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Oral History of 89.3 the Current: Minnesota music community says thanks

Oral History of 89.3 the Current: Minnesota music community says thanks
Brother Ali photo by Marshall Franklin; Caroline Smith photo by Mark N. Kartarik

This week, 89.3 the Current begins its 10th year on the air. Not only has the station been a score for Twin Cities music fans, but local musicians, labels, publicists, and every part of the ecosystem have been positively affected too. While preparing this week's cover story, 89.3 the Current: An oral history, we were left with a lot of extra material that was fascinating, but we couldn't squeeze it in. Over this week, we'll try to remedy that.

Today, we have testimonials from artists like Brother Ali, Jeremy Messersmith, Caroline Smith, Dan Wilson, Chan Poling, Lizzo, Lazerbeak, Low's Alan Sparhawk, John Munson, Rhymesayers CEO Siddiq, and so many more. And though former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak isn't technically a musician, he'd done enough stage-diving to be included here.

See Also: 89.3 the Current: An oral history

John Munson, Semisonic and the New Standards: I don't think that I will ever forget the day that the Current came on the air. I was standing in my kitchen and hearing the the hiss of noise between channels turn into Atmosphere and static becoming a radio station. This serves as an apt metaphor for what the station has done in the music community: filling a hole that really needed filling.

The station provides a goal for local musicians. It's hopefully a way station on their journeys out into the larger world of music. In an age when people might question the relevance of something broadcast, the station continues to make itself an important piece of the music scene here. Deep appreciation for what they have provided.

Brent "Siddiq" Sayers, Rhymesayers Entertainment: I really don't remember much more than being told they were going to make one of our songs "Say Shh..." the first song the station played and thinking, ahh cool. I think we had become pretty accustomed to not receiving radio support and didn't really think about the statement that a choice like that made. Not only had they decided to make a rap record their first song but in hindsight I think they really affirmed their commitment to the Minnesota local music scene. Minnesota has such a rich musical history and for us to have had that honor was really special.

The Minnesota music scene has such an ally and outlet with the Current that many other markets don't have. The Current is a reflection of our rich and embracing music scene, as well as a key contributor to it. I think you would be hard-pressed to find another scene of this size, where local artists have the opportunity to get their music played on a station with an audience reach and loyal listener base like the Current. The Current has opened their airwaves to upcoming artists and established artists of all genres capturing the beauty of Minnesota's musical talents, while providing music for the diverse ears of us Minnesotans.

Chan Poling, the Suburbs: All I can say is I feel that the folks at the Current are like family. They've been a great support to me and my music over the years and my every interaction with them has been warm and friendly and fun!

Ryan Young, Trampled by Turtles: As a musician and citizen of the Twin Cities, I am fully aware of how lucky I am to live in a place that has a radio station like the Current. Long live the Current.

Collin Ward, Observer Drift: I live a quiet life in a suburb of Minneapolis and write music out of my basement. Upon starting my music venture, I never thought many people on the outside world would hear me or give it a second listen. After self-releasing my first album, within three months of its release, 89.3 the Current was spinning my tracks on The Local show and even in their regular rotation. They drove out to my house for an interview and even had me in the studio for more questions after my second album release. The Current takes an interest in the little guys like myself, and see the potential in everyone that catches their ear. They give local musicians the chance to be heard and to tell their story that they thought no one would ever hear. I owe so much to the Current for the exposure they've given me.

Manchita, GRRRL PRTY: Many musicians in this city have the Current to thank for much of their local success (and their egos, haha). For both my ego and my airwave exposure, I am grateful! Thanks to a wonderful team of hard-working individuals who all obviously love and value music as much as the artists who make it. As an artist and a music-lover I applaud the one and only 89.3!

Former Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak: The launching of the Current will be seen as one of the most important developments in the history of local music in Minneapolis. That's not an exaggeration. Almost every part of local music infrastructure is great here. Radio has sucked for decades. We have not had enough stations playing enough new music, and certainly not enough local music. The Current has dramatically changed the equation. First, for its own listeners, and second, by forcing others in the market to get hipper and more local.
 
