and business issues. She made sure the checks got written and people got paid.
After Ridenour left, McSparin said, her retirement was inevitable.
"It was time to go," she said. "It was a time for young people and new ideas. I had 27 years, and I'm not a very creative person, I'm an organizer, and if it had fallen only to me, the show would have gotten stale real fast."
McSparin said she misses the show, but it was always so hard to get away from it.
She said, "We were on such a weird schedule. You'd have this great vacation planned, maybe two weeks off to go to the beach or maybe to Europe and -- wait, Bob Dylan called and he wants to do the show this Sunday.
"It was always iffy, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
In retirement, McSparin had to get used to not having so much responsibility or deadlines to meet.
"My favorite part has just been being able to pick up and go," she said. "I can go anytime I want for as long as I want."
McSparin said she spends a lot of time with her family. She has kids and grandkids in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Her mother still lives in Missouri, where she thought she'd probably wind up, eventually.
"I haven't lived there in 47 years," McSparin said. "And I just feel drawn back to it, I guess."
It's a plan that's in the works.
"The main thing I've been doing lately is going through the house. I'm downsizing, which is realizing what you have and what you don't need that's been sitting around for years. I've found a lot of things that bring back a lot of memories."
One of the "Mountain Stage" founders, Andy Ridenour took a quiet bow from the show more than two years ago. He began turning duties over to producer Adam Harris even before that, then disappeared from Charleston altogether not long after his last day.
The 64-year-old said, "Well, I left West Virginia and went back to D.C., where I'm from. I got married. We're blending two families: my two girls, and she's got two boys. It's like the Brady Bunch, only they're all grown up and they like each other."
Marriage suits him and also provides him with the means to live in the city where he grew up.
"I couldn't afford to live here on my retirement," he said. "Fortunately, my wife has a good-paying gig."
Ridenour said he keeps busy. He plays a lot of golf and volunteers a couple of days a week at WAMU, where he helps edit and program bluegrass and country content for the station.
Things have changed in the 40 years or so since he last called Washington, D.C., home.
"I drive friends crazy when I drive by some place and I tell them that's where the LaSalle/Packard dealership used to be."
Still, he said, it's good to be back home.
From the early 1980s into the late 1990s, Don Wafer served as production and stage manager of the show, duties since handed off to Paul Flaherty. He had a lot of influence on what "Mountain Stage" would be.
Wafer came to the show through West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Wafer, at the time a recent graduate from the State University of New York-Geneseo, was hired on as the cultural affairs producer just as "Mountain Stage" was getting started.
He had a communications degree and a background in college radio.
"One of the things we did in New York was we put coffeehouse music on the air live," the 52-year-old said.
Among some of the performers he worked with were folk artists Robin and Linda Williams, who later became regular guests on "A Prairie Home Companion."
Wafer was brought in to help build up the show from the small production it was to something more marketable for radio.
Wafer said he loved working with "Mountain Stage," particularly when the show was live.
He laughed and said, "I just enjoyed watching people sweat."
Wafer left the show in the late 1990s after his wife was promoted at financial advisers Smith-Barney. "We moved to New Haven, Conn., and I ended up becoming a stay-at-home housedad," he said.
Still, he kept in broadcasting a little, got involved with doing public address announcing during sports for Yale University.
"We moved again in 2009, this time to Atlanta," Wafer said. "I'm still doing pretty much the same thing."
John Kessler's path took him west, though not directly. He started with the show as a guest, as a member of the Putnam County Pickers.
Deni Bonet and Julie Adams of The Fabulous Twister Sisters helped the band get the gig. The pair convinced Larry Groce and Andy Ridenour that they were used to performing with the Pickers.
Bonet and Adams became regulars, and soon after so did Kessler. "I had no idea what I was getting into," he said.
Bonet and Kessler later married.
Kessler, 56, was the show's first music director and became a local music producer for bands like Crazy Jane, Strawfyssh and Mother Nang, but he and Bonet decided they wanted to try to break into the music business in New York. So, in 1994, they packed up their things and drove north.
The marriage didn't survive the trip. The pair soon split. Bonet stayed in New York and Kessler returned to Charleston.