Great Northern Radio Show cruises home to Grand Rapids

Them Coulee Boys, an up-and-coming folk/rock/bluegrass band, will headline the June 17 Great Northern Radio Show at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers. If you’ve never heard of him, or seen his groundbreaking children’s show, that’d be reasonable. It’s getting a little old now. But some of you might have seen the recording of his testimony defending federal funding of public broadcasting back in 1969. Others might have seen the viral story from a Mr. Rogers fan about the man’s genuine compassion. But for me, a regular viewer of Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, I can’t get over “opera day.”

Every once in a while, Mr. Rogers would skip the show’s familiar format and do something truly special. It was Opera Day. That day (or that half hour, anyway) featured wall-to-wall puppets and music. No filler. The straight stuff. And it didn’t happen very often. You just knew that you had to make plans to be by the television when it did. No DVR. This was even pre-VCR at our house. Opera Day was a a singular moment in the lives of my sisters and I that could not be replicated.

Well, in the ebb and flow of my life’s routine of writing, teaching and blathering on the radio, I have crafted my own grown-up version of opera day. I don’t do puppets, and you’ll be glad to know that I don’t sing, either. But every few months I write, produce and host the Great Northern Radio Show from a theater somewhere in Northern Minnesota.

And like Mr. Rogers, I think my goals aim a little higher than merely entertaining the audience. The Great Northern Radio Show mixes music, comedy and storytelling in celebration of the assorted personalities and rich culture of Northern Minnesota. Each show stands alone, ready to be shared among family or beamed out into the world. No matter who listens, the desired effect is a simple message: Here we are! This is our story. It’s like the probes sent out into deep space … with jokes and a couple hot bands.

Your intrepid regional blogger in stage mode.

Our next show will broadcast from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, June 17, 2017 at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. This concludes our sixth season and represents our 24th live broadcast. (Shows are sometimes broken into multiple episodes for later broadcast). You can catch up on our whole library, and buy tickets, at the Great Northern Radio Show web page.

We’ve got some exciting material in this program, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Please make plans to attend the live show or listen on the radio or online. We’re already planning our next season, and barring a total meltdown in our grant funding I’ll be carrying this torch as long as I can.

Here’s the press release:

GRAND RAPIDS, Minnesota— The Great Northern Radio Show will return to Grand Rapids, Minnesota for a June 17, 2017 live broadcast at the Myles Reif Center for the Performing Arts Center. Highlighting the show will be the contemporary bluegrass band Them Coulee Boys and Grand Rapids violinist Olivia Skaja.

Katie Houg of Bemidji leads the house band for the Great Northern Radio Show.

This traveling variety program is produced by the Grand Rapids-based Northern Community Radio, an independent National Public Radio affiliate covering a large part of Northern Minnesota. Through comedy, stories and music, the Great Northern Radio Show celebrates life in small towns and rural places.

Producer and host Aaron Brown leads a talented cast of performers, musicians, and storytellers through local legend and real life, highlighting the talent and culture of northern Minnesota. Each show celebrates a unique location and the people who make it special, sharing the experience with a much wider audience on the radio and online. The show appears in its hometown of Grand Rapids once each year.

“We love doing the show in Grand Rapids,” said Brown. “We get big crowds and pull out all the stops. It’s a show for the whole community. Even though we’ve been here before there’s always a new angle to create an entirely different program.”

The show’s all star house band for this show is Katie and the Cruisers, featuring Katie Houg on keyboard and vocals, Eric Carlson on guitar and vocals, Aaron Schnackenburg on bass and Eric Sundeen on drums.

Local violin virtuoso Olivia Skaja will be among the musical guests in the June 17 Great Northern Radio Show.

The June 17 program will feature Them Coulee Boys, a modern bluegrass act out of western Wisconsin. This up-and-coming band has a sound reminiscent of the Avett Brothers or Trampled by Turtles. The show will also feature Olivia Skaja of Deer River, a talented young violinist in the Itasca County music scene.

The Great Northern Radio Players for this show include Nathan Bergstedt, of Grand Rapids; Rachel Brandt of Ada, Brett Carter of Bemidji, C.J. Anderson of Pequot Lakes, Lauren Nickisch of Pequot Lakes on foley sound effects. Special guests include Ron Oleheiser of the Grace House and Tom Chapin and Stan Watson of the Itasca Vintage Car Club.

“Having been a part of this community for more than a decade I’ve come to love the stories, community spirit and talent available in Itasca County,” said Brown, who lives in Balsam Township.

The programs will air live from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 with KAXE membership, free for children and students with IDs. Audience must be in their seats by 4:30. Seating is limited. Call the Reif Center box office for tickets at 218-327-5780 or visit

The June 17 program will air live on 91.7 FM KAXE in Grand Rapids, Aitkin and the Iron Range, 90.5 KBXE Bagley and Bemidji, 89.9 FM Brainerd and 103.9 FM in Ely. The show is also rebroadcast on independent public radio stations throughout Minnesota and distributed as a live stream and podcast at Call Northern Community Radio for information 800/662-5799 or visit

The Great Northern Radio Show is made possible in part by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund with support from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Culture and Tourism grant program and the Blandin Foundation.

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