Posts Tagged ‘music’

As the last strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” (released a hundred years ago and now considered classical music) echo through the control room speakers, the paramedics draw the sheet over my faded “Your face was made for radio” t-shirt. They gently remove the headphones from my greyed head before covering my face and wheeling me out the front door I’ve held keys to longer than to any other place in my life. As they slide the gurney into the ambulance, one medic says, “I grew up listening to her.” The other replies, “So did my parents. And grandparents.”

That’s how I imagined my radio career would end. It ends this Sat., July 18, 2015 for reasons I wouldn’t have imagined. 

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Radio is all I ever wanted to do. Growing up, I recorded my own radio shows on a suitcase-sized tape recorder. At 19, I went on the air as an intern at KIMM/Hit 100 in Rapid City, SD and from there to a real announcer’s job with KJJQ/Q102 in Brookings, SD. I ended up at what’s now KCCR/KLXS in Pierre, SD where, with a few short lapses, I’ve spent nearly 25 years, moving from news director to sales rep to promotions director to PSA director and announcer.

For many years now, the radio station hasn’t felt like a job but more like a second home. A place I go to talk to my friends about anything and everything, to play good music, to inform and entertain. When I started in radio, we played the National Anthem before every sign-on, wrote copy on a typewriter, and used reel-to-reels, carts and turntables. That gave way to cassettes then CD’s then computers and satellite feeds. I feel old yet privileged to have been there for all those changes in my industry.

Deciding to leave was hard. Life made the decision for me. Many of my listeners might not know that for the last 16 years, I’ve had two jobs: a full-time job with the State of South Dakota, and my radio station gig. One feeds my family, the other feeds my soul. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, I didn’t consider quitting either one, although if forced to, which one to leave was obvious. But I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to go. Through testing, treatment, bone marrow biopsies, crappy chemo days and finally stem cell harvesting, I went on the air as many days as I could. Some days they weren’t my best shows ever but they were the best show I could give that day. Thanks for listening, either way.

I have a stem cell transplant coming up next month and I know it’ll kick that cancer to the curb. But when the transplant and recovery period are over, there can be only one. Job, that is. And practicality, which is not always my strong suit, has dictated which one it has to be.

I’ll miss the people, the spontaneity, the pace, the thrill of not knowing what’ll happen during my show and how to tell you about it when it does. And I’ll miss having a place to go to just be myself. I’ve never used an on-air name that wasn’t my real name because I always wanted radio to just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Maybe my departure from radio isn’t for forever but for just right now. I’ve left and been hired back several times over the years. But if it doesn’t happen again, that’s O.K. Life really is about time – how much you have and what you do with it. I’ve spent a lot of my time working. When you catch your second wind in life, maybe you should use it to climb new mountains and conquer new peaks. Some people go their whole lives without ever getting to do what they really want to do. I got to live my dream for well over half my life and it’s been the BEST TIME EVER.

My last “Kelly Thompson Show” this Saturday will be all requests, as many as I can find the music for and fit into two hours and 52 minutes. Those last 8 minutes are all mine for the final “Three Stories Hot off the Wire” and my good-bye song which will remain a secret until it’s played. If there’s something you want to hear between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. CT July 18, please post it in the comments below or email it to by noon on July 16.

If you’re within 150 miles in any direction of Pierre, SD this Saturday morning, tune me in on your radio at 1240 AM. And if you’re not, I’ll be streaming live at It’ll just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Kel on the air

Talking the talk in my control room

Dead Morty opened their only sold-out show with a cover of the Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat”. Interesting choice for a trio whose only female member was a drummer who could neither sing nor drum, although she enthusiastically did both for the entire set. The keyboard player was one-handed; he was stubborn, not disabled, and had to be coerced to perform. The guitar player was a veteran rocker who head banged with the neck-cracking precision of a Pez dispenser. The crowd roared as Dead Morty rocked the stage for nearly three minutes at the end of which the drummer thrust her sticks skyward and screamed, “We love you, Seattle!”

Experience Music Project (EMP) made me a rock god. It can make you one, too.

