If you’ve ever been flipping through radio stations on a Sunday evening in Southern Minnesota, you might have gotten an unusual surprise as KOWZ 100.9 crossed your dial. Right around 7 p.m., the station that plays “hits from the 70s to today,” takes a timeout from Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, and Prince, for “Minnesota Music Break”: local-grown music like Soul Asylum, Semisonic, and, well, Prince.
If you’ve read any of my columns, you know I talk about local music a lot. Frankly, small bands pushing music in new directions is more interesting to me. Small bands getting bigger or small bands staying the same and not caring because they do it out of love. As someone who grew up in a small town myself, nothing was more exciting than getting to see bands play and discovering new music. (It was also a lot cheaper.)
I’m not a snob (although it’s my job to be picky, and I don’t believe that “successful” automatically means good). But watching local bands when I was sixteen opened my eyes to worlds I would never have found just listening to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, and I’m thankful for it. It was a formative experience.
It’s exactly that experience that Minnesota Music Break, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, is looking to convey to all listeners. KOWZ DJ Sarah Jane says, “I grew up in the metro, and when you live there, you get a lot more exposure to different local bands, artists, and venues. There are so many amazing artists from this state that aren’t played on Southern Minnesota radio – the Minnesota Music Break gives people who live outside the metro area a chance to hear it.”
Jane and Program Director and morning co-host Andy Gott are the masterminds behind the Minnesota Music Break, which features two or three songs from a Minnesota artist as well as background on the artist.
“It’s our hope to expose our listeners to a wide variety of music and showcase everything this state has to offer,” says Gott.
Since its inception, the feature has been a successful hit with listeners. According to Gott, “We’ve now been airing the show for a full year and the response has exceeded our expectations. We’re getting requests and suggestions from our listeners and that’s what It’s all about really. That’s why we’re putting it on the air. We love engaging with our listening audience.”
And while they feature artists statewide, they make a point of highlighting bands with strong roots in Southern Minnesota.
“We have featured Gear Daddies, Har Mar Superstar, and Owl City,” says Jane, naming just a few of the acts that come out of the region. “Gear Daddies were definitely a key band in the late 80s early 90s Twin Cities alternative rock scene and have way more to offer than just their song, ‘Zamboni.’ Har Mar Superstar is that unique pop/soul music with a twist. Slightly off the norm on some songs, while others are straight up pop. Owl City, also known as Adam Young, grew up in Owatonna. Just recently, he did an interview with us where he shared his favorite childhood memory about growing up in Owatonna, which you can find on our website KOWZFM.com. Shameless plug!”
While KOWZ is best known for its traditional hit music format, Jane and Gott don’t mind pushing that envelope to highlight new and seminally important artists.
“Hippo Campus, Husker Du, and Cloud Cult are bands the typical KOWZ listener may not be familiar with,” says Jane.
Adds Gott, “It’s important to embrace all of the great music in this state, and by highlighting a different artist every week, I think we’re showing that there’s a lot more out there when it comes to Minnesota music than just Prince and Dylan. It’s fun to challenge the listeners and maybe let them hear something they haven’t heard before.”
Now, obviously, I think any chance for folks throughout KOWZ’s 100,000 watt broadcast range to get a chance to listen to Husker Du on the radio is a good thing. But are there plans to expand past the short format? What about a “Minnesota Music Hour?”
“Really, we’re open to anything,” says Gott. “Right now it’s just two to three songs per week, but if the situation arises, we would definitely expand it, if that’s where it leads. We recently got a sponsor for the show, Tone Music, which could help us expand the show into new directions.”
So kudos to Gott and Jane for giving local artists a spin. Kudos to Minnesota Music Break for making sure homegrown music gets all the exposure it possibly can. And very big kudos to the listeners who tune in, get to find something new and interesting they like, and maybe even learn something.
Sure, some of us are experts, but there’s so much good stuff around that the casual listener should know and love and take pride in. Great rock and roll doesn’t just come from the coasts, and sometimes it’s so good you don’t even realize it’s coming from next door.
“My mom recently texted me asking if I knew that Soul Asylum was from Minnesota,” Jane laughs. “Really?? You need to listen to my show more!”
By Tigger Lunney