Although Napa Valley used to be known as the place for fine wines, there are now grape-growing regions all over the US. Just west of Napa is the picturesque Sonoma Valley, where we find a small community radio station, KSVY, where Timothy Benton does his weekly show.
Where and when did you start in radio?
I got started three years ago at our little station in town here, KSVY. I’d never worked in radio before and I wouldn’t even say I’m currently working in radio. Our station is staffed almost entirely with volunteers who are passionate about music. I’ve been a stay at home dad for the last four years and thought that an opportunity to sit in a room and listen to music I wanted to hear, uninterrupted, seemed like a fun idea. In my past life, I was a video producer/director, did some TV stuff, corporate videos. I acted for a bit, worked in a recording studio for a spell, was a musical instrument peddler a few times, coffee go-getter, half-caf, nonfat, no foam latte maker. You know, the usual.
What's your show called and when is it on?
I did my show Wine.Country. on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. for two years and was recently offered an established show with a better time slot. So now my show is Friday’s Guys @ 5, on Fridays at 5-7 p.m., which is great because I know there’s more than two people listening and I get to go to bed at a decent hour. That way I’m still at home with my boys … and they’re still getting up early (really, the only reason to hope your kids will be musicians is that they’ll understand the desire to sleep in in the morning). I’m six months at the new time slot, thinking about changing the name of the show. I don’t have cards printed yet, so now would be the time, I think.
How do you describe your show?
I tell people that I play classic country, which is mostly true because I play a lot of music made by folks who are now my grandparents' age or have headstones in their honor. I also play new music made by people who have an understanding and appreciation for the older music and artists; it’s being called Ameripolitan music. I also play Americana artists, and several artists I play cross between Americana and Ameripolitan music. And every once in a while a mainstream country artist drops a track that sits well with the other music I’m playing. So if you’re looking for the dude in the tight T-shirt singing about cold beer, jacked up trucks, pretty girls, and summertime, your party is on the north end of the dial. If you like Hank Sr., Merle, Johnny, Sturgill, Emmylou, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Chris Stapleton, and, yes, even Miranda Lambert, come hang out with me. That’s my elevator pitch … if we were headed to the top floor of a really tall building … and I pressed all the buttons.
How do you prepare for your shows?
When I first started my show, I was meticulous. I planned the rhythm and flow, created themed blocks of songs, maybe an artist spotlight. These days … yeah … whatever … I put together my playlist the night before (if I’m lucky) but it’s usually a few hours before I go on air. Sometimes I want to hear some classics, or a friend’s new track or an artist or band I just read about in a blog. Sometimes I play tracks that I know word for word, note for note; sometimes I’m hearing a song for the first time, along with my audience. I usually sit at my desk with a beer or glass of wine while making my playlist. This can lead to some interesting song choices sometimes.
Do you play many new releases?
I’m not a new release junkie. There is so much great music out in the world that has been recorded that I’ve yet to hear. New releases add to that pile for me, and it can be overwhelming at times. I’m not a trendsetter or have to be on the cutting edge and know of what hot artist is dropping a new track. I’m as interested in a new Sturgill Simpson track as I am Waylon Jennings' MCA catalog or a newly uncovered Carter Family recording. I have quite a few friends who are musicians who are out there making music without label support or tour support, and they have friends who are doing the same thing. They’ll turn me on to their music or a friend’s CD, if I like it, and it sits in with everything else I’m playing, I’ll play it. Good music or musicians aren’t always on a major label.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
I’ve been asked that question quite a few times, and I don’t have an answer. I hoisted my sail years ago, and followed the music. Johnny Cash would be a touchstone for me, if anyone. I had his comic book when I was a kid and I was allowed to listen to his gospel songs. The American Recordings albums Cash and Rick Rubin released in the '90s brought me back in. My stepmom introduced me to Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez. No Depression turned me on to Hank III, who gave a shout out to Dale Watson, so I followed that current. I’ve got well over a thousand CDs gathered from over the years.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
I do listen to other music, outside of Americana. In my teen years, I was obsessed with Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, and Nine Inch Nails. In college I was introduced to Son House and Lead Belly, concurrently with Skinny Puppy, David Bowie, and Brian Eno. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice blows me away every time I hear it. Tool and the Deftones, Sigur Ros and Hammock. I just don’t have enough time in my day to get through all the music I like.
How do you define what Americana music is?
My sense is that Americana is the musical salad bowl and melting pot of the American experience; it's joys and woes, pride and shame, and spirit of hope. This is also my hope for the genre. The Americana mantle is too broad for one or a few artists or bands to hold. It’s one of those “I’ll know it when I hear it” things. If pressed, I would say Stephen Foster; but then I would ask from where his inspiration was drawn.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
I see Americana music having its biggest supporters at smaller community and regional terrestrial radio stations, where the DJs are not beholden to large corporate music and sponsors. Americana music attracts and holds seekers, not endless consumers.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I really like the new Marty Stuart album, Way Out West, that’s a cool album. Any artist Dave Cobb is working with, I’m interested in hearing. I’ve been following him for a while now and I’m excited about the recognition he's getting. I really dig what Margo Price and Kelsey Waldon are doing. There’s guy out of Texas, Jake Penrod, who’s doing some great honky-tonk Ameripolitan music. At some point I’ll have to spend time with my family.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests?
I write songs and sing. I’m getting myself out there a little more. Got my eye on recording an EP for myself, if anything something to share with my Grandpa and for my kids to have. I live in a beautiful area so I love to hike the hilltops or walk through the redwoods. I love the history in California and try to read as much as I can about the missions, the gold rush towns, and the characters that came before me. Most of all, I love sharing this world with my twin boys.