Brother Ali: In spring of 2008, the Current organized an evening of discussion with Chuck D of Public Enemy at the Fitzgerald Theater. Mary Lucia interviewed Chuck over the course of the evening, taking breaks for me and my DJ BK One to perform a song or two. That night was huge for me -- not only because Chuck D is one of my greatest heroes -- but because my wife was pregnant with our daughter several weeks beyond her due date, and the midwives scheduled that night to induce labor.

In light of the situation, I was considering asking one of my fellow Rhymesayers to fill in for me, but my wife insisted that I go and do my thing. The drugs that start the labor process take several hours to kick in, so I was instructed to go meet and perform for my hero and then rush to the hospital to meet our daughter.

Not only did I meet and get to know Chuck, but discovered that he'd married the incredible professor Gaye Therese Johnson. I'd heard incredible stories from her time at the University of Minnesota when she studied alongside BK One. That night sparked what have become some of my most precious personal and professional relationships. Chuck and Gaye became both dear friends and mentors to me and my family. We finished the show, said our goodbyes, and headed to the hospital where I was blessed to be there for the entire labor and delivery of my baby girl. They even let me catch her on the way out and be the first hands to usher her into the world. Needless to say, the Current brought me one of the most important nights of my life. Much appreciated!

James Diers, Halloween, Alaska: When Halloween, Alaska started, it was very much a "side project" in relation to other stuff we were all working on. We weren't really sure what would happen besides making the one (self-titled) record and playing a few shows locally to support it. We wound up getting a couple of unexpected network TV placements, which helped get the music out beyond Minneapolis, but I feel like the Current is what really put the band in touch with a supportive audience close to home that really helped to motivate more writing, recording and playing. I was actually living in California when the station started and kinda "commuting" back to Minneapolis for shows and recording every so often. It was pretty obvious even from afar that what they were doing was gonna have a positive impact on a lot of local music.

Jeremy Ylvisaker, Andrew Bird, Alpha Consumer, and more: I've got friends in bands across this blue marble in space. Their experience with the Current is playing in studio and listening online, and they often remark that they wish they had a station like the Current in their city. Their testament in mine.

Dylan Patterson, Reckless Ones: The eclectic group of DJs make selections that are so well-rounded and fresh that even a retro bunch like us can find a reason to tap our toes.

Michael Ferrier, Fathom Lane: I was an early adopter and founding member of the Current because I was scarred by the downfall of Rev 105. The Rev gave a little glimpse of what could happen to the scene when local music was put into the mix on the "major" airwaves. It validated the local history and scene, putting it right next to the national stuff, and showed that it could help build and influence audiences for new rock, and other new alternative music. And then BAM, it was gonzo. There was a little grass-roots effort, kind of public radio-like even, at the end to try and "save" Rev 105, but it didn't matter. The corporations would sort it out and count it up.

So when The Current came along I was hoping we weren't all going to get fooled again, but couldn't have ever imagined how successful it would become. And the platform for the Minnesota music scene that was merely hinted at with Rev 105 has exploded, even adding shows featuring music from Duluth, and the Local Current stream which competes mightily for my listening time against the main station. The depth and breadth of the music being made here is really inspiring, and without the Current I would have to get off my butt and work to hear it all, they get out and find a ton of new stuff, turning over musical rocks to see what's under there. And they seem to truly love it!

And I know that they help build audiences for local music firsthand. Recently I had the pleasure of singing to a crowd of smiling folks with my band Fathom Lane, and seeing that the audience was singing right along with me. We were on the trip together, and it felt good. That was undoubtedly due to airplay the song got on the Current. And that same airplay has helped us connect with radio audiences nationwide. When your tune starts showing up on the Current's charts, they might get a little extra listen from a Program Director in Poughkeepsie, or a Music Director in Urbana. So, I can say firsthand that the Current means something to a lot of people, and I'm glad I can chip in even just a little bit to help all of those connections along.

Caroline Smith: I got to hit the road with the Current for one of the Caravan du Nord series, landing in my home town of Detroit Lakes. It felt pretty cool opening up for Mason Jennings in front of my old high school peers, I just admit, so thanks for that, the Current.

