On The Tracks with the Freight Train Boogie
Well, after operating this column for months, I figure it’s about time I take a look in the mirror and answer my own questions about radio and being a DJ. This week’s subject is me.
What else can I say? I agree with everything this guy has to say!
Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at? What were the stations like?
I started in radio in the mid-’70s at UC Berkeley’s station, KALX. We were only 10 watts, but because our studio was at the top of the Berkeley hills, our signal covered the whole Bay Area. I was there for the birth of punk music and we were one of the first college stations to feature it.
From there, I went to KTIM in San Rafael, one of the last real free-form stations in the area. We played everything from Ornette Coleman to Waylon Jennings to the Ramones. I was a weekend DJ and our signal didn’t go too far. We didn’t get paid much, but it was a fun station that felt like a family, until we were bought up by a corporate weasel who didn’t get what we were playing.
Next, it was San Francisco’s short-lived KKCY, known as “The City.” It never quite gelled as a free-form rock station, but it had some great staff like Norman Davis, Bobby Dale, Michael Knight, Marshall Phillips. I was only doing production and support stuff and, once again, its signal wasn’t great.
I was a mailman in San Francisco all this time to support my music “habit.” After a long radio hiatus, I ended up living in Sonoma County, an hour north of San Francisco. The local public TV station started their own FM station, KRCB, around 1993. It was there that I started the Freight Train Boogie show, a weekly two-hour Americana show that was moved to KRSH three years ago. “The Krush” is a Santa Rosa station that plays a Roots/AAA mix and is about the only commercial station that plays an eclectic mix of rock and roots music.
Where do you work now and how do you describe your show?
In addition to my Freight Train Boogie show on Tuesday nights, 7 – 9 p.m., I am also on KRSH Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 2 – 6 p.m. On FTB, I play a lot of Americana music, including some folk, bluegrass, and old school country.
I also do a weekly one-hour podcast show, also called Freight Train Boogie, that focuses more on indie Americana new releases. The podcasts get up to two thousand downloads per show and it’s been going strong for over seven years now.
How do you prepare for your shows?
I learned radio way back when, from free-form radio stations in the Bay Area, and I was lucky to get to know some of the DJs. It was from them that I learned to “trust the muse” and my ears, knowing that I can pick each song as the last one fades, always looking for good, tasteful segues. I bring in a couple hundred CDs and have a basic idea of where I’m going and what I’m going to play, but each show tends to form itself as it goes along.
How many new releases do you play, and do you play much old stuff?
I tend to play a lot of new releases because I am a firm believer that there’s loads of great music being put out there all the time and there are less places to hear new music these days. I always play some old school country like Merle, Loretta, and Buck, and I still love the ’70s “progressive” country stuff.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
One of the first albums that comes to mind is the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, which, along with the Byrd’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel, and others, opened my mind to hippies playing country music. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken was another important album that pointed me toward the bluegrass and country music pioneers.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre, and what artists define Americana music for you?
Well, that’s a real tough question! Who thought these up anyway? A few come to mind, totally random really: The Lovin’ Spoonful, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, Mink DeVille, Buddy Miller, Albert Lee, Shelby Lynne, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gary Stewart, Doug Sahm, Jason Isbell, Robbie Fulks, and 50 others!
How do you define Americana music?
Americana was originally created as a radio format, which it still is. Because of the Americana Music Association, it’s become something greater. I appreciate that the word has become better-known to define a genre that is so diverse. I happen to love country, blues, rock, folk, and soul music, and the best Americana music includes some of these elements. I believe that there’s a place where George Jones and Al Green intersect, and it’s that soulful place that you can feel with your heart.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
I think good music on terrestrial radio is dying a slow death as more internet options compete for your ears. As we get better wifi in our cars, it’ll speed up the decline. I do not enjoy Pandora or most of the satellite and internet options because there’s not enough variety … or they don’t have any personality. That’s one reason why I’ve started my own internet radio station, Americana Boogie Radio. I’m mixing up all that is Americana with vintage country, rock, blues, and more. It’s automated but I try to manage it tastefully. I still believe in the old free-form adage that the segue is king, and I always try to keep that in mind.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
This year has been a good one so far with great albums from Darrell Scott, Margo Price, Colvin & Earle, the Honeycutters, Austin Lucas, Parker Millsap, and many more. Sturgill Simpson’s new one has grown on me and I am looking forward to the new Time Jumpers. I just heard an album today by a guy named Zach Schmidt that‘s real nice. I get a lot of joy out of discovering a new artist or a new approach to roots music. Between two radio stations and a podcast, I’m fortunate to have many places to share my love of music.