Wandering the Dial with Radio Vagabond
Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that programming and managing an internet radio station is a labor of love. It also might just be the future of radio.
Danny Birch of Radio Vagabond certainly has a passion for music, which is the most important quality of all.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio? What other stations have you worked at and what were they like? You can include other industry-related jobs too.
Danny Birch: I’ve worked at quite a few stations through the years, [including] KASR (1982-1985) — a closed carrier station at Arizona State University, and KEYX, an early alt-rock FM format. From there I went to KVCU, a University of Coloradio at Boulder station. I was co-host of a show called “Skip, Pop, Scratch” — three hours of country, folk and blues. Then finally to KCUV in 2003, they were the first commercial Americana format station in Denver, now no longer with us. During that time I also worked at many records stores, most of which are now defunct, including Tower Records for eight years, Waterloo Records in Austin (still around), also Watermelon Records. I ended up at Virgin Records from 1997 to 2001 and it became the first “chain store” to report monthly Americana sales to No Depression’s retail chart.
Where do you work now?
Radio Vagabond is an Americana internet station, and we’ve been on the air for over 11 years. The format encompasses country, folk, blues, rockabilly, vintage and alt-country, and alt-rock. On any given week, we will have 100 new songs from 60-65 artists. Independent (unsigned/small label) releases comprise roughly 10 percent.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
In the late ’80s, I made “Desert Rock” tapes for driving. Most of those artists are now considered forerunners of Americana.
In 1988, at a Tower Records convention, I met John Kunz at a trade booth for Watermelon Records (Tish Hinojosa, Darden Smith, Alejandro Escovedo and others).
Delving further into Texas music, I found Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, and never looked back. While I was in Austin, Cactus Café hosted a release party for Tulare Dust with Dave Alvin, Peter Case, and Tom Russell. That was amazing.
What artists define Americana music for you?
American core artists include Townes, Guy, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Billy Joe Shaver, Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Dave Alvin, Ryan Adams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tom Russell, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Drive-By Truckers …
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
Americana as a radio programming choice was once dismissed due to not enough core artists or important newcomers, but that’s no longer a valid argument. As other formats stagnate, Americana continuously introduces amazing new talent to the mix. It will never be as popular or profitable as other mainstream formats but with its “open-door” policy, it is the most exciting listening option.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Hayes Carll and Elizabeth Cook are tops this year. There has also been great new music from John Prine, Drive-By Truckers, Jesse Dayton, and Jack Ingram.
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
Hearing great new music every week, championing artist like Wrinkle Neck Mules, Trevor Alguire, Otis Gibbs, and Stephen Simmons who, otherwise, would be unknown. These artists and more deserve a wider audience and I’m proud to do my small part.