Folk Radio: Starting Your Own Show ... and Keeping it Fresh!
by Al Riess and Suzi Wollenberg
The following guides were originally used as handouts at the panel discussion "Folk Radio: Starting Your Own Show ... And Keeping It Fresh!" which took place on February 21, 2002 at the 14th Annual International Conference of the
North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, Jacksonville, Florida, February 21-24, 2002.
The panel participants were:
- Steve Edge, "The Edge on Folk," CiTR, 101.9 FM, Vancouver, BC
- Howard Larman, "FolkScene," www.kpig.com, and others
- Roz Larman, "FolkScene," www.kpig.com, and others
- John Lupton, "Rural Free Delivery," WVUD, 91.3 FM, Newark, DE
- Al Riess (panel moderator), "Rooting About," WBNY, 91.3 FM, Buffalo, NY
- Suzi Wollenberg, "Roots," WVUD, 91.3 FM, Newark, DE
Folk Radio: Starting Your Own Show (from scratch, if you have the itch!)...
by Al Riess
FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS
- Have a PLAN, a good idea of what you want your show to sound like, type of music, etc. beforehand.
Think this through!
- Be yourself!
- Be flexible!
- Have a solid, broad based collection of music (within your genre/plan) as a "starter kit" before you begin (your own collection, or do you know of such a collection at the station you're approaching).
- Starting a show is NOT meant to be a vehicle for you to add free promo CDs to your personal collection.
- Know your music, and be willing to learn tons more beyond what you know.
- Put together a tape/CD of the type of music you'd play to give the station an idea of your show. Include song intros, voiceovers, announcer talk, if possible.
- Include a written proposal describing the show to accompany the tape/CD.
- Research the station(s) you'll approach.
- Do they change programming/add new shows once in a while?
- Know who to ask at the station.
- Does the station already have a music collection you could use?
- How can your show help the station (fulfill its mission, get more listeners/contributors, etc.)?
- If it is a commercial station, do you have the funds to pay for the airtime? Canvass for potential advertisers.
- Be willing to give up many of your other hobbies -- your "normal" life!
- Will you be doing this alone, or with a helper/partner/co-host?
- You (and they) MUST make a commitment to do the program every week (or whenever it is scheduled), NO excuses.
- If you can't be present on the day of your show, get a reliable substitute (and supply them with enough music to use, if necessary), put a show "in the can" for later broadcast, etc.
- Your show is NOT your personal CD player where you play ONLY your favorites -- play a range of music within your show's plan. Think of your audience: you have a commitment to them.
- Be ready to take responsibility for every aspect of your show, but realize that the station could change the rules, and take aspects of the show (or the show itself) away from you and your control.
FITTING IN WITH THE STATION
- Learn the rules, regulations, and requirements of station involvement/membership, including:
- Who acquires the CDs?
- To whom to they belong?
- Can you use your own music?
- Who is responsible for contacting record companies?
- If the station has a music library, how are CDs added to the collection? Who adds them?
- Have a CD acquisition plan ready to propose BEFORE you start:
- Use your own CDs.
- Acquire new ones (via contacts, record companies -- where do you find this information?).
- Be amenable to work within the rules and regulations of the station.
- If possible, try to carefully change things if you can, to make things easier for your show.
- If you can't, you have to live with it!
- Sometimes station rules, regulations and procedures can work in your favor!
- But the more someone else (the station) does, the less you have to do, and the more you can concentrate on the actual on-air presentation/programming.
WHEN YOU GO "LIVE"
- Plan to contact print media, TV, record stores, live music venues, etc., to publicize the new show.
- Figure out what these sources are, and the best individuals to contact there, ahead of time.
- You don't have to be a "personality," but don't be afraid to express
your personality on your show.
Folk Radio: Keeping it Fresh
by Suzi Wollenberg
- Become acquainted with as many types of folk music as possible.
...even if your show has a specific emphasis, you may find that the occasional airing of a related song/tune from another genre will add an interesting dimension.
