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Turn the radio on: one man’s guide to the 22 best specialty shows on Twin Cities airwaves

If you’re lucky enough to live within earshot of the Twin Cities, there’s good reason to tune the radio into one specialty show or another every day of the week. Here is one man’s guide to the best.

The recent passing of Leigh Kamman served as a poignant reminder of how much a single voice sharing what he singularly loves over the radio can mean to so many. He wasn’t the only one.

To be sure, we live in a time of rare airwaves in the Twin Cities, where the abundance of riches on the music dial is regularly augmented by a bevy of independent voices, personalities that can be heard blowing past the predictable talk radio dross and programmed music backwash of the day and toward a real connection with listeners via ye olde standbys of great radio, taste and true personality

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As an avid radio listener/dial puncher, I’m an avowed fan of the deejay as artist; the type of obsessive who creates his or her own playlists — you can just hear it; the kind where it’s clear that the set is being guided not by the evil empire but by a lot of care, thought, experience, improvisation, and a vast personal record collection. On this end, it makes for a truly intimate listen (which is why my favorite radio show on the planet is the syndicated UnderCurrents).

For all of us lucky enough to live within earshot of the Twin Cities, it turns out there’s good reason to tune into one specialty show or another every day of the week. Here’s my totally subjective guide:

THURSDAY

Brad Wrolstad and George “Jojo” Ndege“African Rhythms” (noon-2 p.m., KFAI)
An erudite melange of reggae, folk, and roots-rock that, on many an afternoon, finds the experts and expat Africans riffing on headlines and music from Nigeria, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya and more. Always topical and timely, recent shows have included a special on the 40-year-old anniversary of Bob Marley’s seminal “Natty Dread” album, the genius of Salif Keita, and a tribute to local Afrobeat hero Tony Allen.
Jake Rudh“Transmission” (10-11 p.m., The Current)
Arguably the most versatile deejay in town, Rudh first made his name as the dance-floor dynamo behind the magical Transmission dance night series at Club Jager and First Avenue. He stretches out sweetly in this one-hour slot, peppered as it is with songwriters, indie rockers, and heart-and-soul rarities that make for some of the best night-driving soundtracks I’ve ever had the pleasure of losing my mind to.

FRIDAY

Mary and Aaron“Off The Record” (3-6 p.m., Radio K)
I always say there’s nothing quite like hearing a friend’s band or song on the radio, and to that end, we’re in high clover these days. Local music has never enjoyed a bigger presence on the airwaves (or, most prominently, on the web, at the 24-7 wonder that is Local Current). This is one of the original local music shows, originating in part from the Kevin Cole-, Peter Jesperson-, and Roy Freedom-led “Real Rock & Roll Radio” show of the early ‘80s on KUOM. Like that pioneer, this three-hour tour of all things Gopher State flies by the seat of its pants with interviews, oddities, in-studio performances and loose and lively college radio the-way-it-oughta-be — straight outta Rarig Hall.
Lolly Obeda“The Sugar Shop” (4-6 p.m., KFAI)
All hail the queen of the blues. For more than 25 years, Obeda’s cheerful, loving, and supremely heartfelt voice has provided a beautiful balm to the end of the working week. How many times have I cooked dinner or run errands to the sounds of Lolly’s vintage vinyl picks, encyclopedic blues expertise, and charming guest cameo spots from her daughter, Miss Lily? Not enough, that’s how many. Long may she and this under-recognized labor of love run.
Kevin Barnes“Bluesville” (9-11 p.m., KBEM)
As close as the twin towns will get to the earthy vibe of Undercurrents or the everyday miracle that is KUMD in Duluth, “Bluesville” finds the amiable Barnes playing what he obviously loves and whatever he wants, from classic R&B and blues to all-but forgotten blues-based indie rock. Worth going fetal to on a Friday night, alone or with someone you love.
Mary Lucia“Rock and Roll Radio” (10-11 p.m., The Current)
Mary Lucia
Courtesy of Mary Lucia
Mary Lucia
All hail the queen of the rawk. The wildly beloved Monday-Friday voice of the Current’s afternoon airwaves is always inviting, real, sharp, and funny as hell, but this one-hour blast is pure Lucia Unchained. Roaring guitars, screaming dudes, insane energy, glammy hand-claps, and Looch’s passion for rock history past and present make the 60 minutes fly by, to the point where, come 11 o’clock, you want to flick your Bic and beg for more. All in all, the perfect soundtrack for gearing up to go out on the city that rocks.
Ron Gerber“Crap From The Past” (10:30-midnight, KFAI)
Here it must be said that all the deejays and stations featured in this guide are bravely engaging in what can only be heard as some seriously sly acts of subversion. In an otherwise namby-pamby media environment — where too much local news takes too few chances or expresses any sense of risk-taking or originality — these anti-talking heads up the establishment on a regular basis by filling the airwaves with revolutionary ideas you can sing along to. Gerber’s is among the weirdest trips going; I always imagine an R. Crumb character come to life, rifling through his dungeon in the middle of the night in search of something from the archives that speaks to him, only him.  And as the night descends late Friday nights, I sometimes wonder if there’s a more bizarre show to be found on the radio dial anywhere.

