IN taking Scotland's top country music radio show across the Atlantic to the American headquarters of the country music industry, Bryan Burnett managed to create a symbolic summary of his programme's strengths. Aye, when The Brand New Opry last month went to the home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, it occasioned a rare union between country's young pretenders and its long-established elite.

For, as Burnett explains, The Brand New Opry first came about to alert Radio Scotland listeners to the emergence of a fresh country music generation. ''The programme's intentions have always been summed up by its title - we're a new twist on an old form,'' says Burnett, still slightly jet-lagged from a week in Nashville during which he broadcast one live edition of his show to his usual Scottish audience as well as recording a mammoth collection of interviews for future programmes.

''At the same time, we're always keen to keep the balance right. We do play songs that people will be more familiar with; you will find an old Tammy Wynette album track next to something new by singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.

''One of the great things about our live Nashville show on January 25 was the mix of performers we had in the same studio. We had 10 live guests in our two-hour slot, with the whole thing done at Nashville's Starstruck Studios, which are owned by Reba McEntire.

''So in the same room, standing virtually back to back, you had 70-year-old Earl Scruggs and his son right next to country's latest female hopeful, Cyndi Thomson, a Georgia peach who couldn't get over the fact that any weird-sounding Scottish folk like us could possibly be interested in country music.

''There, too, in his best glittery jacket, was one of the veterans of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, Bill Anderson, alongside a grungey-looking young star of what's come to be termed alt country or Americana, Matthew Ryan. But without us having been in town, none of these folk would have come into contact with each other.

''None of these artists' records gets played together on US country radio and, in the same way, the performers neither work on the same gig circuit together nor socialise in Nashville.''

The Brand New Opry seems to have grown a brand new audience to match the emergence of the alt country/Americana genre. Shucks, that thar new-fangled interwebsurfing e-technology doo-dad seems to have encouraged the process.

''Before The Brand New Opry, country music on Radio Scotland tended towards safe, conservative, middle-of-the-road trad country tunes. Initially, our more critical and contemporary take on country led us to receive the occasional note scrawled in green ink on lined paper - 'Give us back Daniel O'Donnell!'

''E-mail has changed everything. We have a younger audience that is forever engaging us in a two-way relationship. It's not just a reactive one, either. They're always suggesting new stuff to us, offering play-lists.

''It's been a joy to see the rise of alt country as a recognised genre over the past decade when at the start all you had was the spirit of Gram Parsons and some bands with youthful energy.''

Burnett's own levels of youthful energy were depleted by his Nashville work-load. ''There was one day on which interviews began at 9.30am and ended at 1.30am. The whole week was one interview after another.

''Probably the highlight for me was being in Twang Trust Studio, an old-fashioned place using analogue technology complete with lots of valves. It's co-owned by Steve Earle and guitarist Ray Kennedy, who has 200 guitars in racks there. He'd get one

down and play it, and somehow its tone would remind you that it was in Twang Trust that Kennedy helped Lucinda Williams record her epic Car Wheels on a

Gravel Road album.''

Burnett continues to wax

quiversome whenever one of his faves does a live acoustic sesh in The Brand New Opry's regular Glasgow home - a shoebox-sized basement deep beneath Ca Va Studios. ''To be sitting there beside folk like Alison Moorer and Rodney Crowell, or chatting away to Iris DeMent in a face-to-face audience of one as she plays piano . . . I feel blessed.''

You'll thank the Lord, too, for this Friday's Nashville edition of The Brand New Opry. ''We've

a couple of special features. We met up with Paul Burch, of Lambchop, and Jason Ringenberg, once of Jason and the Scorchers, to discuss the state of alt country.

''We also went to Nashville's Bluebird Cafe, the premier singer-songwriter try-out venue. Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea, and Trisha Yearwood all got big breaks there, and Kim

Richey was a waitress. The Bluebird's motto is 'Sssh . . .' No-one is allowed to talk during performances.

''Fittingly, the programme

will have music from Ray

Benson, who founded his retro Texan swing outfit Asleep at

the Wheel 30 years ago, as

well as from Nickel Creek. They're a revivalist bluegrass outfit with an average age of 21/22, bringing enthusiasm to a traditional form.

''Undoubtedly, my biggest thrill on The Brand New Opry is hearing from listeners who say: 'I had to buy this album and I love it - and I would never have got to hear it without your show'.''

Presented by rhinestone cowboy Bryan Burnett, The Brand New Opry is broadcast on Radio Scotland every Friday at 7.05pm.



The Brand New Opry began life on Radio Scotland in April, 1994, as an in-house BBC production. One year later, the weekly programme became the responsibility of Glasgow-based indie Neon Productions. Bryan Burnett has been its sole presentational voice.

In its lifetime, the show has interviewed every big name in contemporary country music, from Garth Brooks to Townes van Zandt, Reba McEntire to Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris to Steve Earle.

Born in Aberdeen, Bryan Burnett began his media career in the Granite City while he was still a schoolboy at Summerhill Academy. ''Throughout my teens I'd been doing music reviews for a range of DC Thomson publications, joining their Dundee head office full-time straight from school aged 17. Following in the footsteps of Alan Cumming, I started off on teenage mags like TV Tops and Jackie. It was my job every week to come up with romantic storyline ideas for the mags' photo-stories. If all else failed, you'd scan that week's top 20 and transform a song title into a story. The whole job felt very glamorous - interviewing pop stars, going on fashion shoots, being sent to London on the train.'' Burnett retains his link to the world of print journalism via a weekly column for the Sunday Post.

Before heading south to Glasgow to join Radio Clyde in 1988, Burnett's radio career had begun in Aberdeen when he was 19 with four years at Northsound. ''I started off reviewing the music press on the station's alternative music show. I then became a stand-in presenter, working on Northsound's rock show, its soul show, on late-night phone-ins, whatever opportunity that arose.''

During his time at Northsound, Burnett ran into unexpected bother with Aberdeen's constabulary. ''I'd been doing The Lonely Hearts Club, a Sunday night request show and, unknown to me, it had been used by prisoners at Peterhead and Craiginches jails to pass coded messages to the outside world. Predictably, they'd always ask for records like I am an Innocent Man and I Fought the Law, after which I'd innocently read out stuff such as 'Tell Willie the ice cream van's coming on Wednesday'. The police came in and asked Northsound's management to have a word with their daft young lonely hearts show loon.''

It was also at Northsound that Burnett was scarred for life

by frequent exposure to a fellow-broadcaster he refers to only as ''the Midnight Nudist. He used to freak out new security guards by walking around Northsound's reception naked, accompanied by his girlfriend''. Burnet won't divulge the bare-faced flaunter's identity - he's

since gone on to become a nationally-networked big

noise - but can confirm that it's not Jimmy Young.

Burnett's screen career with STV began in 1989 with listings magazine NB. He's been presenting travel show

Scottish Passport since its start nine years ago, also handling daytime offshoot Passport Quiz. In addition, Burnett had his

hair dramatically teazled for a job on raunchy gameshow Party Animals.