Living the Blues with Bill Bowker
Of all the DJs and artists I’ve interviewed in these Radio Friendly columns, I probably know this guy the best. In fact, he helped me get hired at KRSH, so I guess I owe him this at least. As you will read, he is passionate about the blues!
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio? What other stations have you worked at, and what were the stations like?
Bill Bowker: Ok, we’re going back a while now. August 15, 1969 (the first day of Woodstock), I started at KUDU in Ventura, California, an AM country station. It was my first taste of country music. We were playing Bob Wills, the Hanks … Williams and Thompson, Merle Haggard, and more. Being a blues-loving person, I realized there was a whole lot of blues in this music. KUDU’s sister station, KBBY, was an automated FM station where a few of us talked the station manager into letting us do live “underground radio” from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. I then moved to KNAC, Long Beach, then KYMS, Santa Ana, both total freeform formats. Then KWST and KROQ, both in Los Angeles. In 1979, we moved north to Santa Rosa and I started at KVRE, where I stayed till 1988. They were Sonoma County’s most popular station for many years. and I am currently at KRSH, where I’ve been for 23 years. Pretty much my whole radio career, I’ve had creative control of my programs. I’m feeling rather fortunate!
Where do you work now?
The aforementioned KRSH, known as “The Krush,” still in Santa Rosa. I do the afternoon drive, 3-7 p.m. I also do a blues show there called “Blues With Bowker” on Sunday evenings, 7-9. I’m very excited to have just started a low-power FM station in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the “Birthplace of the Blues”, WXXO/XRDS-FM. It’s a blues/roots format where you’ll everything from Muddy Waters to Ray Wylie Hubbard to Jesse Mae Hemphill, as well as many up-and-coming Mississippi Delta acts.
How do you describe your show?
A pretty casual afternoon get-together, occasional live, in-studio guests going along with a lot of roots music.
Do you have theme shows or sets or spotlight certain artists?
I have a couple of segments each afternoon, “501 Blues” at 5 and “Twin Spin,” that spotlight specific themes or artists.
How much new releases do you play and do you play much old stuff?
I pretty much try to get 4 or 5 new tracks in an hour. That would include independent releases as well. Older stuff I mix in as I see fit.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
The first time I heard Howlin’ Wolf when I was about 11 years old, and it scared me to death! From then on I was hooked.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
It really changes from time to time: Howlin’ Wolf, Mickey Newbury, Guy Clark, Charlie Musselwhite, and Lucinda Williams come to mind right now.
What does Americana music mean to you?
I prefer “roots” rather the term Americana. To me, it’s whatever is honest and done for the sole purpose of creating art.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
Broadcast radio is so necessary! I wish more owners would realize the importance of local radio. You can be successful in your own community by servicing your community. There are ways to get a signal in an area. We just did one in Clarkdale. Sun Radio in Austin has the right idea, and Nashville’s coming around with WMOT. Local!
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Levi Parham’s These American Blues, Luther Dickinson’s latest, Jesse Dayton’s new one, The Revealer. On the blues side, Lurrie Bell and Guy King’s albums are both great. Doyle Bramhall II’s Rich Man is superb!
What inspires you or keeps you going?
Along with doing radio, I’ve also been involved in booking and producing shows and concerts for at least the last 20 years. Also, I’m co-managing an Americana artist, David Luning, who has just released a record, Restless. It’s all about the music!