//Down to the Roots

Down to the Roots

By Don Priest | kfsrbluesdog@gmail.com

There’s a line in a Koko Taylor tune that goes, “Hey Everybody, have you heard the news?” Obviously, the late, great Queen of the Blues wasn’t singing about 90.7 KFSR, but the question does apply.  Have you heard the news – about the local radio station that has built a weekend schedule around playing the Blues and Roots music not heard on any other local station? 

Tru Dat! The weekend schedule at KFSR boasts over 20 hours of Blues & Roots music (aka that particular branch of Americana songwriting), on shows like the ‘Blue Buffet,’ ‘The Big Fresno Barn Dance,’ ‘The Sunday Blues’ and ‘The Garden Party.’ Each offering its own unique take on this home-grown musical form.

In an effort to help you discover this non-mainstream listening oasis, the blues and roots specialists at KFSR, Catherine “Cat Baby” Fowler, Mike “The Gardner” Workman, and Don “Hound Dog” Priest, are joining forces with station management to present “A Roots & Blues Buffet” on Saturday, January 26 at Fulton 55 in Fresno.

The benefit concert, featuring all local bands, will kick off at 7:30 pm with a performance by ‘Alternate Roots,’ showcasing their brand of Gravely Americana. Followed by the heartfelt blues of ‘Joe “Boy” Walton and the Starr Choice Band’; ‘Good Medicine and Friends’ will then offer up some of their unique ‘Northfolkadelic’ sounds (an homage to their North Fork roots); and ‘Debi Ruud and the Lost Souls’ will close the show with a 70’s soulful flourish. The evening will also include a raffle of artwork donated by Stephanie Bradshaw, Glen Delpit, Janet Capella, Catherine Fowler, Cattie Ness, Dixie Salazar, and Richard Silva. A guitar signed by all the performers will also be part of the raffle. Ticket information is available at www.kfrs.org.

While most radio stations host concert events, KFSR’s are different because of the way they connect with listeners. “KFSR is “listener-supported” radio,” says Station Manager Julie Logan. “KFSR relies on the generosity of listeners, who donate in a variety of ways to support the station. One of those ways is to attend a fundraising concert, celebrate local musicians, and gather with other members of the KFSR listening family.”

Celebrating local musicians is part of KFSR’s mission. As “Cat Baby” points out, “KFSR has a long history of showcasing local talent with live, in-studio performance and interview opportunities.” And being a musical performer herself in the ‘Starr Choice Band,’ (Workman and Priest also perform in ‘Alternate Roots’), she points out another benefit KFSR offers. “Speaking for local musicians, we will always be appreciative of the station’s assistance in helping us achieve one of the most magnificent pinnacles of any musical career – hearing your own music flowing over the airwaves!

If you’ve never heard of 90.7 KFSR, you’re not alone. While the little station on the Fresno State campus has been around for more than 30 years and is supported by a cadre of faithful listeners, it remains relatively unknown to the broader community.  Part of that is due to its lower power output (about 2500 watts) meaning it has a limited range. Part of that is due to its location at the lower end of the dial in Public Radio land where only the musically adventurous wander. And part of that is due to the fact that overall radio listenership has fallen dramatically in the digital age. 

Seems like all that would be enough to dissuade anyone from working so hard to keep the station alive. But alive and vibrant it is, thanks to a core group of volunteers dedicated to offering a listening experience not likely to be found on commercial radio, most of which are now corporate-owned and programmed from afar. By contrast, KFSR, which began as a campus-only audio source and was granted a public radio broadcast license in 1982, is dedicated to providing local listeners with world-class jazz, blues, rock, and other specialty music, along with some news and public affairs, that is produced and hosted by local community members.

And THAT’s what makes it special! As “Cat Baby,” host of a Sunday Blues program at KFSR so eloquently explains, “Our shows present hand-selected music that surrounds our dedicated audience with a warm musical embrace, essentially creating a fireside listening experience long gone in commercial radio.”   

Creating that listening experience is the primary focus of KFSR. “Public Radio has a very specific and often misunderstood role in each broadcast market,” explains station manager, Julie Logan, herself a long-time veteran of commercial radio. (Some may remember her from her KKDJ years.)  “Although it shares many similarities with commercial radio, its mission is distinctively different – to provide content that can’t be heard on the ‘for-profit’ stations in the broadcast market.”

The desire to be a part of that mission and create some of KFSR’s musical tapestry is what draws folks to participate. The on-air staff is made up of all volunteers who have strong connections to the music they play and an overwhelming desire to share it. Be it Jazz, Blues, or whatever, each brings a unique passion to their programs.

“KFSR has allowed me the opportunity to play music that I love and that I feel is very underrepresented,” explains Workman, host of the Sunday Garden Party.  “I have made a deep commitment to play artists that are current, yet not necessarily mainstream.” Adds Fowler. “I play every genre of blues- Delta/ Chicago/West Coast-you name it…our audience has a large palette. I use this opportunity to learn and share what I have discovered about my selections with listeners.” 

So, to get back to Koko Taylor’s question, now that you’ve heard the news about KFSR, you might want to head on over Fulton 55 on January 26th to celebrate local music, support the station’s efforts, and enjoy the tasty offerings on the “Roots and Blues Buffet.”  It really is food for your ears!