SATURDAY

Jacqui Fuller“Teenage Kicks” (8–10 a.m., The Current)
Like a shot of spiked espresso or a continuation of her rock and roll soul-sister Mary Lucia’s Friday night delights, Fuller rips it up with punk, pop, new wave, and an endless loop of, “Did I really just hear the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ and The Damned’s ‘Neat Neat Neat’ blasting forth amidst the farm and weather reports?” Yes, please. Highly recommended for hung-over sports parents with good earbuds and bad sideline social skills.
Ken Hippler“Good ‘N’ Country” (4-6 p.m., KFAI)
Always an education, this hardcore honky-tonk salute is the ideal shotgun-riding partner for a lazy Saturday afternoon of running errands, record/thrift store shopping, or chores. Warning: The fiddles, crooners, harmonicas, and pedal steel guitars come out of the dashboard like a modern-day reincarnation of Hank Williams’ Health & Happiness Show, and Hippler’s penchant for playing songs you’ve never heard before and know you’ll never hear again can stop time, along with any well-laid raking plans.
Paul Metsa“Wall Of Power” (6-7 p.m., AM 950 KTNF, replay Sunday at noon)
Metsa is a great storyteller and listener, and his experience as one of our most–traveled troubadours lends weight to his interviews and off-the-cuff asides. The last two shows have featured a lengthy chat with Shawn Phillips, and a trip to Rich Mattson’s Sparta Sound studios. Good stuff, all fueled by Iron Range native Metsa’s seemingly infinite curiosity and boundless love for Minnesota.
Arne Fogel“The Bing Shift” (7-8 p.m., KBEM)
Arne Fogel
Courtesy of Arne Fogel
Arne Fogel
Sandwiched between the wonderful “Sinatra & Friends” and “The Big Band Scene,” Fogel’s weekly tribute to Bing Crosby (or, as he regularly refers to the Binger, “the most popular recording artist in American history”) is not to be missed. Stories and songs blend as one, as the mellifluously voiced Fogel, who moonlights as a nightclub torch singer and band leader, creates one of the most romantic date nights-slash-classrooms of the week. (Catch it while you can, as the “Shift” shifts to Sundays next month.)
David Campbell“Radio Free Current” (7-10 p.m., The Current)
Speaking of romantic, dude-about-town Campbell’s sexy/friendly voice is especially chill during this ever-effervescent dose of freedom rock. (Here it must be noted that I miss Cities 97’s Brian Oake’s playlists and philosophical musings on his old Sunday night staple, “Freedom Rock,” recently shelved due to Oake’s move to the morning shift). Campbell is similarly attuned to his hungry club-crawling audience, playing requests and personal faves, and the fun he’s having spinning for pals and strangers alike is obvious. When he’s in his groove, the show positively crackles and brings the town together.
Simon Husbands“True Brit!” (midnight-2:00 a.m., KFAI)
Husbands is a storyteller, songwriter, musician, and native of the UK’s Nottingham. Like his hometown’s hero Robin Hood, every week he leads his band of merry people by chatting pop and politics with fellow British expats and spinning tunes from the motherland. This summer’s pre-World Cup highlight was the debut of “The Footy Song (One For All For England),” a parody of British drinking songs that deserves widespread play across the pond.

