COLUMN: A Great Northern radio dream come true

This is my Sunday column for the Oct. 2, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune

A Great Northern radio dream come true
By Aaron J. Brown

We all have dreams of one kind or another. A lot of people grow up dreaming of playing pro ball or singing in front of an adoring concert crowd. I keep a tune about as well as I catch a ball, which is to say I’m prone to dropping both. So whatever aspirations I had in these areas faded long ago.

In my mid-20s I was involved in a live public radio production reprising H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on stage in Superior, Wisconsin. Around this same time I suddenly aged into the demographic that listens to “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s popular variety show that achieved national fame from humble Minnesota roots.

Having worked in radio and as a writer, these shows gave me a taste of the history, energy and cultural significance of a format that began with the advent of the broadcasting industry. Things got so bad that I started watching Lawrence Welk reruns on Channel 8 Saturday nights. My wife sometimes wishes I wouldn’t, but admits that I could be doing worse on Saturday nights.

So after the birth of my three sons and my home mortgage I developed a new dream. I’d produce and host a show like these ones, featuring all kinds of music, talent and stories about northern Minnesota, a place that seems to matter more to me each year. This show would be rooted in tradition but cut a modern edge, the product of a media diet that started with Johnny Carson and now includes Conan O’Brien. In addition to my job as a college teacher and writing this column, I’ve been writing for 91.7 KAXE – Northern Community Radio, the independent public station that serves most of the area north of Duluth, including the Range. One day last summer KAXE gave me the green light to produce a variety show for their airwaves.

On Saturday, Oct. 15 this program – the Great Northern Radio Show – debuts live from the stage of the Hibbing Community College theater. We’re making admission free with an optional free will donation to KAXE, which is a nonprofit independent station focused entirely on northern Minnesota. General admission seating will open at 3:30 and close at 4:30 to allow for the warm-up and 5-7 p.m. show time.

I knew things were getting serious when I hired the jug band. Have you ever hired a jug band? There’s a certain feeling after you do a thing like that – neither good nor bad, a sense that you have altered the universe in an unpredictable way. Da’ Elliott Brothers out of Duluth will bring three musicians and a couple dozen instruments.

Pete Pellinen and son Jack from Virginia will do some Finnish folk song duets. Iris Kolodji, a student at Hibbing High School and Hibbing Community College, will sing a couple solos in the show. The revitalized Hibbing Community College choir under the direction of Dorothy Sandness will also do a couple songs. Music throughout the show ranges from popular classics to traditional favorites, fishing songs to gospel.

We’ll have a company of actors – Pete Pellinen, Marty and Michelle Rice, Josh Anderson and Scott Hanson performing an original radio drama written by the up-and-coming writer Matt Nelson, a Hibbing native. There’ll be a couple of original sketches and a set of lumberjack stories by Matt’s dad Ed. And I wouldn’t be a showman if I didn’t promise some surprises and special guests.

The theme of our show is “Hard Time Good Times.” In a lot of different ways we’re going to try to show how the people of the Range have endured bad economies and difficult lives with grace and hope over our storied history. The HCC theater program ended this year due to budget cuts. Every arts group on the Range faces a difficult challenge over the next few years. I hope you’ll join us as we fight back with humor, stories, music and, of course, a jug band.

Aaron J. Brown is a northern Minnesota writer who teaches communication at Hibbing Community College. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. This is such an interesting an exciting concept for the residents of the Iron Range and I can’t wait to see the show today!

    Hope to bring some friends from the Cook and Angora area, too.

    The Wicker Woman-Cathryn Peters

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.