Sharing Alaska’s musical heritage

Kurt Riemann has been collecting music for what seems like forever.

He’s spent decades behind the controls of a recording studio, but he’s not just looking to capture Alaska music. He wants to preserve and share it.

The lifelong Alaskan and owner of Surreal Studios is working on two projects meant to do just that. One requires a radio, the other, a library card.

Kurt Reimann operating The Alaska Radio Show and The Alaska Music Archives. Photo credit: Ammon Swenson

Riemann reckons there’s about a one in a thousand chance someone will hear an Alaskan’s song on the radio. While that probability is debatable, there aren’t many options on the dial to hear local artists.

“We’ve got music. Let’s listen to it,” Riemann said.

Since going on air earlier this year, The Alaska Music Show on 106.1 KONR has become the most likely place you’ll hear local or, as Riemann prefers to call it, regional music.

With eight hours to fill Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Riemann’s labor of love aims to give regional artists more airplay.

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Regular listeners to the volunteer-run KONR might be disappointed the station switched from playing the album “Just As I Am” by Bill Withers 24/7, but KONR is finding its footing again and expanded its content beyond station manager Jason Sear’s iPod.

“Our radio market in Anchorage is pretty drab and boring with the same pop music and the same bad rock music and the same country music and all of that.” Sear said. “So I want to give people the soapbox to come talk about and play what they like.”

The playlist runs the gamut, pulled from Riemann’s massive stockpile of albums. With the shear volume of music available, there are bound to be surprises.

“You listen to this show and you might not like what’s playing right now, but it’s going to be someone different in another minute or two. So it’s an interesting survey,” Riemann said.

While he admits his collection is lacking rap and hip-hop, depending on the time of day Riemann plays anything from folk to metal to Alaska Native music.

He’s also reaching out to artists and the public to send him more albums.

Riemann has been accumulating music in earnest for the last four years and his project, The Alaska Music Archive, has around 1,000 albums spanning the ‘50s to now. Plans are in place to work with UAA’s Consortium Library to catalog and store a collection of Alaska music.

“It’s like preserving language,” Riemann said.

The kinks are still being worked out, but Dean of the Consortium Library Stephen Rollins said via email that select recordings will be added to the Alaska Digital Archives.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have some test files soon,” Rollins wrote.

The archive would eventually allow those interested in the music to be able to search the database and access audio, cover art and the metadata associated with the recordings.

“If you’re going to do it, you have to grant access so people can hear it, that’s part of the idea of you’re not just preserving something and burying it,” Riemann said.

Regardless of the genre, Riemann thinks the cultural heritage of historical and contemporary Alaska music is worth saving. Music can be a time capsule of a place, giving insight into the past for future generations.

“[I]f you don’t save it, as I like quoting someone else better than me, the toilet of history will take care of it for you and what you’re going to be left with is something you hated now, but there were more copies of it that survived,” Riemann said.

For more information, find The Alaska Music Archive and The Alaska Music Show on Facebook.