SUNDAY

Bill DeVille“United States Of Americana” (8-10 a.m., The Current)
Church is in session at this ungodly hour of the morning, as the affable DeVille takes to his record collection in what amounts to bringing to life an issue of No Depression or the Oxford American’s music issue. Nowhere else around these parts can you hear the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young chewing tobacco with the likes of Erik Koskinen, Uncle Tupelo, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, and other dashboard saviors, and great care is obviously taken in both song choices and segues. DeVille recently attended the influential Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville, and to hear the low-burn excitement in his voice as he spun new finds upon his return made for some truly enlightening radio, and undoubtedly inspired a multitude of trips to the record store.
John Allen and Mara The Death“Root Of All Evil” (1-6 a.m., KFAI)
Any God-fearing listener stumbling upon this metal mainstay (launched in 1987 by the late, great Earl Root) in the middle of the night might well be convinced that they’ve tuned into the decline of western civilization and/or hell on earth. The sounds are brutal, the songs Satanic, and the fact that it goes for five uninterrupted hours gives me faith in the cathartic power of guitars turned up to 11 and the dark side of community radio.
David Campbell“The Local Show” (6-8 p.m., The Current)
David Campbell
Courtesy of David Campbell
David Campbell
Campbell picks up where former host and show founder Chris Roberts left off a few years ago, and this two-hour party remains the town’s most essential radio resource for anyone interested in staying up to date on the vast and wiggly homegrown music scene. Campbell’s love for his homies comes through in interviews and theme shows, and provides a symbiotic lead-up to Jason Nagel’s kindred-spirited “MN Music” show later the same night (9-10 p.m., KTWIN).

MONDAY

Pete Lee“Bop Street” (4-6:30 p.m., KFAI)
Lee possesses one of the most upbeat voices in radio, and his deep knowledge and love for songwriters, big bands, R&B, blues, and whatever else tickles his fancy on any given Monday afternoon is positively infectious. So much so that even former Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten once wrote that Lee’s show “may be the most innovative show in Minnesota.”  Praise the Lord, I hope she’s still listening.

TUESDAY

DJ Izzy and Liberty Finch“The Pop Shop” (midnight-2 a.m., KFAI)
Two hours of wholly unironic love for ’60s and ’70s bubblegum, glam, funk, rock, psychedelia, and whitebread singer/songwriters make up this reliably entertaining slice of massive cheesy fun. Whenever these two pop culture vultures dive into their 45s from the Beatles, Monkees, Kinks, Archies, Cowsills and obscure would-be AM radio hits, you’d swear you were just Time-Tunneled back to one of Elvis’s clambakes or an Austin Powers movie set on the West Bank.
Cyn Collins“Spin With Cyn” (10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., KFAI)
Cyn Collins
Courtesy of Cyn Collins
Cyn Collins
Another true flame-keeper of the Twin Cities scene, Collins rocks hard with mostly local playlists, and her passion for oral history and radio documentary-making (check out her early Minneapolis rock doc here) informs each show. As a genuinely interested journalist and music fan, she asks good questions and shines a light on the little-heards and up-and-comers of the underground punk, rock, blues, and folk scenes.
Ellen Stanley“Womenfolk” (2-4 p.m., KFAI)
Ellen Stanley
Courtesy of Ellen Stanley
Ellen Stanley
The title says it all. Musician/songwriter/publicist Stanley’s show is one of my weekly won’t-miss staples, focusing as it does on acoustic/folk music by female singer/songwriters. I always hear something new, old, and inspiring, from the likes of Jillian Rae, Eliza Gilkyson, Iris DeMent, Lucy Michelle, Rosanne Cash, the Roches, Danille Ate The Sandwich, and many more. Stanley — aka Mother Banjo if you’re nasty — knows her stuff, is well-connected to the various folk scenes, labels, and women’s music festivals around the country, and she’s passionate about sharing her knowledge, a gift that is taken for granted at our peril.

WEDNESDAY

Jackson Buck“Freewheelin’” (2-4 p.m., KFAI)
Jackson Buck
Courtesy of Jackson Buck
Jackson Buck

One of the biggest champions of homegrown music around, Buck’s easygoing nature flows out of the speakers and into the heart of the local music community. His show, dedicated to roots music of all stripes, from Americana to blues to zydeco, is a treasure, a gem, a midweek shot of midday love, and a tireless public service announcement that often highlights the best of the week’s live music docket.

Grandpa Joe“Basement Vinyls (8-10 p.m., Radio K)
Speaking of a vast personal record collection, this warm and wacky 120 minutes is like hanging out with a favorite record hound who holds court and plays whatever timeless, true, or kitschy blast from the past he likes. The uncompressed sound of needle on vinyl is particularly transporting, though — as any vinyl junkie can attest — a two-hour set barely scratches the surface of what can be had during a good record-bin bender, so “Basement Vinyls” can work as a delicious appetizer to your own all-night feast.