August Genre DJ of the Month (World/Folk):

Karen Rakos

Glacier City Radio, KEUL Girdwood, AK

Tell us about KEUL. How did it get started and how did you first hear about it?

KEUL is a community radio station completely run by volunteers in the small resort town of Girdwood, Alaska. Founded by Lewis Leonard, KEUL hit the airwaves as a pirate station in 1997. The FCC shut the operation down, but by the summer of 1998, KEUL was fully licensed and back on the air legally. We are freeform and have DJs who share all different types of music with our listeners.

I grew up in Alaska, but moved outside for college and the years beyond. I finally made my way back home in the summer of 1999. My mom and I were at the Girdwood Forest Fair in July of that summer. As I was visiting a local jewelry or pottery booth, my mom stopped by the radio station booth and said, “My daughter loves music! Are you taking new volunteers?” Unbeknownst to me, she signed me up right there at the Forest Fair! A few days later I got a call from Walt, the station’s Volunteer Trainer, and before I knew it, I was on the air with a 3-hour weekly show.

We hear you are celebrating your 20th year at KEUL! How have things changed over the years?

We have moved a few times since I started volunteering at the station. Currently, our studio is right in the center of town, adjacent to Forest Fair Park, where it all started for me 20 years ago! Another change, of course, is the technology. When I first became a DJ, I recorded my shows to a cassette tape. Remember those?!

You have two shows on KEUL. Tell us about them and how you decide what to play on them.

The two shows are on the air back-to-back and overlap a bit, but they do each have their own flavor. My first show is called “Music of the World” and includes many different genres of music that come from around the globe, including North America. The promo for my show reads, “From the Congo to the Caribbean, Norway to New Orleans, Bombay to Brazil, take a musical journey around the globe with Karen.” My second show, “It’s All Folk”, is named after the quote attributed to Louis Armstrong: “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” There’s some debate over the origin of that quote, though. I have a recording of Big Bill Broonzy saying those words at a concert at Northwestern in the 50s. Who coined it? Don’t know for sure. At any rate, I feel that it offers me the latitude to play a wide variety of music. Typically, I play folk, roots, Americana, bluegrass and old-time. Sometimes acoustic blues, too. I start building my shows with a stack of new releases. From there, something that has happened during the week usually gives me a nudge in a certain direction. It could be a current event, musician birthday or death, local concert or festival coming up, season or holiday, or just the mood I’m in. The thing I love about live, freeform radio is the allowance for spontaneity! Anything can happen, and it does!

What has been your favorite release of 2019 thus far?

Kelly Hunt’s album Even the Sparrow on Rare Bird Records. I met Kelly at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Montreal in February and was blown away! Her songwriting, melodies, and banjo playing are superb. It’s quite a stunning debut.

Do you have a favorite artist or album you never get tired of listening to?

Jeffrey Martin; Laura Cortese; Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin. I have multiple albums of each of theirs and often have them on repeat.

Which artist/band has put on the best show you’ve ever seen live?

It’s hard to choose, but I’ll narrow it down to a few: Mavis Staples, Bruce Springsteen, La Santa Cecilia, The California Honeydrops. The common thread between these artists is that they are all fantastic at interacting with their audiences and ensuring that the experience is not passive but very participatory. The Honeydrops are on their way back to Alaska next weekend – can’t wait!

Who is an artist or band outside the realm of what your station plays that people might be surprised to know you love?

Our station is freeform, so we play everything! As for my shows, while fairly broad in scope, there are definitely artists that I love that don’t quite fit. A couple of favorites are Frightened Rabbit and Adele.

What is your best childhood memory?

Every summer when I was a kid, my family drove down the Alcan to visit grandparents on the west coast. We tent-camped along the way, cooking meals on our Coleman stove, swatting mosquitoes, taking dips in the lakes of the Yukon. The rest of the summer was spent at our family cabin on the river, either out fishing or reading in the cabin loft and listening to records.

What is something that makes living in Alaska totally unique?  And what is the biggest misconception people have about living there?

The sheer size of our state makes Alaska unique. We have this incredible diversity, geographically and culturally. When you leave a city or town, you are truly in the wilderness, and there is always more to explore. Penguins in Alaska is a popular misconception! Wrong hemisphere.

If you could choose, what time period in the past would you most want to travel back to and visit?

I’m pretty happy in the here and now. If I could choose a specific event, I’d love to be on that roof in London in 1969 watching the Beatles play. Wouldn’t that be something?

Do you have a favorite restaurant in town that you always make sure to take guests/visitors to?

Girdwood has several locally-owned restaurants that are unique and fantastic. Whether you want to sample a fleet of locally brewed beers, savor cuisine with local, organic, seasonal ingredients, or sink your teeth into a homemade sourdough sticky bun, visitors will not leave hungry (or thirsty!)

What in your life brings you the most joy?

Music! I love playing violin in my community orchestra, playing guitar and uke with my students at school, playing fiddle or guitar with friends. I also love going to live music events as often as possible and sharing music with listeners on the radio.

Lightning Round:

Dog or Cat?  Dog
Morning Person or Night Owl?  Ha! Neither. I guess it depends on the time of year: night owl in the summer with the long hours of daylight, morning person in the winter.
City or Country?  A little of both
Beach or Mountains?  Mountains
Watch TV or Read A Book?   Read a book – just finished The Caliph’s House and Good Morning, Midnight – both excellent reads.
Sunny or Rainy?  Rainy – we’ve been having a heat wave like you wouldn’t believe this summer! Oh, but if you’re talking winter, no rain. Snow or sun will do.
Dine or Delivery?  Dine
Beard or Clean Shaven?  Beard
Pants or Shorts?  Pants
Do you have any current favorite TV show obsessions?  Vera
Finally, and most importantly… saxophone solos: a refreshing addition to a song or a mortifying musical decision?  Well…the saxophone is not really my cup of tea but I don’t want to dis any sax players or sax lovers out there! To each their own.