Since I’ve been doing these interviews, I’ve been amazed by the intelligence and strong opinions of the radio personalities. This week’s — with Mike Trynosky of WCNI in Connecticut — is no exception.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at? What were those stations like?
Mike Trynosky: My only DJ experience is with WCNI, but I initally got involved in radio when I began training at WWUH, University of Hartford, in West Hartford, Connecticut, in July 1989. Before my training was complete, I was offered a 3 – 6 a.m. slot, but I declined. I moved out of the area before anything more happened, and it wasn’t until the summer of 1995 that I dipped my toes in the water again by helping a buddy with his weekly bluegrass show on WCNI 90.9FM [in] New London, Connecticut, [at] Connecticut College.
It was cool … pulling and filing music, hanging out. But he also got me reading PSAs, and even let me spin a few tunes. Coincidently, around this time, WCNI was giving an FCC licensing test for those interested in getting on the air, and probably less than a month later I did my first show on November 17, 1995, filling in for a regular DJ. Less than a week later, on the 22nd, I filled during the Thanksgiving holiday week at the school. In January, my buddy and I began alternated weeks with his “Blueridge Express” and my “Not Exactly Nashville.” In January 1996, he left WCNI and I began hosting “Not Exactly Nashville” every Thursday.
[Then,] in 1997, I moved to my present weekly Saturday slot from 12 – 3 p.m. This past November I celebrated my 20th anniversary hosting “Not Exactly Nashville.”
How do you describe your show and how do you define what you play?
I consider what I play American roots music — a blend of country, honky-tonk, hillbilly, western swing, country jazz, and rockabilly, with some blues, R&B, and rock and roll. And I tend to push the envelope in the jazz direction [with] musicians such as Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, Johnny Hodges, and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’m also a huge fan of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, and gypsy jazz.
I began my show during the early days of alt-country, but I never adopted the term for what I played. I refer to what I play as roots music, rather than alt-country or even Americana. The playlist of my debut show on November 17, 1995, gives an idea of what I was into at the time. Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, Buddy Miller, Gary Stewart, Dale Watson’s Cheatin’ Heart Attack, Jim Lauderdale’s Planet of Love, Kelly Willis, Spanic Boys, the Beat Farmers, Albert Lee, Danny Gatton, Webb Wilder, Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bill Kirchen, Gram Parsons, Lefty Frizzell, the Mavericks, Shaver, Rosie Flores’ Rockabilly Filly, Merle Travis, and Junior Brown. [That’s] music that that still sounds great to me, and that I still play.
Though I was familiar with the Thunderbirds, the Leroi Brothers, and Evan Johns, I was totally unprepared for what I heard coming out of Austin when I picked up a couple of compilations shortly after beginning my show. Austin Country Nights (Watermelon Records) and True Sounds of the New West (Freedom Records) blew my mind, and I immediately called Waterloo Records in Austin and picked up CDs by Cornell Hurd, Roy Heinrich, Don Walser & the Pure Texas Band, and Bruce and Charlie Robison. This began my love affair with Austin, and my numerous trips from 2001 through 2011 deepened the connection. Austin’s my musical Mecca, but, truth be told, that if I could live anywhere at any time I would choose L.A. during WWII and up until the early ’50s, when the place was jumping with C&W clubs, and Western swing was happening.
It wasn’t long after I began my show that my love of traditional jazz and country merged and I got heavily into Western swing. I grew up listening to my dad’s Woody Herman and Artie Shaw records, and I later got into pre-bebop jazz big time in the ’70s, so when I began listening to Bob Wills, I didn’t hear much of a difference, other than some of the instruments themselves.
How do you define Americana music?
Personally, I don’t like the term and have never used it do define what I play. I simply refer to what I play was roots music.
How do you prepare for your shows? What thoughts go into preparing your sets? Do you have theme shows or sets, or do you spotlight certain artists?
I have a large data base of birthdays and death dates and my shows revolve around who I decide to salute any given week. I generally play any newer music in the first couple of sets, before seguing into my birthday/death tributes. In preparation, I begin pulling music from my collection early in the week, and during the week I mull things over and do internet research.
I’ve also got a large amount of articles culled from magazines and the internet over the years that I pull out and read in preparation for my planned salutes. I’ve done entire instrumental shows and entire shows spotlighting a single artist. I recently celebrated the birthday of pianist Carl Sonny Leyland by spinning three hours of music from his 20+ solo releases and many of his sessions. In addition to tributes to Ray Price, Johnny Paycheck, and Johnny Bush, I also spotlight the sidemen, such as Hank Garland, Grady Martin, and Jimmy Day.
I’ve also recognized a lot of contemporary musicians who have done a lot of sidework but also have solo releases, like T Jarrod Bonta, Erik Hokkanen, and Dave Leroy Biller. As far as the length of my sets, they tend to run long. Seven, eight songs. I’ve done as many as a dozen.
How many new releases do you play and how much old stuff?
All depends on what you consider “old” stuff. [Stuff from the] ’30s, ’40s, ’70s? To some, music released six months ago might be considered “old.” I don’t really think about whether the music is old or new. … I do feature newer things, usually during the first couple of sets. Maybe 75 percent older to 25 percent newer.
Who was the first artist or what was the first album that turned you on to roots music?
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Asleep at the Wheel, and Gary Stewart, who in the early to mid-’70s opened my ears to country, rockabilly, and Western swing.
What artists defines Roots music for you?
Gary Stewart, Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody, and Ry Cooder.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Brennen Leigh was a busy gal last year — Lefty [Frizell] tribute, Antique Persuasions [Brennen, Brandon Rickman, and Jenee Feenor], High Plains Jamboree [Brennen, Noel McKay, Beth Chrisman, and Simon Flory], and she and Noel McKay released a wonderful Christmas album, In the Bleak Midwinter. Anything that Chicago guitarist/steel guitarist Joel Paterson plays on, including the new release from the Cactus Blossoms, and T Jarrod Bonta’s new release, Mr Jukebox. I loved the Malpass Brothers release of last year and Jason James debut was terrific.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
I think Americana radio/music will move more to the center. It seems that it’s become a place where many people are dipping their lines, and things will probably get watered down.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests?
Music’s my mistress/hobby and occupies my time. I don’t hunt, fish, [or] golf. … So music’s my thing.