with Thomas Greener

Indie Radio Producers Find Themselves In Awe of KVMR Building

Veteran independent radio producers (and married couple) Gregg McVicar and Gabriela Castelan are longtime "Strawberryians," a term for regulars at the semi-annual Strawberry Music Festival, just held last weekend at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. 

But a side trip took them to KVMR 89.5 FM's new building (well, two years old now) and the adjoining Nevada Theatre (well, 152 years old now),  where they sometimes looked like kids in a candy store, snapping photos, big smiles on their faces and telling radio stories of their own as well. 

"This place is like Disneyland for a radio person," said a grinning Gabriela, as they rode an elevator to the fourth floor, "especially for someone who started out in theater." And she did, carefully watching from the side as a new play, "The Dixie Swim Club" was in rehearsal. 

Looking around the radio station, Gabriela noted, "I was jealous of your community before...now I'm really jealous." 

"This place is a shrine to music and the community," added Gregg while walking around the station's community room. 

"It's so tasteful with the recycled wood on panels all around this room," an in-awe McVicar said of the "re-purposed" wood that used to hold up the former storage sheds on the site. 

"And the walls are covered so thoughtfully with instruments, so much that I think I'm in a musical palace," he continued. "Touring musicians must know they'll be treated like royalty in a place like this." 

Later he told listeners to Strawberry's Hog Ranch Radio about his KVMR tour.

 

'WHAT'S GOING ON'

"It isn't the fact that it's a new $4 million building. It's what's going on inside. It's what they're doing with it, " he mused. 

Believe us, McVicar and Castelan have seen their share of radio stations and studios of all shapes and sizes over the decades. 

McVicar started in radio during his college years at Humboldt State and  KHSU, where the program committee met on Gregg's waterbed and designed the station's format. 

His documentary work includes the award-winning "Privacy Project" for public radio, the radio history of the telephone called "Hell's Bells,"  work on The California Channel, plus over seven years hosting the native music show "Earthsongs" and the list goes on and on. 

Gabriela got her start as public affairs director in 1976 at  KBBF/Santa Rosa, the first bilingual public radio station in the country serving immigrant populations. She worked as an educator on legislation in the interim.   Most recently, she was a news producer at KPFA in Berkeley for three years. 

Now what inspires them are a pair of shows on which they work together. 

Currently, Gregg is host/producer and Gabriela is senior producer/once weekly host  of "Undercurrents," a daily four-hour "American music show with a world passport" that started out as a musical supplement for indigenous stations via the Native Voice One radio network and, nearly a decade later, has ended up "a freeform music mix with your mind in mind," they say.

And it's now on 175, count'em, 175 public and community radio stations, from big cities to cozy villages, including, yes, Guam (which has brought McVicar all the way there as a special guest) and New Zealand.  It often airs in overnight hours. 

 

FRISBEE IN THE DARK?

"It might seem like throwing a frisbee into the dark" to find out who's listening, Gregg said. "But people send us their stories about how the music connects with them in the moment...like the farmer in the field, the truck driver..."

According to Castelan, "Some of our listeners email us saying 'the only way we can get through this era is with shows like yours'."

All of which leads to the new  two-hour "Undercurrents Weekend".   It's still got the musical chops, including a native cut or two every hour, but Gregg and Gabriela co-host it together, including interviews, features and what McVicar says is "a sense to give people ideas on how you can reclaim the weekend." 

"What we do is carry recorders with us wherever we go," explained Gregg. "Something of interest always seems to happen."

Like the time they went into a place for a craft beer and discovered a radio studio there. Or found  200 rather loud goats on a hillside.

Heck, they talked with Rodney Crowell, Marcia Ball and Sarah Jarosz over last weekend. And their recorders were out at KVMR, too. 

Sort of  slice of life features?

"Yeah, but that's funny," grinned McVicar. "My first radio show ever was called 'Splice of Life.'"

It's a radio joke, folks. But true.

Info on Undercurrents and Undercurrents Weekend, including sample shows, is available at undercurrentsradio.net

Or just wait til Strawberry or Worldfest are here; this Walnut Creek couple loves music festivals or they might be hangin' around KVMR the way it sounds. 

 

CLASSICAL GETS KVMR GAS

A series of classical music programs -- some involving In-Concert Sierra, some featuring Music In The Mountains, some with hosts from KVMR's former "Classical Edge" show -- kick off this Sunday 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Currently, they're slated to run on the first and third Sundays of the month.