North of Pueblo

North of Pueblo, the fantastic new radio show from Colorado music historian and vintage vinyl junkie Lisa Wheeler, is my new hour-long obsession; The program, now as of this writing on its’ fourth episode, combines local music coverage with an emphasis on older and forgotten records, something I can really get behind.

So can Lisa. For her, digging in the crates of yesteryear for the sounds that those old homegrown records can offer seems more like passion and obsession than a job. This show is a labor of love, and that love shines through.

The biggest draw for me when listening to your show is the emphasis on forgotten Colorado music.  Is the music of Colorado something you have always had an interest in?

I think I’ve had an interest in collecting records ever since my mother allowed me to play her own 1956-1959 teenage record collection on my GE Show N’ Tell player when I was a kid in the 1960s. Fast forward a few years later, when broadcasting became my profession, I thought it would be fun to morph my hobby with the career, so I started collecting radio-related vinyl ). Then I guess this was about seven years ago, while back home visiting, I discovered a beat-up Pueblo Chamber of Commerce-made LP in a thrift store. For whatever reason I didn’t buy it, but when I got back to Austin, I started searching for local-made vinyl on eBay. I found another Pueblo civic-pride record, and contacted the seller, who happened to be Joel Scherzer, a former owner of the now-long-gone Record Reunion. He had stacks of local-made records, and I think when all was said and done, I bought everything he had, at the time. Of course there was nothing on the Internet regarding most of these recordings, so the amateur historian in me kicked in, and I thought I should document these long-forgotten, unheard of pieces of Pueblo’s music history. In 2009, with a handful of stories, I started a blog, www.pueblocitylimits.com, where I documented these Southern Colorado recordings, and tracked down as many of the singers and band members as I could find to tell me their stories. It quickly became apparent that there often-discarded local records were not just isolated to Southern Colorado, so in 2012 I expanded the emphasis to include the entire state, with www.northofpueblo.com.

Why did you decide to take these forgotten songs and records and turn them into a radio show?

I didn’t want to keep these records on a shelf, and hoard them—they needed to be heard and appreciated. My blogs only had so many readers, and even then I was only occasionally posting snippets of audio. I was hoping a Colorado radio station would share the same admiration for this project as I, so I approached a few—who all told me that the subject matter was too esoteric. Then I heard about KCMJ in Colorado Springs. I thought the station’s emphasis on community radio would be a natural fit for the collection. After pitching the idea, they loved it, and that was pretty much it.

You recently moved back to Colorado from the major music hub that is Austin, Texas. Do you think Colorado is/can be as good of scene and breeding ground for music as other well-known or known cities/states?

Absolutely. I recently attended the Chile and Frijoles Fest and was blown away by the local music coming out Pueblo. On any given night there is a variety of diverse live music coming out of practically every bar in town here. Yes, it’s on a smaller scale, but it’s really no different than Austin. Where Austin succeeds is promotion. I would love to see the city get behind an organized effort to promote live local music.

How much time on average do you spend digging for records?

When I was working full-time in Texas, I would mainly hit it hard on weekends, but now that I’m recently retired (I was a media spokesperson for various Texas state agencies), back home, and literally at ground zero for finding Colorado records…oh dear, I can’t even imagine the time I could put into it.

Does the process ever get tiring? I know personally you can only see so many copies of Whipped Cream and other Delights (a once popular Herp Albert album) without getting pissed.

HAHAHA…. Well, there have been times where I have spent hours somewhere, only to walk about with a dusty shirt and an aching back, but I’ve enjoyed every experience, truly.  I know this come out cliché, but it really is the thrill of the hunt that keeps me doing it.

Any tips for aspiring crate diggers?

Patience, patience, patience.

Other than the obvious stuff, what appeals to you about older music more than what is happening today?

Oh my taste in music doesn’t end at 1979, I most definitely keep up with what’s out there, but there is an innocence with these amateur and private-issue recordings I find that is incredibly endearing.  There’s nothing like putting a needle on a long-forgotten 45, made by four teenagers in somebody’s garage, and experiencing the simplicity and purity of the music.

The tagline for the show reads “Rescued Colorado vinyl” Is the digitization and preservation of these recordings part of the reason you do it?

Absolutely. It breaks my heart to find a never-before-seen record that’s cracked, or looks like someone used it to sharpen knives. Records, no matter what genre, are meant to be heard and enjoyed. So I’ve tried to save as many as I can, and preserve them, digitally.

Is there any discrepancy in content for the radio show? Is there anything you will not/do not like to play on the air, but maybe have an interest in?

Oh absolutely not. It would be a disservice to the listeners to interject my own tastes in the format and playlist.

You have a voice tailor-made for radio, and you seem to have a natural talent and passion for what you do.  Have you worked in the field before?

Wow, thank you, that really means a lot. Actually my first radio job was changing out reel-to-reel tapes and reading the weather on KYNR-FM in Pueblo, in 1980. I was a broadcasting major at USC (now CSU-Pueblo). I then did news at KPUB, and a short-lived board shift on LOVE 99, before I moved to the Springs to do news at KRDO-AM. I left Texas in 1982 to pursue a career in TV—was an anchor and reporter in Amarillo and Midland-Odessa, before I moved to Austin in 1992 to work at KLBJ-AM, doing news. I left broadcasting in 1994 to work in media relations for the state.

Your show casts a wide net, in terms of what is played; plenty of diverse genres and artists are on display.  Is there a conscious effort on our part to not have too much of any particular style or genre in each episode?

Since the show is only an hour I wanted to format it to be interesting… and surprising. One the best compliments I received recently was from an listener who said that the format was schizophrenic. I liked that, and I think it’s the perfect descriptive.

Is there anything you’d like listeners to take away from your show after hearing it?

That’s there’s more to Colorado music than John Denver and Firefall, and that there’s a big chunk of the state’s music history missing from the archives. I don’t want the audience to be lulled into a sense of familiarity. If you walk away from the show after hearing polka, coupled with punk and spoken word coupled with roller rink music, and going “What the hell was that?” then I’ve succeeded to not only (hopefully) school you on the diversity that is Colorado’s recorded music history, but also to entertain you. And that makes me happy.

Anything you would like to add?

I’m always looking for unknown Colorado records.  So if anyone has anything they’d like to share, send an email to contact@northofpueblo.com
North of Pueblo airs at 10AM on Wednesday and Sundays at 9PM and can be heard online at KCMJ.org . We highly suggest you give it a listen, and go to northofpueblo.com for more!