Chicken Scratch out of Humboldt County
In the upper left corner of California, what they call the Lost Coast, there’s a commercial radio station called KHUM that has very eclectic playlist. They call themselves “Radio without the Rules,” and one of their feature shows is The Chicken Scratch Show, hosted by Darren Weiss.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio?
Darren Weiss: My first and only experience in radio is hosting The Chicken Scratch Show on KHUM. I took over the show in August 2010, after being the sub for the prior hosts for about two years preceding.
How do you describe your show?
The Chicken Scratch Show features a big scoop of country & western, with some swing and bluegrass mixed in for a healthy diet of good music. The show is on KHUM, Ferndale, every Monday night from 7 to 9 p.m.
How do you prepare for your shows?
There is no specific set list for the show; it’s fairly spontaneously generated. Most of the playlist is from my own collection. As I listen to music at home, I add the tracks I like to a running playlist. The playlist is really a hodge-podge mixture of whatever I’m feeling. The running playlist is usually ~300 tracks and for a two-hour set, I can usually squeeze in up to 30-35 tracks.
I try hard to not pigeonhole myself into any particular label, but there’s a consistent “feel” each week. I try to not play the same artist twice in the same night (unless there are special circumstances), and I try not to play the same song within my recent memory; that keeps it fresh for me. When I first started, I put a lot more time into curating a two hours session with meaning … I found it took a lot of work, and sounded stale. These days I let it fly, and try to build it as it goes with varying feels, genres, etc. A friend/co-host, Cody Johns, joins me most times in the studio. He’s an avid vinyl collector, and he’ll often bring records in and we’ll add the to the set list as well.
How much new releases and old stuff do you play?
It’s mostly older/vintage music, from the ’30s through the ’70s. I really like playing new releases, but it usually has to have a classic vibe to it. Luckily, there’s quite a bit of new music coming out these days that fits the bill. Probably 10-20 percent of the tracklist is “modern.”
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
I listened to a lot of folk music growing up going to summer camp. A mentor of mine gave me his record collection when I was in high school, and it was full of classic rock and folk albums. Over time, I was bequeathed a few other archives to add to my collection. At this point, I haven’t even listened to everything I have. I got David Grisman’s Acousticity album in high school at the local music shop, which led to Old & In The Way. After that, Blake & Rice. Once I found John Hartford’s Aereo-plain album, it was all over. Red Clay Ramblers’ double album with Twisted Laurel/Merchants Lunch got a lot of play time, too.
How do you define what Americana music is?
I never have defined it. For me, music is a spectrum rather than individual bins. Hence, I’ll play Louis Prima or Nat King Cole in the same playlist with the Dinning Sisters, Tex Ritter, or Jimmy Martin. For the Chicken Scratch Show I have a certain sound/feel that I try to focus on, but really anything I like is fair game.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
It seems more popular now than in any other time in my life.
What are your most memorable experiences from working in the music industry?
Getting yelled out by an irate listener who thought that the Russian Lullaby was political! Also, since I play mandolin, I went to the Mandolin Symposium the first few years it was put on, and got to sit at the feet of nearly every living mandolin master. David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Don Stiernberg, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Andy Statman, Tim O’Brien, etc. It turns out they’re all human, and practice(d) a lot. It was a good lesson to learn.
What projects are you working on next?
Maybe making a road map of country songs, or Bluegrass Clue (who did it, where, and with what?).
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
Doing my weekly radio show is a fun gig … it feels more like play than work, and that’s how I like it! It guarantees me two hours every week listening to music I like!
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
So many good artists are coming out with new records. I really liked Zephaniah O’Hora’s latest release, This Highway. I also like the new Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Courtney Granger’s When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind … this list could go on forever.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
I’m pretty good at sailing, but I’m still practicing docking/undocking my boat! I play mandolin/tenor guitar in a couple of local bluegrass/honky-tonk bands. And my “day job” is I’m an engineer, working with large- and small-scale renewable energy.