Radio Americana: New Music with an Old Heartbeat
Thanks to Ken Kesey and the Oregon Country Fair and the state university, Eugene has always been a bit of a haven for hippies and hipsters. It makes sense that it has a public radio station with some cool shows like Radio Americana, hosted by Nanci LaVelle.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at and what were the stations like?
Nanci LaVelle: I came to radio late in my life. I have a master’s degree from UCLA in film and television and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in film and television critical studies. When I graduated from all that schooling, I began to teach film and video production. Taught at Cal State Chico for four years and then moved back to Oregon and taught at Lane Community College for the next 21 years. I taught all sorts of production skills, including a three-course audio sequence that taught basic audio skills, audio for radio, and audio for film and video production. When a friend at the KLCC station needed a substitute for her show Women’s Music, I stepped in. After a year of subbing for her she decided to step down and I took over. I renamed the show Sisters and hosted it for nine years. Had a brush with breast cancer and took some time off. When I returned, I was asked to develop and host an Americana show. That was in 2014.
When is your show on and how do you describe it?
Radio Americana is on Monday nights from 9:30 to 11 p.m. on KLCC in Eugene, 89.7 FM. I do a mix of traditional country, folk, blues, alt-country, alternative, and singer-songwriter. At least 75% are new releases.
How do you prepare for your shows?
I prepare by checking out new releases each week on a variety of websites including Americana Boogie, Alternate Root, New Releases Now, Twang Nation, Rolling Stone, and iTunes. It’s kinda hard to explain my setlists because I have no hard and fast rules about selection. I just know it when I hear it. I usually play about 22 songs in my show. I preselect the music and burn it onto 2-3 CDs. That’s what I take to the station. System works well for me since I don’t have to juggle a lot of material, I can just mix from the CDs. That way everything stays pretty organized as I mix in promos, PSAs, and underwriting. It’s a busy 90 minutes for sure.
How much new and independent releases do you play?
I play mostly new releases. Mixing in 10-20% oldies. I make no distinction between independents and major labels. If I like it, I play it.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
My husband has done a folk and traditional show, The Back Porch, on KLCC for over 25 years and a show on KCHO in Chico, California, for 10 years before that, so this music has always been in the soundtrack of our lives.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Willie Nelson hands down!
How do you define what Americana music is?
I think of Americana as a fusion of music that has evolved from traditional forms. It is new music with an old heartbeat.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
This is a tough question. Unfortunately, I fear that radio as we know it is changing rapidly. More and more, my audience is folks who have grown up with radio. It is very difficult to find younger people, who clearly have a preference for internet forms of delivery. Although I am heartened by the influx of young people maintaining traditional sounds through their own performances.
What are your most memorable experiences from working in the music industry?
I love conferences and the chance to mingle with the artists. Also love when artists come through town and I can feature some cuts live in the studio. I had never heard of Mudbone but he called me when he was in town to perform and I had him stop by the show. Wow! Blown away by his talent and charm. Those are great moments of discovery.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I like new albums by Chris Stapleton, Marley’s Ghost, Wood Brothers, The Oh Hellos, Rhiannon Giddens, Jason Isbell, The Lumineers, Mandolin Orange …
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
I’m inspired by the music I haven’t heard yet. Every week when I’m at the console I am so excited about sharing new discoveries with people —especially when they call and tell me they love some new song or new artist they haven’t heard of. That 90 minutes every week is like my zen cocoon. I sit all alone and listen to great music and it sets my spirit for the week. That’s what I want to do for my listeners.
What are your most proud accomplishments?