What’s ahead for the Great Northern Radio Show

Aaron Brown in Grand Marais

Since October 2011 I’ve produced, written and hosted a radio variety program called the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio based in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, Minnesota. We’ve been fortunate enough to air on independent public stations around the state and even on the cable access channel in the Northeast suburbs of the Twin Cities. We’re on the march!

Like popular variety shows like the Grand Ol’ Opry, Prairie Home Companion, Wits, Hee Haw and the Muppets Show, the Great Northern Radio Show is a mix of music, comedy and storytelling. Our hook is that we’re based in Northern Minnesota, which is less understood and idealized in the popular culture. We do very specific themes on the small towns and unusual places we visit with a creative nonfiction approach rather than fiction. Each show is a wacky anthem for a town that most radio listeners would know very little about. We put a professional sheen on the whole thing, featuring hot bands from the Minnesota music scene and my monologues which are very similar to the voice and humor I attempt here at MinnesotaBrown and in my other writing.

In essence, the show is a celebration, lamentation and exhibition of what it’s like to be a human being in a small town or oft-ignored place at this moment in history.

When we broadcast our next program Sept. 19 at the Bangsburg Theatre on the campus of Bemidji State University our show will be four years old. In other words, potty training is over and it’s time for the next stage of development. Thanks to some grants we won from the Blandin Foundation, the IRRRB and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund — along with the member and business underwriter support of Northern Community Radio — we will be using the 2015-16 season to stretch our wings a bit.

For one thing we’ll be doing five shows instead of four. That’s not a huge change for the listener, but it’s a challenge for the team since we are all still “weekend warriors” doing the show on top of full time work elsewhere. The goals here is to try to increase our hours of programming to entice more stations to run the show in consecutive weeks, and also to challenge ourselves to create better process for doing shows more quickly. Obviously, the long term goal is to produce the show in such a way that several weeks of consecutive programming would be available to our home station and any other public stations that carried us. I’d like to be able to do a multi-week tour someday, or an eight-week stand of shows that would be aired over time.

The other thing we’ll be doing with the show is playing with some new formatting. We’re going to do the interviews with local people in a more intimate “Tom Snyder” style while preserving the energy of sketches and live music segments. I’m going to get out from behind the podium we’ve used and try the monologues in true “stand-up” style, again as a personal challenge but also because I think it will have an effect on the sound and vibe of the show. We’re also toying with ways to improvise more in some parts of the show, letting our very witty people do witty things, perhaps involving the audience.

Along with these plans we’ve got some new equipment that will let our engineers add richness to our sound, a new website that will launch next month, and some behind-the-scenes work to get the show on more radio stations.

I’m very excited for what the next season brings.

Sept. 19 we’re at BSU with the American Scarecrows, Corey Medina, native rapper Thomas X and the Ojibwa comedy tour of Jon Roberts and “The Rez Reporter” Rob Fairbanks. We’ve been to Bemidji before, so this is the first time we’ve repeated a town, but we have determined that if this works we’re going to do one show each year from our “hometowns” of Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

After that we’ll be doing a Nov. 7 show from Larson’s Barn (not slang, but a real barn) outside McGregor, MN, on the shores of Rat Lake featuring the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank and MORE. (hint: banjo) We’ll be going head-to-head with Garrison Keillor who’s at the sports arena in Bemidji that night, an unintended coincidence that we are embracing.

On Feb. 6, 2016 we’ll be doing a special show from the Laskiainen Finnish Sliding Festival, we hope from the big city of Palo, Minnesota, but possibly from Mesabi East HS in Aurora (write your local Laskiainen committee member today! They meet in September for a very important decision on this matter). A special duo will be on hand featuring Finnish-American violin virtuoso Sara Pajunen of Minneapolis via Hibbing along with guitar master Sam Miltich of Grand Rapids. I’m going to bring in another band here, too. Something to knock the kalamojakka off the sides of the pot.

April 9, 2016 we’ll be at Pequot Lakes High School’s beautiful theater with Reina del Cid who has an impressive new album out right now.

Then we’ll be closing our season with a huge June 18, 2016 show with many undetermined surprises at the Reif Center in our hometown of Grand Rapids, which will be re-opening after a huge renovation and expansion project. Whatever money we have left we’re going to blow like riverboat gamblers on that show. The flip side of that is that if we’ve run out of money it will be two hours of Hee Haw-style one liners. I’m confident we can avoid that scenario.*

* I have no idea what will happen.

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