The Best of KFAI

It’s the season of fundraising across the land.  As annoying as the process can be, I want to put in a plug for my favorite radio station, KFAI.  KFAI is publicly funded, but it is not a part of national public radio.  As such, it runs on a much smaller budget and does not follow the same boring fundraising scheme as NPR.  In fact, fundraising on KFAI is pretty fun, they still play plenty of good music and continue to joke around throughout.  I have supported public radio and tv for a long time as well as local stations such as KFAI.  I remember at one point, though, when I called Minnesota Public Radio to pledge of hundred bucks to which they said “So is that weekly or monthly.”  I tend to give a hundred bucks here or there to a variety of places, not $1,200 bucks to one place–and I like to give to places where they don’t have an audience they assume would be giving so much.  $100 to KFAI, I realized, means a lot more so I support them with more money, spending less on NPR.  In fact, I pledge religiously in both their fall and spring pledge drives.  So, I think in honor of this fall’s drive, I’d let those of you from other parts of the country know that you can listen to them any time now, live on the computer or on their archives for two weeks.  I haven’t lived in Minneapolis for a long time, but it’s still the radio station that feels like home to me.  Here they are, my top ten KFAI radio shows and suggested listening:

11. Ha! You thought I’d actually follow my own top-ten format. Radio Rumpus Room with Ron and Jean, Friday evenings from 9 to 10:30 is a garage-sale high-speed mixmaster missing its top, slinging a messy slop of surf, hot rod, ’60s garage, primal pop, primitive rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, psych and traditional twang since 1994. Classic.

10. Sonic Pleasure with Georgia. Early Monday mornings from 2 to 5 AM, some choice listening of old psychedelia with many tribute shows such as the Frank Zappa tribute or the recent monthlong Jerry Garcia festival.

9. The International Jazz Conspiracy. From 10:30 to 12 on Thursday evenings, this show will bring you just about anything, from Stockhausen to Beefheart to John Zorn. As host Emel Sherzad says, “Put ‘conspiracy’ in the title and you can play anything.”

8. Louisiana Rhythms. Friday mornings, 9 to 11, hosted by 4 alternating hosts: Karl Smelker, Eric Mohring, Maurine McCort & Mick Novak. They feature music from Louisiana, especially southwest Louisiana. That means lots of Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop, old and new. They’ll also sneak in some second line from New Orleans or some blues from Baton Rouge, or who knows what.

7. Dig Up the Roots. Tuesday mornings, 9 to 11, Dig Up the Roots explores the nether regions of roots music. This program showcases a wide variety of musical genres and styles from the earlier years of recorded music with tangents and threads spinning out in every direction. Host Greg Carr shows how the past doesn’t go away and how the ancient consumes the future.

6. The “Shake & Bake” show. Monday afternoons, 3 to 6 PM, the finest in world music, but as host Tony Paul says, “Isn’t all music world music?” Now on the air for 19 years, Paul says, “The idea is simple: no rules, no topics. If it’s good, we play it!”

5. The Dakota Dave Hull show. Thursday mornings, 9 to 11. Dakota Dave – an acoustic guitarist, recording artist and producer of national reputation – plows the soil, plumbs the roots, and trims the branches of a variety of traditions: Anglo-Celtic, Appalachian, Brazilian, Caribbean, jazz, blues, and more. One more show on which you’re likely to hear just about anything.

4. The Fubar Omniverse. Every Friday morning, 6 to 9 AM, Blanche presents an overwhelmingly appealing blend of funk, jazz and modern and ancient music with spiritual roots from around the world. And let’s not forget her weekly Brian Eno corner at 8 AM. Have I yet mentioned shows in which just about anything might fit in?

3. The Sugar Shop with Miss Lolly Obeda. Every Friday afternoon, drive time, 3 to 6 pm, Miss Lolly spins a fabulous blend of blues, rhythm & blues and sweet soul. No better way to start the weekend.

And now it gets really tough. We’re beyond really making meaningful distinctions about shows that are the best. But I’ve set myself up for it by making a top ten list haven’t I? Anyway, the following two shows are really tops, and if you’ve never heard them you should give them both a listen:

2. The Rockhouse, Thursday mornings from 6 to 9 with Brother Tad and Miss Sara, an audio amalgam of blues, rhythm & blues, and soul: spinning three hours of the good stuff for over 20 years now, this show never fails to surprise and entertain and enlighten and make the morning seem worthwhile. Encyclopedias of musical knowledge, it’s educational and danceable all at the same time.

1. And the number one show in my book goes to Bop Street with Pete Lee and a cast of pomaded thousands (and an ever-vigilant “research staff” of god knows how many) from the land of the round haircut. Mainly Rhythm & Blues, along with other sometimes only distantly related stuff, from the 1940s and 1950s: big voice blues shouters, honking tenor saxophones, fine – fine – superfine vocal group harmony, and powerful women of rhythm and blues. Another show that never fails to open up new musical worlds and idioms for me. Radio without Pete Lee would be like life without Tiny Bradshaw.

Any of these shows are always worth turning in to, along with such other honorable mentions as Freewheelin, Rhythm & Grooves, the Rocketship Ska Trip, Radio Antilles, Sabados Alegres, Good ‘N Country, and on and on. As they say, they’re the only station that changes the channel for you every hour. Give it a listen; maybe you’ll want to join the KFAI community too!



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