New show on KSKQ built around original songs written by Rogue Valley musicians
Gus Johnson prepares to record a radio show for KSKQ at his home studio in Jacksonville. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
John Bartolero, left, and Steve Yungen warm up before “KSKQ Presents – Southern Oregon Songwriters.” [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Last Wednesday, the sun was setting behind the mountains of Jacksonville and the crickets were getting ready to sing as Gus Johnson listened to his guests warming up their guitars on his back patio.
John Bartolero and Steve Yungen, members of the Southern Oregon Songwriters Association, were preparing to enter Johnson’s home studio, where he hosts the new radio show “KSKQ Presents – Southern Oregon Songwriters.”
Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., original songs written by Rogue Valley musicians will air on KSKQ, introduced by Johnson’s warm, gritty vocals.
The first show, which can be heard on 89.5 FM in Ashland and 94.1 FM in Medford, is scheduled to air on October 5.
The program is something of a return to vital service for KSKQ, said Jeff Westergaard, director of the nonprofit station’s volunteer program and full-time third-grade teacher.
“Especially post-pandemic, it’s so important to support musicians — and to support local musicians using the most local form of media, which is community radio,” he said.
The station had a program, “Hear My Song,” Westergaard said, but it collapsed during COVID-19 because it wasn’t possible to get people in the studio.
Now social distancing restrictions have eased and Johnson has his own home studio, where he can record the entire show, package it and send it to the station.
Johnson and his friends walked through the house with their guitars last week and entered a back room artfully carpeted in floor-to-ceiling rugs and fabrics. Entering the room caused a sinking feeling on the soft, dense carpet. The colors are warm, and the sounds of voices and guitars are warmer.
For his third studio, Johnson explained, he used all his knowledge of how to control how sound can ricochet around a room. Without bare walls to create that boxy sound common to home recordings and podcasts, the softness of the room sharpens and sweetens the sound.
As Bartolero warmed up, Johnson turned to a tablet set up next to a keyboard, his controls for the show.
“It’s a far cry from uh, tables turning,” he said.
Johnson started with two songs from YouTube uploads, played through speakers on a computer and captured by a microphone in the studio. Bartolero followed YouTube recordings and performed his own live work in the studio.
The completed session, Johnson explained, will be edited through the software on his tablet. Once he is sure there is no coughing and there is a surprise advertisement on YouTube, he will be sent to the radio station for broadcast.
This hybrid recording style allows him to capture a wide range of new and long-recorded music. Johnson said he hopes the show will be a spotlight for local songwriters. While it’s never been easier to record music and get it out there, he says, being heard and found is still a challenge.
“It’s open to musicians; the opportunity is there to publish. Getting people to hear it is a whole other story,” he said.
Interested local songwriters can submit recordings to the show via an online form, available at https://bit.ly/3M7xYzt.
Johnson said he liked to think of himself as tolerant and wanted the show to have a wide range of genres, styles, and voices.
“There are bad songs,” he said. “I will endure a lot of things. Sometimes I’ll think OK, but other times I’ll think no, honestly I can’t take two more minutes to play that E chord.
Radio readiness is the most important thing he listens to, aside from a defined melody and staying on key. Technical issues like soft vocals, too much reverb or mumbling will likely cause a song to be rejected, he explained.
Johnson pointed to a stack of CDs on his electronic keyboard and said he was also “exploring” music – ripping CDs he had collected from local songwriters over the years. He also sent information about the show to local recording studios, and he uses his own records to try to locate musicians previously affiliated with the Southern Oregon Songwriters Association.
Every song played on the show goes into a spreadsheet, which helps guide the show as Johnson works by playing submitted songs, and it gives him the skeleton of an archive he envisions.
Once he has them all – artist, genre, song title and artist biography – in his spreadsheet, he will convert it into the appropriate software and create a searchable database of local musical creativity.
“Eventually there will be access to this – an archive specific to Southern Oregon songwriters,” he said. “I hope to work my way through most of the artists in the valley over the next few years.”
Johnson is comfortable and content with big black headphones on his head, nodding to the music as he plays each song. This show is a return to the passion of its early years, he explained.
In high school, he started working in radio. In the Air Force, he had a gig as a disc jockey in Klamath Falls. When he went to Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University), he earned a degree in music. He graduated in 1976, the same year Patty Hearst was convicted of armed robbery and “Frampton Comes Alive!” topping the charts.
“Once the computers called me, I was gone,” he said.
After spending most of his life with computers, Johnson retired in December and returned to his first love.
Its cheerful energy coexists comfortably with musings on what it means to be 75. Her little white dog – Spike the Wonder Dog – is probably her last dog, and her house may be her last home.
“When I was in high school, I had this job cleaning apartment buildings, and it was full of old people,” he said. “I discovered that there were old people who were bitter against the world; there were others who sat around doing nothing, some who were constantly running to do something, involved in all sorts of things. Then there were those who had fun all the time. I decided that I wanted to have fun.
“The more fun you have, the freer you are to follow your interests.”
Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at [email protected] or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.