Monday, September 8, 2008

It Ain't Your Grandpa's Radio Anymore

Since the Great Depression, folk and traditional music has been preserved over the airwaves when it was faltering elsewhere. In the thirties, marketing geniuses heard dollar signs in the proliferation of "hillbilly" music, since it was mostly mountain folk who had migrated to the cities, only to find themselves not only completely cut off from their culture, but soon out of work with little other diversion besides the "talking box". In Nashville, WSM was beginning to broadcast the Grand Ole Opry, and out West, Woody started writing his first songs at KFVD while broadcasting the folk songs and hymns that he grew up with to the masses huddled on the California coast. Pete Seeger, Uncle Dave Macon, The Carter Family and hundreds of others might have never been heard by a wide audience if not for fact that three out of four families had such a box in their house. Even in the last thirty years, nothing has done more to bring folk music into the average American household than Prairie Home Companion.

Today, the internet has trapped the little rabbit of radio, and has got him running in a wheel to nearly every house in the land. Before I stir up whats brewing in Winfield, I'd like to head up to Kansas City for a spell. Up there, they have a beast known as Community Radio. Sound subversive? You bet it is. Folks putting on their own shows without answering to advertisers or paying huge sums to "public" radio syndicates? It's downright radical. Here's how they describe themselves: "KKFI is an independent, non-commercial, non-profit, 501(c)3, volunteer-based, community radio station. Our vision is to provide a broadcast voice to the those in our community who are otherwise un-represented or under-represented by mainstream media. Our eclectic music programming includes blues, jazz, reggae, rock, hip hop, alternative, Hispanic and world music. Our local and national public affairs programming includes shows dealing with working class, peace, justice, GLBT, and alternative health issues." Find them at

Folk music fans score because the Foolkiller crowd has their own show - "Foolkiller Folk" - that runs from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. every Sunday. The Foolkiller was a Folk Music and Theater Collective that operated out of Harry Truman's old haberdashery at 39th and Main back in the 70's and early 80's. They, along with the Wichita branch, The Market Street Forum, brought the likes of Utah Phillips, Rosalee Sorrels, Sparky Rucker, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott out here to the flatlands of the lower Midwest. Come to think of it, it was at a Foolkiller retreat that I got to hear Houston Stackhouse, the falsetto blues singer whose band was the house band the night that Robert Johnson was killed. And it was at a Foolkiller conference that I stood with twenty or more folks holding hands and chanting in a circle around Charlie Parker's grave. Mary McCaslin, Jim Ringer and Mark Ross dropped in regularly, and the wonderful folk quartet, Rosy's Bar and Grill, rose out of the Foolkiller ranks. The current radio show, "Foolkiller Folk" has three rotating "host couples": Valerie and Mark Andruss, Bob and Diane Suckiel and Steve and Kathy Peters. Each adds their own flavor to the show, and each of them are skilled exhibitors of the best and farthest reaches of this music we love. They keep people posted on concerts in the Lawrence/K.C. area and also organize their own house concerts through Cross Currents - The Kansas City Folk Arts Alliance (

Now remember, even though it's on the internet, this is real radio - there's no going to the archives to hear past shows. If you want to save something, you gotta thread some tape on a digital spool of some kind and record it yourself. However, they do post a playlist after each show, with links to purchase the individual tracks or CD's from Amazon.

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