Australian “Sweetheart” in Indiana
Last year at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville, I started talking to a guy about the nice Western shirt he was wearing and about how much I love Western shirts too. He told me his story about moving to the States from his native Australia to support his wife’s passion for roots music and radio. This week, I’m featuring his wife, Angela Backstrom.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at? What were those stations like?
Angela Backstrom: I had previously been involved in radio in the early 2000s back in Melbourne, Australia, helping out on a friend’s radio program on PBS 106.7 FM for a number of years. [But] my real start was October 2014, when I started hosting “Roots For Breakfast” every other Saturday on WFHB, which eventually evolved into [what] became my weekly Americana Radio program, “Sweetheart of the Radio” (listen on demand) around January 2015.
WFHB is a wonderfully diverse community radio station that captures the charm and community of Bloomington, Indiana.
Where do you work now and what hours, show name?
I have my weekly Saturday show, “Sweetheart of the Radio,” from 8 to 10 a.m. ET and also a weekly music mix show every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET, both on WFHB. I also interview/host when Americana artists are coming to town on our “Firehouse Sessions” and work as genre director, which involves reviewing all the Americana albums that come into our station and reporting on AMA charts on a weekly basis.
How do you describe your show and how do you define what you play?
Well, it needs to have some twang! “Sweetheart of the Radio” is my way that I can support new Americana/folk/alt-country/Ameripolitan music. I research weekly and work hard to get new albums on the radio as fast as I get them.
How do you define Americana music?
I prefer my Americana music to be country-influenced, but I would best describe it to be a place for good roots music that is mostly overlooked by mainstream media.
How do you prepare for your shows and what thoughts go into preparing your sets?
My theme is usually the newest and the latest music, and then I go from there in planning. Also I keep a calendar of touring artists and keep those [who are] coming to town in high rotation. I also select songs from albums that may have a shot at my yearly Top 10 list. Of course, if I have a guest DJ — touring or local artist — I will spotlight them and their local show. I prepare my shows usually a few days before I go to air. I like to talk about the artists I am playing and hopefully share some pieces of knowledge that might inspire a listener to dig deeper on an artist they just heard.
How many new releases do you play and how much is old stuff?
Most shows, I play 6-8 news songs per hour, some classic ’70s country or honky-tonk, and as many independent artists as I can find, plus small-to-mid-size labels — nothing too commercial.
What was the first artist or album that turned you on to roots music?
Around 1994, I discovered Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See… I heard it playing in my favorite record store, Missing Link — a kind of Melbourne institution. After that, I fell into a deep well of folk and alt-country female company. From there [I listened] to Cat Power and Neko Case, and then the rest is history.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre? What artists define Americana music for you ?
I have so many! But currently on rotation for me are Cody Jinks, Whitey Morgan, Dori Freeman, Jason James, Austin Lucas, Ruby Boots, The Cactus Blossoms, Marlon Williams, Colter Wall, Tami Neilson, Sam Outlaw, Michael Monroe Goodman, Dallas Moore, Jericho Woods, Mike & the Moonpies, Andrew Combs, Hayes Carll, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, John Moreland … I better stop at that. Ray Wylie Hubbard is the definition of Americana music for me. I always like to joke around that I would love to be in RWH or Chris Knight cult if they ever get one started.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
If you can stream your show or have podcasts, I think those shows will see the most growth. The internet is an amazing tool of delivering all this information, and you need to find a way to be different from all that noise.
I think supporting independent artists should be the aim. What’s the point of only playing the classics and [the] same artists you hear all the time? I think, to stay relevant, radio needs to support working artists [and help them] to get their music out to the masses, so they don’t give up. It’s so tough to carve out an existence as a musician and only very few make any good money out of it, so in my humble opinion it’s radio’s job to be the support these artists need.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut album has me in a frenzy, and the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming will be one of my top albums for 2016.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests? Anything else you wish to share?
I run a vintage Western wear group on Facebook with over 3,000 members. I also collect vintage Western wear and have an old Cornely chainstitch machine that I hope to get decent on so I can start making more Western clothing like the great Nathan Turk.
Also maybe I should point out I am an Australian living in the USA. My hubby found a job on LinkedIn, and around three years ago we made the move from Melbourne, Australia, to Bloomington, Indiana. It’s been an amazing journey and I have loved every second of it.