Swept up from the minute you walk in.

Swept up from the minute you walk in.

EMP is three floors of pure pop culture awesomeness with a two-story tornado of stringed instruments, the massive Sky Church with its 70-foot tall ceiling, and galleries featuring everything from Jimi Hendrix’s smashed guitar to Data’s uniform from Star Trek to special effects props from classic horror movies.

I like museums where you can touch things. This summer a museum guard chastised me for touching the glass over a painting. This fall a museum volunteer pointed me toward a room full of instruments and said “Play!”

EMP’s third floor is home to the Sound Lab and On Stage. The museum’s organizers understood that the best way to experience music is to actually make it. The Sound Lab introduces you to the physical creation of music through interactive displays with electric guitars, keyboards, and mixing consoles. On Stage takes it a step further and invites you to not only create music but to do it under hot spotlights in front of a cheering crowd. The only way it gets more real is if you join an actual band.

Sky Church, where you can worship everything music and movies.

Sky Church, where you can worship everything music and movies.

We wandered over to On Stage with curiosity, not intent. Neal, who has shoulder-length grey hair and started his own rock band after the age of 50, opened the door. “Come check it out,” he invited.

My husband, smiling, shook his head. “We could at least look,” I said.

The door shut behind us. The room was soundproofed and had a stage, spotlights, curtain, instruments, amps and simulated screaming fans. It was a concert waiting to happen, waiting for us to make it happen. Neal gave us the spiel: pick a band name, pick a song, pick an instrument, perform. Be as crazy as you want; nobody can see or hear you.

My husband was not ready to make an ass of himself. I was already sidling over to the drum set while Neal was still convincing Jay that it would be quick, painless and potentially fun. He even offered to sit in and play guitar with us. By then, I had dropped my coat on the floor in the corner and was sitting with my foot on the bass pedal and the drumsticks in my hands.

“What’s your band name?” Neal asked, as he fired up the equipment.

“Dead Morty.” Jay shook his head at me again. Morty is the custom mini-bike he built. It doesn’t run right now. Hence, Dead Morty.

“Right on, I like it,” said Neal. He ran down the short list of songs we could choose from. “We Got The Beat” was the newest addition and also the shortest. Jay acquiesced that two minutes forty seconds probably wouldn’t kill him. Then the lights came up, the music played, and we friggin’ rocked it.

Dead Morty: Live at EMP

Dead Morty: Live at EMP

Neal declined to mention that a video of your On Stage performance plays on two large flatscreens as you exit the room. A family of four was laughing at our footage before they stepped inside for their own three minutes of fame. I consider them groupies.

Our place in rock history was immortalized in a poster of Dead Morty live at EMP and two concert tickets from our one and only sold-out show. Those were crazy times, on stage, living the life. Yeah, I’m thinking reunion tour.

If you had the chance to play rock god, would you take it?

All right, all right, they're MINE!

All right, all right, they’re MINE!

I have an autographed picture of Steppenwolf, a guitar pick caught at a Tesla concert, a t-shirt from the Lilithfair music festival. These are not the trappings of a country music fan. Because country music is not my thing. Except that I get paid to play it.

For the past nine months, I’ve hosted a morning radio show on a hot country station. Some people still can’t believe I’m doing it. Some days I’m one of them. It’s not totally inconceivable; my first deejay job 25 years ago was at a country station. For three years, I clocked in and played Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Tanya Tucker. Then I clocked out and listened to INXS, Motley Crue and the Violent Femmes. Work music didn’t come home, home music didn’t go to work. It was all very nice and tidy that way.

The first seven months of my latest radio gig was just like that. Then I noticed several country songs mysteriously appeared on my iPod. WTH? I don’t listen to country music at home. A quick flip through my playlists revealed to my horror that apparently now I do. And if my Top 25 Most Played list is to be believed, I listen to it A LOT.

Before you run out and buy me a cowboy hat and a shiny silver belt buckle, let me clarify – I don’t like ALL country music. Some of the lyrics still make me cringe and my twang tolerance level varies but there are a growing number of country artists whose inspiration is decidedly un-country.

