Local radio, local musicians

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Matthew Terry and Justin Ferguson of Aural Imago perform at KONR studio on Nov. 3, 2017. Photo credit: Jason Sear

Since they stopped playing Bill Withers 24 hours a day to maintain their broadcast license, Out North Radio has been focusing their efforts on local music shows and live in-studio First Friday performances.

106.1 KONR is already playing about 50 hours of local music a week, but the Studio Sessions, performed and broadcast live from the station’s downtown studio, are opportunities for local musicians to get some exposure.

“We’re trying to give people a place to play and then give them an outlet to have some solid time on the radio,” station manager Jason Sear said.

Other than a recent show meant to raise money for a new transmitter featuring Emma Hill and Lucky Spider, the performances are free to the public and the studio can hold around 25 to 30 people, he said.

KONR is a low-power, volunteer-run station operated by the Out North arts organization. Things can be rough around the edges, but they don’t have strict program guidelines, Sear said. With more leeway controlling the airwaves, a performance running long won’t get anyone cut off.

“If it’s an hour and five minutes, who the hell cares,” Sear said.

David Rittenberg plays with blues trio Bobby and the Concussions who performed last October on KONR. He liked the loose structure of things and the low-pressure environment.

“It’s like your buddy’s garage [that] has some cool recording equipment that is available to you,” Rittenberg said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

The first Studio Session came about last summer when the station was going through its revamp. Sear and KONR program manager Lawrence Höschel were kicking around ideas about hosting live performances in the studio.

Sear was approached at the Spenard Jazz fest about the station doing something with country blues musician Annie Bartholomew. At that point there weren’t any established shows, but they decided to have her perform at the studio and broadcast it live for First Friday.

The first few groups to play the sessions have been friends of friends or people interested in the station. Not a lot of people know that the station even exists, but bands are starting to reach out to the station so they can perform.

There can be a tendency for a small circle of groups to get all the gigs in town, he said, so the sessions will mostly focus on lesser-known musicians.

“As a music fan and as somebody who’s now running this radio station that’s focused primarily on playing local music, I wanna hear these bands. I want to share this with people in Anchorage,” Sear said.

Local band Aural Imago’s November performance of their brand of dark, minimalist pop at KONR was the duo’s first show. When frontman Justin Ferguson first heard about the Studio Sessions, he knew it was something he wanted to do.

“It seems like kind of a special thing that KONR is doing,” Ferguson said.

With the station being volunteer-run, there’s only so much time Sear and Höschel can devote to booking new bands, so they’re encouraging interested musicians to get in touch with them. While all genres are welcome, band setups like full drum sets need to be kept to a minimum as the station is limited on what they can accommodate.

Ultimately Sear would like to see the Studio Sessions continue and possibly find someone who can volunteer their time to produce high-quality video of the performances for the station’s website.

“[We’re] just kind of letting it organically grow and we’ll see where it goes,” Sear said.

To contact KONR email them at [email protected]

Recordings of past Studio Sessions can be found at www.outnorthradio.com.