September MD of the Month:
KAXE/KBXE Grand Rapids, MN
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Tell us about KAXE. How did it get started and how did you first hear about it?
KAXE is a community radio station that was the first rural public station in the nation. The CPB wouldn’t fund it right away because they thought they would be ‘broadcasting to a bunch of gophers’. Ha. Little do they know we don’t even have gophers in northern Minnesota! Almost 44 years later, we have a translator near Grand Rapids, and one close to Bemidji (KBXE), equaling 150,000 watts. Lots of land covered to serve about 150,000 people. We’re a mixed format station with music being the bulk of our programming, most of which is done by volunteers. It was a folk-heavy station throughout a lot of the 80’s into the 90’s, however, it’s always pushed the listeners through new barriers.
The station is now more in a blended Triple A/Americana category now. I take real pride in the fact that the station started working toward a 50/50 male/female split about 12 years ago. And that old radio adage ‘play music that reflects your audience’? I get that and understand the idea, but that doesn’t work for us here in rural northern Minnesota. We have a wildly diverse playlist, one that definitely does not reflect the population in, say, Grand Rapids. We continue to pull our listeners with us.
Like a lot of stories from our listeners, when we moved to northern Minnesota, we lived in deep in the woods – KAXE and the people on the air were my daily companion.
How long have you been at KAXE? What is your history there?
I became a volunteer DJ at the station shortly after moving up here, about six years ago. While I was volunteering, Maddi Frick left her Music Director position and I jumped on it, now a little over five years ago.
How do you get your DJs interested in the new music you are sent and what is the process you go through in deciding what gets add and played there?
As I said, most of our music programming is done by volunteers. I put all of the new albums we’re putting in for play onto a Google doc spreadsheet so everyone can see it updated in real time, along with links to a sample of what’s on the releases. I know how it is to be a volunteer; you don’t always have hours to spend in the library, so we want to give our volunteers a chance to check them out at home before they come in. We also have a closed Facebook group for our volunteers so bounce new artists/albums there too. Gives the volunteers a chance to talk to each other about music, share articles, videos, etc.
What has been your favorite release of 2019 thus far?
There have been some banger releases this year in my opinion. Sharon Van Etten kind of killed it right out of the 2019 gate, and still probably the album I’ve listened to the most this year (and Lizzo).
Do you have a favorite artist or album you never get tired of listening to?
Talking Heads is up there.
Which artist/band has put on the best show you’ve ever seen live?
First time I saw My Morning Jacket was kind of a mind boggling, go-to-church-walk-out-with-a-stupid-grin-on-my-face type of concert.
Who is an artist or band outside the realm of what your station plays that people might be surprised to know you love?
I can really get into Cardi B.
What is your best childhood memory?
Got into a lot of shenanigans with my sisters and cousins – one story that stands out is when my sister Amy was climbing over a 4-foot chain link fence. She’s not the most, oh let’s say, coordinated? Her shorts got stuck on the top of the fence, ripping through her underwear. She got stuck and we left her there with one cheek out, long enough to run and grab a camera. That picture still makes me laugh until I cry (don’t worry, she does too).
What event in your life would you say has shaped you the most as a person?
Moving to Grand Rapids was pretty life changing in a lot of ways. In Minneapolis, I worked at a soul-sucking type of job, had a baby and then decided to get out and back to nature. We moved to an old resort in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest, and my job was caretaker for the resort. For two years, I traded my work for our rent, worked on an organic farm and traded again for food, made baguettes to sell at the farmer market, chopped wood on the daily, traded bread for goat’s milk each week, and this was in this decade!
After we left the resort, I started at KAXE, as the Music Director with no background in radio. Even though I’d grown up in a smaller community, moving to a small town as an adult opened my eyes to the absolute possibility one can have in a town this size. In my experience, if you work hard and show up, you can do and try so many things you wouldn’t have afforded in a metro area. From starting a pop-up thrift shop to creating concert lineups that reflect the area, living in a small community you can have real impact, and real say in how the town is progressing! I’m intently set on changing people’s perspectives of what a rural town and the people in it look like.
If you could choose, what time period in the past would you most want to travel back to and visit?
Sometime during the French Renaissance; would be fascinating.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in town that you always make sure to take guests/visitors to?
We have a stellar old school steakhouse, Forest Lake Restaurant that is so perfectly small town and has steaks that rival Manny’s in Minneapolis. We’ve also gained a couple breweries in town which are always go-tos.
What in your life brings you the most joy?
Getting good hangs in with friends.
Dog or Cat? Dogs, but have come around to cats
Morning Person or Night Owl? Morning person during the week, night owl on the weekends.
City or Country? City, just moved from the country – love the country but digging town life
Beach or Mountains? Both?
Watch TV or Read A Book? Read a book, though I do probably watch TV more
Sunny or Rainy? Sunny
Dine or Delivery? Without kids – Dine in, With kids – Delivery
Beard or Clean Shaven? Beard
Pants or Shorts? Pants
Do you have any current favorite TV show obsessions?
Just started watching Letterkenny – a weird little show out of Canada. That said, I don’t binge on shows, don’t really have the patience to watch more than one of a show at a time.
Finally, and most importantly… mixing mayo and ketchup as a dip: condiment nirvana or retch-worthy blasphemy?
My Canadian neighbors are listening – condiment nirvana.