If you’re a music purist, get ready to call for my head on a turntable because I’ve got news for you: there’s no such thing as pure music. The first drummers got their inspiration from raindrops falling on hollow logs. Rap draws from rock, rock pulls from gospel, alternative channels jazz, and Justin Bieber? Well, I don’t know where the hell he’s getting his stuff from but the point is that musicians find inspiration everywhere, regardless of genre. And so do music lovers.

So today I might be tapping my cowboy boots to Brad Paisley (yes, I now own a pair. O.K., two pair. Don’t judge me, they’re comfortable). But tomorrow I could be crooning to Etta James. And the day after that, banging my head to Metallica. Because when you’re deejaying your life’s soundtrack, you need a big album collection.

If you want to dive into country music, here are my top 5 picks (in no particular order) with which to test the waters: Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart“; Brad Paisley, “Southern Comfort Zone“; Zac Brown Band, “The Wind“; Dierks Bentley, “Home“; and Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round“.

What are you listening to these days that you never thought you would be?

Episcopal Church at Fort Thompson

Episcopal Church at Fort Thompson

Near the clutch of churches
in the center of town,
no one sleeps past 7 a.m.
The bells that peal
from the four brother belfries
summon both saints and sinners.
Joyful Baptists, solemn Lutherans,
Prayerful Methodists, commanding Catholics.
Melodies distinct yet harmonious.
In the brief moments before the ringing fades,
In the breath between sleep and waking,
It doesn’t matter to which you belong.
Just that you believe in something.

Nod to the Del Vikings for inspiring the title to this week’s post…

How Natasha found her groove…

We had to keep the bright blue and white reflective highway sign. It was stolen. And it was a house-warming gift.

Some decisions in the Great Garage Plunder of 2012 were easy to make; others, not so much. Over the past 17 years, our garage had become a shrine to the purposeful and the pointless. When we cleaned it out to move it to make way for the Shangri-la that will be our new garage (“Can We Build It? God only knows”), it was obvious that not everything was going to make the “we’re keeping this” cut.

Jay’s numerous tools are in the storage unit awaiting their new digs. My Sponge Bob SquarePants golf ball went to the thrift store with my secondhand golf bag containing a putter, a driver and the broken remains of a couple of irons. The previous owners were sore losers and I’m a half-assed beginner, hence the hand-me-downs.

Yes to lawnmower, shovels, extension cords and assorted cans of spray paint. No to three half-empty bags of potting soil (yes I’m both a pessimist AND forgetful about where I put things), a stack of rubber mats for steel-tip dartboards, and the Easyrider pin-ups who are now in their 50’s. Then we happened on a little item that had us stumped: a pocket guide to speaking Russian.

It clearly wasn’t ours. The only Russian we speak has been gleaned from “The Hunt for Red October” (my hubby’s favorite movie) and it’s spoken with an accent reminiscent of Boris and Natasha from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” Toss, Jay said. Keep, I countered.

While I’ll never be featured on A&E’s “Hoarders”, I tend to accumulate, in small manageable amounts, items of a curious nature. The Russian primer was my second looted treasure in as many months. The first was unearthed during my annual spring pilgrimage to Minnesota to visit my dad. On the agenda during my stay was tackling the remnants of the three households stored in his basement. The majority of it was amassed by my parents during 40 years of marriage; the rest of it was inherited from my deceased grandparents and godparents.

“Happy Birthday, Mary Ka-ay…!”

Hidden within that labyrinth was the complex history of my family. Dad’s airman stripes from his 1960’s service in the Air Force. A tiny Japanese lantern from my mom’s senior prom. Enough Catholic rosaries to outfit a convent of nuns. And the mother lode: a personal greeting record my grandparents gave to my mother in 1950 for her 7th birthday. It plays “Happy Birthday” with her name sung in the chorus. Imagine how excited she must have been to put that 45 on her little record player for the first time.

