Wednesday, July 23, 2008


In this age of satellite radio and iPods, it's possible to completely control your personal soundtrack. Through these technologies and others, we can design playlists that get us from the morning alarm to our final lullabies without the intrusion of any tune that hasn't been pre-selected.

And while that's all okay, I'm a big fan of being surprised, even ambushed by music I haven't heard before. And when I'm travelling, I also like to get a read on what the locals are liking by giving the dashboard scan button a workout as I drive.

Since my tastes grow more Hillbilly Hardcore by the day, I thought I'd cobble together links to some of the best Country stations you can find as you cross the country, combined with a song they each introduced me to and what those songs tell me about this summer's Country music.

So here goes...

Rolling through the Rockies, you need to constantly surf the FM band to take the peaks and valleys into account as they intrude on local transmitters. Road signs and billboards constantly update you on the two or three frequencies most likely to be your best bet. It's odd to find the same station at multiple locations on your dial, but if that station is CKJC-FM Country 103 in Kamloops, you're in for a treat.

Country 103 has long been the voice of "Mountainfest", the Country Music Festival in nearby Merritt that has revitalized the small mountain town and morphed it into the official "Country Music Capitol of Canada".

The station also features a terrific weekly program hosted by Cowboy poet Hugh McLennan featuring interviews with real cowboys, western history and thematically related music, poetry and stories. It's a very unique show posting weekly podcasts online.

103 didn't introduce me to Canadian singer Shane Yellowbird. This aboriginal Country star has been around for a while with his combination of George Strait lyrical stylings and Tex-Mex Freddie Fender rhythms.

But in "Pick-up Truck" Shane has his first bonafide hit. And his newfound notoriety in Nashville should bode well for a lot of fellow artists and lead to some personal recognition that has been long deserved.

And if General Motors was smart, they'd snap up this number to turn around their lagging sales.


Somewhere around Banff, you need to tick up the dial to CKRY-FM Country 105 in Calgary, undoubtedly the most influential Country music outlet we've got. Positioned in the Heart of the Heartland, 105 is a monster, mixing mainstream artists with independents and past hits with debuting numbers in awesome waves of great music.

Whatever happens to the rest of the Corus empire, this station will always remain the bright spot on their financial statements. And they do that by championing songs that exemplify the two greatest strengths of the genre, telling a story and touching you where you live.

105 introduced me to Chuck Wicks' astonishing "Stealing Cinderella". If this song doesn't choke you up a little, go read somebody else's blog -- we don't need your kind around here.


The flatness of the prairies and a night phenomenon where the ionosphere rises allows sound to carry thousands of miles there. So if you plan your trip right, you can ride from Calgary to Winnipeg with Regina's best AM station 620 CKRM on the dial. And that's a very good thing.

When I was growing up in Regina, CKRM was a boring middle-of-the-road station that featured News and the Mantovani Orchestra. But somewhere along the line they morphed into a Country station with major attitude. Listening to CKRM feels like walking into the best Honky Tonk on a red dirt road. They're having a good time and you might as well join in.

RM also hosts Canada's largest Country music festival "The Craven Country Jamboree" in a nearby natural amphitheatre that's about as much fun as you can have ripped on Applejack and stinking of mosquito repellant.

The Jamboree has Nashville's biggest stars constantly lining up for a spot on its massive stage. This year the line-up featured Toby Keith, Sugarland and Paul Brandt. What can you say about a festival so chock full of talent that Montgomery Gentry can only find room to play in the beer garden!

But that's an example of that RM attitude. We're here for a party, bring your Yeehaw. Of course, they were the ones to introduce me to the party song of the summer...(check out the amazing cinematography as well)...


As you navigate the endless cliffs and curves of Northern Ontario, you run into a wall of Country stations that dot the Wisconsin and Michigan coast from Duluth to Detroit. But you need to find 100.7 The Island, a tiny independent on Manitoulin Island that is Canada's first completely wind powered radio station.

"The Island" prides itself on delivering cutting edge independent Country artists, who don't get much airplay elsewhere but still have a lot to say. Like CKRM, they've also got that ready to party Country attitude.

They didn't introduce me to this last song, but for me it exemplifies the new directions of many of "The Island's" artists, as well as how much Country music has changed since the "New Country" rebirth of the early 1990's.

Think of Trace Adkins as a Stetson wearing 50 Cent and his band as boot-heeled gangstas and you'll get an idea of what the people who don't listen to Country music are missing.

It'll also give you an idea of what it's honest-to-God really like in a Country bar.

I once introduced a fellow showrunner to my favorite Cowboy saloon in LA. He took one look at the stunning array of beautiful women at the bar and the handsome cowpokes lounging nearby and shook his head. "We could walk through here naked and nobody would notice" he said, "How come nobody puts these places on TV?"

I just shrugged, sipped a longneck and surveyed my options. A cowboy's work is never done....


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