Um, hanging out with Jade Tittle and Jill Riley for a couple days is pretty fun. I suggest you try it if the opportunity ever presents itself to you. Jill stepped in as a bodyguard by pulling a very, very drunk high school friend off of me after attacking me with an overly ambitious hug, and then after dutifully protecting me(like it ain't no thang proceeded to school/annihilate Jade and me at Karaoke down at the local Holiday Inn bar. Still 'til this day, every time I hear Journey an image of Jill down on one knee single-handedly slaughtering her karaoke competition is burned into my brain forever. Love you guys and I appreciate everything you've done for lil' ol' me. Thank you for all of the support throughout the years.
 
Alan Sparhawk, Low: They were getting their thing going when we had The Great Destroyer coming out. I think they probably consciously were like "Okay we're gonna get the station going, we're gonna have some new stuff, we need to involve local music." In hindsight, over the years, that's exactly what's going on. Over the years, they've very consciously been finding ways to support the locals. It was good timing. A couple of the DJs there are fans. That goes a long way. They've been good to us. We were one of the first recorded sessions. They have the Abbey Road style studio. They've been really nice to us.

Lizzo / GRRRL PRTY / The Chalice: The Current has given me the opportunity to reach people in a way that I've never experienced before.

Lazerbeak, Doomtree: I could never thank the Current enough for the amount of love and support they have shown to homegrown Minnesota music. I truly appreciate everyone working there, and am very grateful for what they do day in and day out.

David Osborn, the Small Cities: As a little kid, I used to listen to Jellyfish concert broadcasts on KJ104. My older brothers recorded it onto a cassette tape and must have dubbed it for me. When I was in high school I stayed up late to catch Moonlight Meditations on Rev 105, or to hear a song I requested hours before. These independent-minded music stations have nurtured my love and interest in music from the very beginning, and to be in a band has been played and supported by the Current, to be exposed to thousands of listeners for those three or four minutes, is pretty overwhelming.

Krista Vilinskis, Tinderbox Music: As a music publicist in Minneapolis I feel such a deep heartfelt appreciation for the Current. I realize how lucky we are to have a radio station like this in our own back yard. They are such a rare station who truly embraces their own local music scene not by just spinning local music but by inviting Minnesota musicians into their studios for interviews, performances and will often feature their music online. They give local bands a chance to be heard to a much larger listenership. I love that I see a lot of the Current's DJs at local shows and that many of their DJs plug countless local bands CD releases over the air, that type of genuine heart is priceless. Thank you for supporting Minnesota musicians and many other up and coming bands and for being such a truly amazing radio station.

Cobey Rouse, batteryboy: My first 6+ years with the Current were as a music fan and avid listener. I always knew that if I heard Mary Lucia's voice before a song played that it was worth listening to. When I decided to start making music again a couple years ago, I knew that the Current had become a vital resource for local musicians, so I began to tap into it as a total newcomer. Needless to say, I didn't always do things right. I got in a minor Twitter spat with David Campbell one night, and you know what he did? He sent me a personal message asking for my phone number so he could call me after his Radio Free Current shift.

David called me at about 11:45 p.m. and we talked. He gave me not only valuable insight into "the business," and some unforgettable lessons on how to manage myself and the way I should go about garnering attention for batteryboy, still in its solo infancy at this point. The rest of the conversation is between us, but it went on for nearly two hours. That's right... he gave two hours of his own time to help support a fledgling unknown musician try to carve some sort of path in the local music scene. Because David Campbell, just like the rest of The Current staff, care so much about music and this incredible scene we have here, that they're willing to give just about whatever it takes to make it thrive. Thank you, David, for what is still the more important music talk I've had with anyone, and 89.3 The Current for instilling and empowering this type of commitment to the craft in your employees.

Mark Andrew, contestant on The Voice: The Current started a great movement of playing local music again. It has opened an avenue for local musicians to reach out to a broader audience. I am personally excited to see how the Current will evolve over the years.

Brian Tighe, the Hang Ups / Owls / Starfolk: The thing I'm struck by with the Current is that the DJs and music directors genuinely seem to love local Twin Cities music and want to help artists break through to larger audiences. Their support helped create the vital and diverse scene we have here today.

Verskotzi: I'll never forget the first time I heard myself on the Current. Even though I'd heard that song of mine a thousand times before, the fact it was being broadcast on a station that cares so much about local music made it feel like a foreign tune to me. Its so cool to be a part of a scene that is supported by 89.3, and a music loving community that supports the Current in return.
 
