Sunday, October 23, 2005

October 23, 2005: History


OK! I've got the blog fever now, or something like that. I bet they have a word for it - the blog community at large, that is. Anyway...

Here's a little history about the show...
(By the way, the photo is a scan of the original promo card we put together for Some Assembly Required, in '99).

I started Some Assembly Required as a netcast exclusive in 1999. But to go back a little further than that, just briefly - I started volunteering at my college radio station (Radio K) in 1995, and had tried to get involved when the station first went on the air (to go back even further!) in 1993...

There was an alternative radio station in Minneapolis called KJ104 which went off the air right around the same time I moved back to Minneapolis from Chicago. As a big fan of the station, I was naturally pretty disappointed, and when I heard there was a new alternative radio station starting up (Radio K positioned itself as "alternative" the first couple of years it was on the air), I gathered up all my courage and attended a meeting about the new radio station. I was working at the Uptown Theater at the time, and a guy came in to ask if he could put up a poster about a film screening and "town meeting" about the new station, and the "state of modern rock" in the Twin Cities, and he gave me some tickets to the event.

After the film and panel discussion, I went up to ask about how I could get involved and was told I wasn't eligible because I wasn't a student at the University of Minnesota (I was a fine arts major at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design at the time), so I swallowed my disappointment and tuned in to the new station as it went on the air in October of 1993. Soon after that I moved back to Chicago to study photography at Columbia College, where I quickly changed my major to Production for Radio. I was actually more interested in exploring an old interest in sound collage than anything, but when I moved back (again!) to Minneapolis, in 1995, it was because I wanted to finish up my Bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota, and the main reason I chose to go to the University was because I wanted to finally get involved at Radio K.

So - three years later it was 1998 and I'd been hired as Radio K's Production Director. I'd also just released an album of sound collage (Escape Mechanism - a project I had started back in the production department at Columbia College) and thanks to the internet, and a somewhat aggressive series of mailings, the record was being reviewed and I was starting to meet a lot of other sound collage artists on the web. We were trading records and eventually I had quite a library of "found sound collage," which is what I called it at the time.

Towards the end of the year, the station's founder and program coach (Jim Musil) left Minneapolis for Colorado and Radio K hired Mark Wheat (a DJ at KFAI, at the time, and currently a DJ for MPR's the Current) to fill the position of Program Coach. To introduce Wheat to the rest of us at Radio K, an all-station meeting was called, at which one of the topics discussed was the problem we were having finding DJs to fill the overnight netcast slots (Radio K goes off the air in the evening, as our AM signal would reach much further at night than it does during the day, interfering with license holding stations in other areas). One of the individuals in attendance was Radio K alum Simon Peter (co-founder of the station's local music showcase, "Off the Record"), who spoke up to remind us that back when many of Radio K's founding DJs were at WMMR, they didn't have any problem finding DJs who were happy just to be on the station's limited cable frequency, and that the potential for online listeners was much greater than that. This was what inspired me to start an online specialty show, and a few days later I met with our new programming coach, who supported the idea from the very beginning, and Some Assembly Required began as a netcast-exclusive specialty show in January of 1999.

Originally, the show was two hours long. During the second hour we mixed a live sound collage not unlike other live sound collage shows around the country. Freeform experimental sound collage shows, mixed live, have become a college and community radio tradition. A few obvious examples spring to mind: Greg Carr's "Technological Retreat" (KFAI - Minneapolis, MN), The Button's "Press the Button" (WRUW - Cleveland, OH), Kenzo 's "Ken's Last Ever Radio Extravaganza" (KOOP - Austin, TX) and Negativland's long running "Over the Edge" (KPFA - Berkely, CA). What set my show apart was the first hour, which was a pretty straight forward radio program, where the focus was on sound compositions by other collage artists.

As fun as that second hour was, the first hour was what really held my interest, and in 2001 I retired the 2nd hour and, concentrating on the first hour's programming, started experimenting with syndicating the show to other stations. It was at this time that Radio K decided to give me a slot on their AM dial, during the afternoon on Sundays, and we moved to Saturday's at 2PM, not long after that.

So, thats the story in a huge nutshell. Probably way more detail than most people would ever want, but if you're interested, there it is! Believe it or not, I actually bump into people from time to time who used to listen to us online and remember that second hour of improvisation. We used to call it "Live, Improvised Media Collage." As noisy as it often was, we took it very seriously, and would occasionally be asked to play out live. We performed at the Weisman Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, The Rogue Buddha Gallery, The Oak Street Cinema and The First Avenue Mainroom. I released a best-of CD of recordings from those public performances, called "Cast of Thousands with Escape Mechanism," in 2004. It's available at the Recombinations website, and there's more information about it at the Escape Mechanism website.

Alright, thats quite a long post, so I'll wrap this up for now. Thanks for reading about Some Assembly Required!
Jon Nelson

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