Piles of clutter bother me not because they’re an eyesore but because I need to know what’s buried in them. I crave the thrill of revelation and the angst of what to do with the recovered. I use what I can. The birthday record has joined my collection of 45’s. And I’m learning Russian. So far, I can tell a customs agent “These are for my personal use”. God, I hope he’s a “Bullwinkle” fan.

What unexpected treasures have you pillaged?

I don’t buy coffee table books, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t own a coffee table. I’ve always considered them kind of lazy literature, all show and no tell. My thinking has evolved, and I have Jim Marshall and Timothy White to blame. Marshall and White are celebrity photographers of differing styles and similar minds. Their creative genius is on display in a book called “Match Prints.” You should get a copy.

Jim Marshall was a renowned music photographer for decades, capturing iconic images at such ground-breaking music events as Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival. The kind of pictures that were so real you could feel the throb of the bass through the speakers, smell the patchouli sweat of the crowd, and hear Jimi or Keith or Janis or Shelley say, “Did you get that, Jim?” after the shutter clicked. When asked about his technique, Marshall said, “My forte is just hanging and taking candids.”

 Timothy White’s work has graced countless magazines and movie posters and album covers. His images are a different kind of real, a heightened sense of real, that doesn’t happen by accident. Familiar faces in unfamiliar places where social graces sometimes don’t apply. It looks effortless but it isn’t. Said White,” I take my subject and the immediate environment into consideration and create a scenario. My reaction to the surrounding circumstances is the picture I take.”

How did two such different people get together to make one amazing book? White and Marshall were friends who discovered in their work, similarities in subjects and imagery. Simply put, same people, similar poses. “Match Prints” puts these incredible photographs side by side. Sometimes it’s the same person, shot 30 years apart. Sometimes it’s different people, shot in similar surroundings. Whatever the situation, they’re just damn good photographs of people you know in ways you may not know them.

Portraiture is my favorite kind of photography and I now own my first coffee table book, complete with a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor flipping the double bird. Now tell me that’s not one worth breaking your own rules for. Next thing you know, I’ll be pricing coffee tables.

Once there was a grimy little man with a gritty little shop on a side street in a good-sized town. His name was Mr. Healey and he was a sign painter by trade. He was ink-smudged and paint-splattered and had dirty fingernails. His shop was a dusty tunnel of floor to ceiling shelves dripping with paint cans and brushes and sketches and mouse droppings and books and books and books. Mr. Healey liked to read.

Mr. Healey was a good sign painter but he was an exceptional musician. He could play anything with strings; I know because I saw him do it. Guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dulcimer. He handcrafted instruments, too, and carved wooden capos that perched like little folk art sculptures on an instrument’s neck.

Tools of an aspiring picker...

When I was 12, Mr. Healey taught me how to play the banjo. An odd musical choice for a middle-schooler, perhaps, but my great-grandpa had played it, and we already had a guitar player in the family, that being my sister. In 6th and 7th grade, I heard every “Deliverance” joke known to man but likewise, I was the only kid in my school who could play “Dueling Banjos” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. So piss off, banjo haters.

Each week at my lesson, I’d perch on the cleanest part of the wooden stool in front of his drawing board, banjo balanced across my knees, and wait for him to write my songs for the week. Mr. Healey didn’t teach out of regular books; he wrote the songs by hand in a music notebook called “The Spiral”, 8 staves, heavyweight paper. With a felt tip pen, he marked the clefs, drew the notes, added the title and date, and if it was his own arrangement, he signed it as such. Mr. Healey wrote music, too. When he was done writing, he’d take the banjo and play the songs the way they were meant to be played. Then he’d hand the banjo to me and I’d try my best to do the same.

For nearly two years, I inhaled the faint perfume of fresh paint, watched mice scurry across the drawing board in front of my notebook, strummed and picked until the blisters on my fingertips turned into calluses that cushioned the sharp sting of the strings. And listened to Mr. Healey talk about the power of music and how once you had it, there was nothing you couldn’t do.

His name was Roy Healey. And he was a genius.

The mark of a legend…

In this epic novel we live in, great characters are everywhere. Know any?