- Use different cuts from a favorite recording
...not the same cut every time
- Vary the tempo, style, instrumentation, etc.
...if not from cut to cut then from set to set.
- Organize your sets or shows around a theme, e.g. seasonal, historical, the letter "K"
...or not, if that is what you do regularly.
- Music first, words later
- Tape your shows often
- Check out other radio shows
- Try different routines of reviewing
- Read a folk music magazine
- Interview an artist
- Go to concerts and festivals
- Watch "O Brother, where art thou?" more than once
- Listen, listen...
ROUGH GUIDE TO RADIO CD REVIEWS: GENERAL GUIDELINES
- BE CRITICAL!! As harsh as it sounds, don't hesitate to dismiss poor music and/or poor lyrics - there's plenty of good stuff to play. Your listeners will appreciate it more if you are really excited about something.
- YOU CAN REVIEW A CD IN 15 MINUTES! Unless you like it, then spend longer. Otherwise, listen to about a minute (minus intro, if any) at the beginning then scan to the middle and/or end to check for any radical changes.
- READ LYRICS, if available - note if interesting, creative or (at least) coherent writing. Excessive emphasis on personal angst/love topics should be a warning sign unless it passes the "Joni Mitchell" test.
- PAY ATTENTION TO THE MUSIC. Folk music has a lot of classic styles - all of which can be turned into something mediocre or poor. Intros that repeat the same 3-4 guitar chords in the same way are often good indicators of things you can skip right over. If you like humming the tune and/or the music makes you sit up and listen - that's what you should be listening for. Varied or unique arrangements are also things to note.
- MARK THE BEST CUTS
- RATE CD - using a 1-7 scale
- Really Poor -- not worth the time
- Poor -- might have one cut worth playing
- Barely Passable - might have a few worthy of airplay
- Average ‚ not the best but ok for light airplay (something you might play every 3-4 weeks when it's new and might go back to every once in a while
- Good - medium airplay types (something you might play every 3-4 weeks when new and would probably remember to go back to after it's been permanently filed)
- Very good ‚ medium to heavy airplay (something you might play every 2-3 weeks when it's new and will definitely remember to resurrect from the regular files)
- Excellent ‚ heavy airplay (something you feel compelled to play every week for awhile & will definitely play again)
- PUT WARNINGS ABOUT OBJECTIONABLE LYRICS beside cut
- NOTE HIDDEN CUTS - often found tacked on to last numbered cut or unmarked at end of CD
- DO NOT MARK ANYTHING ON CD ITSELF
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT REVIEWING
- Electric instruments are ok if style, music and/or lyrics hold some kind of relation to what you would term folk music. Some of the sub-genres that usually fall in this category include Americana, blues, British folk-rock, country, rockabilly and zydeco. Lyrically, protest/social issues songs are sometimes more electric oriented.
- If CDs with heavy drum tracks and/or lots of electric sounds don't fit your format you might still want to mark & play the more acoustic cuts if you like the recording.
- Conversely, sometimes an acoustic CD is better fitted to "cutting edge" rock; too many "I" songs or personal relationship songs coupled with slightly off-key, breathy singing are usually where I draw the line. If it doesn't pass the "Joni Mitchell" test then it goes to the general section.
- Be less critical with local artists and try to find at least 2-3 cuts that are acceptable for airplay no matter what the rating.
Al Riess hosts Rooting About: The Folk and Roots Music Show on WBNY, 91.3 FM at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York. In his day job he's a reference librarian at the Buffalo State library. He also writes recording reviews for the periodical Dirty Linen: Folk and World Music, and has been doing that since 1988, the year Rooting About started. His show doesn't have its own web page as of this writing, but
Suzi Wollenberg is the Folk Music Director at WVUD, 91.3 FM, Newark, Delaware, where she also hosts a show entitled Roots. WVUD is a college/community radio station featuring thirty hours per week of folk music. She also is the President of the Green Willow Folk Club in Wilmington, Delaware, which presents monthly concerts of Celtic/British Isles and related folk music.