Eclectic “Debts” from North Carolina
Ever since I started this column, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to learn the background and inside stories from these invisible radio “artists.”
Scott Greenberg, who currently works in Charlotte, North Carolina, has bounced around different stations through the years, always keeping his vision intact. We talk about that and more in the interview below … and I too remember seeing Jason and the Scorchers and Lone Justice on MTV, way back when.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio, and what other stations have you worked at?
Scott Greenberg: I started in 1981, WSHJ 88.3 FM (Southfield, Michigan) [at] my high school radio station. In college [at Michigan State University], I did shows at WLFT-AM (The LEFT) and WDBM-FM (The IMPACT) on and off between 1984 and ’89.
[Then,] in 1991, I was hired at WCAR-AM in Garden City, Michigan, as a board operator. I was there until 1998. While I was there, I did mostly board op and production. Eventually, they let me have an hour of air time per week. It was a news magazine of the arts called “Refuge,” and it ran from 1994 to ’96.
I took a break from radio in 1998 to concentrate full-time on a new career as a copywriter. I returned to radio in 2003 as a volunteer at WHFR-FM in Dearborn, Michigan, [and] was there from 2003 to 2006. This is where my current show, “Debts No Honest Man Can Pay,” was born.
During that time, I made an ill-fated move to Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 2004. I was there for four and a half months. During that short time, I got involved at WLFM-FM in Appleton, Wisconsin, where “Debts” aired for a couple of months. By September, I was back in Detroit, and “Debts” was back on the air at WHFR, where … I remained until the spring of 2006, when I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. It took me a while to find a new radio home, but “Debts” and I landed at WGWG-FM in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, in the fall of 2006. In early 2012, [the show and] I moved to Plaza Midwood Community Radio in Charlotte.
Where do you work now and what hours is the show on?
“Debts No Honest Man Can Pay” just celebrated 13 years on the air. It airs Saturdays, noon – 2 p.m. on Plaza Midwood Community Radio and there’s an encore presentation Thursdays, 9 – 11 p.m.
How do you describe your show?
Two rock-solid hours of musical eclectica and other noodle stories.
It started with a heavy emphasis on roots, alt-country, [and] cowpunk, with a power-pop chaser, and those genres are still heavily represented. However, I love so many different kinds of music that, as the show matured, so did my tastes. It evolved into this gloriously unwieldy eclectic beast.
I’ve always talked a lot on the show, but rarely ever is it “topical.” It’s mostly me nerding out about music, etc., and sharing stories about my life and experiences. I’d never survive on commercial radio. I like to talk too much.
How do you define Americana music?
I still struggle with the word “Americana.” As a dyed-in-the-wool music nerd who holds a day job in the creative end of the e-commerce world while hosting a weekend radio show, the word “Americana” is something of a double-edged sword to me. At times, I appreciate the shorthand it offers when talking music in certain contexts. But at the end of the day, it’s a marketing term that may very well have been coined by someone who wouldn’t know Bill Monroe from Marilyn Monroe.
I prefer to refer to it as roots music, when we’re talking in the purest sense, and roots-rock when we’re talking something more contemporary. I even still lovingly embrace terms like “alt-country,” “cowpunk,” and “y’allternative.” I also really love the idea of “insurgent country.” Regardless, I think it’s a spectrum that [stretches] from traditional folk and includes roots-rock, country, blues, bluegrass, jazz, gospel, soul, Celtic, Klezmer, and any and all hybrids and permutations. At it’s best, it’s roots music without borders.
How do you prepare for your shows and what thoughts go into preparing your sets?
I miss the days when I’d schlep a backpack full of CDs into the station, get there early, and rifle through the library, and/or see what was in my mailbox and have a rough idea of the show that would slowly come together … perhaps incorporate an audible or three.
Since I moved to PMCR, it’s totally grassroots. I supply 100 percent of my own music, and I run the show from my laptop, which means that sometime on Friday, I’ll create a playlist in iTunes, then use Virtual DJ on the air. Often times, I’ll do new release features and spotlight previously featured new releases, but I also get random inspiration to do theme sets, or I’ll play eerily similar-sounding songs back-to-back and call it “Audio Separated at Birth.” I rarely do complete theme shows, though.
However, on the show after Bowie passed, there was no way I wasn’t going to play wall-to-wall Bowie.
How many new releases, old stuff, and independent artists do you play?
Tons of new stuff, but I love sharing the older stuff I love too.
Define “independent” these days. If the music is good, I don’t care if it’s indie or not, but I always like it a little bit more when it’s indie. Let’s put it this way: 99.9 percent of the folks at my day job have never heard of 99.9 percent of the artists I play.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
My gateway drugs were Jason & the Scorchers and Lone Justice. I was like, “I’ve been waiting to hear country music like this my whole life.” I saw LJ on MTV on the “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” Premiere Party. I’d also seen Jason on MTV, and [the Scorchers] got marginal airplay on the local AOR station.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Bruce Springsteen is my absolute favorite, but I also love the Replacements, Los Lobos, the French band Air, Roxy Music, Jimmy Smith (I could listen to Hammond B-3 organ music all day long), and a million other different things. While I was answering these questions, I was listening to the superlative new record by Damien Jurado.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
I honestly don’t know, and that’s what’s most exciting about it. As long as it keeps going, that’s a good thing.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
As a kid who grew up in Motown, I am a huge fan of Mayer Hawthorne. He’s the best live act this side of E Street. The Hold Steady’s Boys & Girls in America renewed my faith in rock & roll. Damien Jurado’s new album is outstanding.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
My show is my hobby, but it’s more than that. It’s a labor of love.