BEMIDJI - In the early days of television, many families would sit in front of the television and watch their favorite comedies, dramas, mysteries and variety shows. What has changed today is that families usually do not sit together to listen to radio nor watch television and Aaron J. Brown is seeking to change that familial pattern.
Brown, a professor of communications at Hibbing Community College, is the producer of the Great Northern Radio Show, a live radio broadcast with a real audience, no laugh tracks, and lots of local talent.
As part of the opening of the newest radio station in town, KBXE, Brown will bring his radio show to Bemidji for an on-site broadcast from 5-7 p.m. April 7 in the historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. The live show will be broadcast over FM stations 91.7 KAXE, 90.5 KBXE and streaming on kaxe.org. Those planning to attend should be in line before 4:30 p.m., when the doors open, for a free seat to this unique event in Bemidji.
Both KAXE and KBXE are part of Northern Community Radio, which is a non-profit independent public radio network serving northern Minnesota. The four different shows planned for the 2012 season are supported by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and underwritten by the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota.
"We will be performing the show on the set of a children's show, "The Pied Piper," so we'll be in a village," Brown said in an interview. "It will be a fun radio show because there are so many aspects to the local community and Minnesota in general. We are finding a voice and creating an audience for our shows.
"I had wanted to do a show like this for years and I pitched the idea to KAXE and they said OK and with grant funding we did a pilot episode in Hibbing in 2011."
The four-show season this year starts in Bemidji.
"This is my generation's incarnation of an old form with a new take because it is shaped by the people in the show," Brown said.
He has been involved in radio and newspapers for years. He started volunteering at Grand Rapids' KAXE in 2004 with commentaries on life and teaching. Brown has a column in the "Hibbing Daily Journal" and authored "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range," which won the 2008 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. Brown's blog, online at MinnesotaBrown.com, covers northern Minnesota news and culture. It was an Editor's Choice in the WCCO Minnesota Most Valuable Blogger awards.
"I write 75 to 80 percent of the scripts for the shows," Brown said. "Matt Nelson proofs, edits and adds his own ideas to them. It's an honor and a gift to do a show like this, we have a lot of young people in the crew, and it's exciting. We will have 20 to 25 people all working on the show with eight musical acts.
"Shelly Nowak, the stage director keeps things moving and on time. The Icebox Radio Show out of International Falls will be doing a guest sketch for us. I like doing these shows because in a town like Bemidji there is a diverse and enthusiastic arts community."
Brown said he took the names of the local actors from a list given to him and when he called the first few; they all agreed to do the show. Sara Breeze has been on KAXE for years so he knew her work, Greg Gasman and Mark Christensen will join her as part of the sketch troupe with Great Northern's announcer Scott Hanson.
Musical acts will include bluegrass Two Many Banjos from Duluth and progressive folk stylist Annie Hemphrey-Jiminez of Deer River. Emerging artists Kaija Roy and Sonny Johnson will be on stage with the popular barbershop quarter, The Pinetones, all Bemidjians.
"Our show combines many of the elements you find in old time radio with the human texture found here among northern Minnesota people and the times in which we live," Brown said in a release describing the show. "We strive to represent northern Minnesota culture and pay special attention to the people and stories of the places we visit."
He draws inspiration from a variety of other shows, too.
"The Prairie Home Companion is the elephant in the room that no one wants to recognize," said Brown. "But I am really looking back to Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show, the Muppets which is really a variety show for children and the new late night hosts on TV. This show we'll be in a German village and our show in October will be sharing the stage with the set of "Jane Eyre" at the Eveleth-Gilbert High School."