Jeremy Messersmith:In 2005, I'd just started working on writing some of my own songs for real, and the Current pops on. And I became a founding member. Immediately. It was funny because I didn't know 90 percent of the bands they were playing, but I was like, "This is good." Whatever this is is not like the rest of the shit on the radio. My first or second show at a club, I was giving out these paper bag CDs at the Kitty Cat Klub. I heard some sort of rumor that someone had given a disc to Mary Lucia. I was like "Oh my god."

I listened to Mary Lucia's shift every day. Only a few days later, she was like "I think I have some local music that no one has ever heard before." I was driving home from my tech support job, and she announced it as I was pulling up at home. I ran in and turned on the radio and "Novocaine" was playing on the radio. It was a song I had recorded ten feet below me in the basement with one mic and whatever. We cracked open a bottle of cheap wine. It was amazing. Radio was for people who had signed with labels. The fact that I was getting played on a radio station that I cared about was incredible. Once the Current started, it was like "Oh, this is the radio station that I write music for."

A few months later, we were at the State Fair. I had never met anyone at the Current. We stopped by Judson and Nelson and Mary was DJing. I wrote a little note that said "Thank you for playing one of my songs on the radio." She was spinning a song or whatever, and I just walked up and put it on the glass right next to her. She looked up and read the note and was like "Wait a minute." She ran out and said "Hey, you must be Jeremy." She knew my voice and we chatted for a bit. I tried to play it real cool, but I was so excited. Basically I've been their boy ever since. If the Current asks me to do anything, the answer is always yes.

Ryan Rud, the Rockford Mules: The Rockford Mules have been a band for a good chunk of the past decade. During that time, the only radio station in town that really gave two shits about us was the Current. They had us on The Local Show several times, promoted most, if not all of our shows, and even gave us some air time when we decided to write a Christmas song. They even find time every holiday season to play said Christmas song.

In the day and age of manufactured pop crap and radio stations that don't have the balls to stray outside of the latest Pitbull song, the Current gives voice to those musicians that grind it out every day just to get 25 people to their shows. They have been an invaluable supporter and resource for us the past ten years and we hope they are around for several more decades to give an extremely talented local scene a venue for their music.

Erik Tasa, the Rockford Mules: They were the first station that didn’'t just play local music on a designated night and hour. We were in the mix between Soul Coughing and Soundgarden on a Tuesday afternoon drive home. Primetime. Mary Lucia at the helm. Talking about us and loving us like we were more important than we were. We did the local show three times as a band and I did it once as a solo act.

Chris Roberts always had a sexy velvet voice doing his pre-Local Show Summit beer spots. And his trivia with candy bars as the reward always kept us sharp and wanting to be correct. We usually had to load in during that sweet spot of the day when your body needed that lil' extra sumpin to keep you going through the taping. We would sip on flasks and chug parking lot beers before hand because the Current was a stand-up place that frowned upon such practices within its halls.

While taping our Local Show performance, I could not help but think of all of my heroes that possibly stood where I was standing. Maybe even sang through the same microphone. The Current levels the playing field in the sense that good music is good music. No matter where it comes from. Whether from Burnsville or Britain. From the Rockford Mules to the Rolling Stones. They sing the song and jam the jam they say they will. Regardless of musical standing. The Local Show hosts have always asked smart musical questions. The kind a "musician" likes to be asked. The Current makes all good music valid, no matter what stage it's heard on nightly...

Jonthan Sunde, Daredevil Christopher Wright: Having had the chance to travel and perform music, it has become abundantly clear to me how lucky we are to have the Current as a part of our artistic ecosystem. All the folks involved in 89.3 have created a world-class station, and it's right in our midst.

Dan Wilson: I was so happy when the Current first opened for business in St. Paul. The Twin Cities badly needed the kind of radio station I wanted to listen to! And there it was. And it's gotten better and better every year. As a friend of many Twin Cities musicians and hopefully "lifetime member" of the local scene in Minneapolis, I can testify that the Current's support of local music has made an enormous difference in the lives of local musicians. And this support has enlivened the whole local music scene. Airplay, interviews, promoting shows, just showing love, all strengthen the community and make it easier for musicians to get by in tough times. What a gift you've given us!

See Also: 89.3 the Current: An oral history

A Day in the Life of 89.3 the Current from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

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