Podcasting has been getting a lot of interest lately, but this is the first Radio Friendly interview highlighting a podcaster. I think that Calvin Powers of the Americana Music Show does one of the best podcasts out there.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio?
Calvin Powers: Like so many stories, it started with a girl. This was back in my single days, about 2002 or so. I was infatuated with this woman DJ at WXDU, which is the Duke University station in Durham, North Carolina. I wasn’t a student, but the station had a deal where members of the local community could apply for DJ positions. Sounded like fun, but basically I signed up to have a chance at being in the same building as her. My first shift was 3-5 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I remember driving to my shift, thinking the only people on the road were the drunks, the bread trucks, and me. Despite all that, I discovered that doing the show felt very good and I enjoyed it a lot.
Eventually I worked my way up in the pecking order until I had an 8 – 10 p.m. slot on Saturday nights. At the time I had a “playlist show,” which had me playing lots of indie rock, college rock, and prog rock. That was fine with me at the time. But the DJ after me, Rick Cornell, had a roots music show, and we’d chat with each other during shift change. One day he walks in and hands me a CD saying that a label had sent him two copies. So he offered it to me. It was The Gourds’ Cow, Fish, Fowl, Or Pig. That album changed me forever and turned me to the roots music side of life. I’ve never looked back. And the girl? She never even gave me the time of day. There’s a country song in there somewhere.
I can’t remember the exact year, I think it was 2005, I heard that a new community radio station was starting in Carrboro, North Carolina. Carrboro, “the Paris of the Piedmont,” is just west of Chapel Hill, where I was living at the time, and I spent a fair amount of my hanging out time in Carrboro. So I jumped at the chance to get a roots music show on WCOM. The show went through several name changes over the years, but the name I used most was Taproot Radio.
Around 2006, I discovered the world of podcasting and began recording local music and interviewing local bands. It was my first experience doing interviews and I discovered how much I enjoyed it. I had both the show on WCOM and the podcast for several years. Around 2009 I changed the name of both the podcast and the radio show to the Americana Music Show and that name has stuck to the present day.
In 2015, I heard that another community station was starting up in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which is a beautiful small town just west of Durham. As much as I enjoyed my time at WCOM, I jumped at the chance to get a prime time spot at WHUP.
Where do you work now, and what’s the name of your show?
How do you describe your show and how do you define what you play?
The tagline for my show is “hand-picked, road-tested, American music.”
“Hand-picked” means that I personally audition music that is submitted to the show and I personally pick the albums that are featured. No computer-generated playlists.
“Road-tested” means that I audition music while driving around in my car. It has to sound good while I’m traveling down the road. I often tell people that I’ll turn your commute into a road trip.
“American” music means, well, it has to sound like it couldn’t have come from anywhere but the USA. That doesn’t mean that artists have to be from the USA. I’ve played music from the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and other places.
How do you define Americana music?
For me, Americana is an adjective, not a genre. If the sound is made with blood and guts and real instruments, and it sounds like it came from the United States — especially the Deep South and Texas — then you can probably call it Americana.
How do you prepare for your shows? What thoughts go into preparing your sets?
I interview a band/artist each episode of the show and feature tracks from their album. The interviews are usually about 26 minutes and I feature about 90 minutes of music. I try not to overthink the music sets, but I do pay attention to the energy level from one song to the next. I don’t do themes, but I like to find ways to connect one song to the next, musically. For example, I might feature a gospel tune that has a killer Hammond B3 music line in it and then follow it up with a rock song that has a Hammond riff in the background.
How many new releases do you play? Do you play many independent artists?
I play almost exclusively new releases and reissues. The Americana Music Show is a music discovery show where you can discover your next favorite band. I play many familiar names in the Americana scene, but I enjoy trying to be the first to discover a new band or singer that everyone needs to hear. So yes, I play many independent artists.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre? What artist define Americana music for you ?
This is a nearly impossible question for me. I guess I’ll say some of the icons in the genre, for me at least, are Lucinda Williams, Drive-By Truckers, The Gourds, Ray Wylie Hubbard, James McMurtry, and Buddy Miller. And if we lived in a fair universe, Malcolm Holcombe and Eilen Jewell would also have icon status.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
The convergence of blues, country, roots rock, and soul will continue. [I] don’t know what it will end up being called. I hope it’s called Americana because I think I’ll cry if I have to change the name of my show again. But whatever it’s called, it will be music made on real instruments, made and sung by real people, for real people.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
My top picks from 2015 were Eilen Jewell’s Sundown over Ghost Town, The Wood Brothers’ Paradise, Malcolm Holcombe’s RCA Sessions (and his 2016 release, Another Black Hole), Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Ruffian’s Misfortune, James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Kevin Gordon’s Long Gone Time, Mandolin Orange’s Such Jubilee, 6 String Drag’s Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll, JJ Grey’s Ol’ Glory, and Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free.
So far in 2016, I’m digging Matt Patershuk’s I Was So Fond Of You, the Blind Willie Johnson tribute album called God Don’t Never Change, Sarah Borges’ Good and Dirty, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers’ Sidelong, Corin Raymond’s Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams, Phil Cook’s Southland Mission, Julie Rhodes’ Bound to Meet the Devil, and Luther Dickinson’s Blues & Ballads.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests, or anything else you wish to share?
Gosh I dunno. I have lots of interests in all kinds of media production and show design. But the Americana Music Show tends to suck up every minute of my free time.