mIKE kEAR

IBMA AWARD WINNING BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR 2020

We were honored to interview Australian based radio host and 2020 International Bluegrass Music Association Broadcaster of the Year award recipient, Mike Kear recently about his 1,000th Show anniversary broadcast this week.

Mike’s show will air live on Friday just outside Sydney, Australia, on the Hawkesbury Radio network, 89.9 FM at 10 PM, or 6 AM EST in the US. This is the weekly show schedule for his program, ‘Music From Foggy Hollow.’

In syndication for several years now with Bluegrass Country Radio, loyal followers also have the opportunity to listen to Mike’s anniversary event with numerous special guests on Sunday, February 20 at 10 AM.

Congratulations Mike, we look forward to tuning in with you for many more show anniversaries to come!

(UG) Tell us about life “before” the Foggy Hollow and a successful radio program career. Who was Mike Kear before becoming an IBMA Award-winning radio show host?

"I've been in the IT business, working mostly for American companies since I was in my twenties.  It was Burroughs Corporation (Now part of Unisys) that brought me and my family to Australia from New Zealand in 1981.  In 1996 I decided to leave the office politics of large corporations and go work for myself.  I started working from my front room as a web developer.    Never made as much income as those corporate days but I had a life.  I was part of my family.  I saw my kids after school and I could have my dog Toby beside me as I worked." 

(UG) Is there a specific radio industry professional that stands out to you as a mentor or that you looked up to when first planning/forming your programming? 

"Not really a mentor but I did pay attention to what the successful radio hosts did. Community Radio (Which is where my show originates) in Australia is very different to commercial radio.  In commercial radio, the show hosts have little or no say in what goes to air.  If the host doesn’t play the song in the rotation within 30 seconds or so of when it's scheduled the Program Director wants to see them after the shift. In our station, the show hosts make up their own shows. Content has to be within broad guidelines, but then the host makes up the song list themselves. I am lucky that I can play whatever I want."  

(UG) What’s the most important thing for you to achieve each time your show airs?

"It has to start and finish exactly on time. That's one of the golden rules of radio. You have the equipment to yourself for precisely the time allocated. The next show begins on the exact second your show is scheduled to end. "The News waits for no one" is a common saying in the radio business.

However, that's the practical limitation. Other than that, the most important issue is that what I do has to be a SHOW.  I'm not just spinning records at random. I have to make it flow, make it entertaining. Whatever I say or play some people are going to like,  others aren’t. I need to make sure I'm catering to the needs of both groups of people. So I try not to play too many of the same kind of songs in a row.   If I play half a dozen similar songs that might be fantastic for some people,  but 20 minutes of drudgery for someone else. I want to keep all of them entertained and glued to my show. It's not easy. But that's why there is a variety of styles, content,  themes, artists, on the show. The only thing they have in common is they are almost all less than 6 months old. Usually less than 8 weeks old."

(UG) Do you find that the style of bluegrass music desired differs between your Australian listeners and American listeners? And, how so?

"Yes, definitely. American listeners, particularly those on the east coast of the USA,  know a lot more about bluegrass than the average Australian. So I always explain what "IBMA" means for the Aussies. I always translate Aussie colloquialisms for the Americans. Generally,  Aussies like bluegrass. It's a frequent thing that an Australian listener will tell me,  "I didn’t know much about bluegrass but now I hear what you play I like it!!"  Few Australians can name a bluegrass band.  If they call the station to make a request,  the request will usually be "Play that O Brother song"  (Meaning "Man of Constant Sorrow"). Or the only bluegrass they can think of is "Dueling Banjos" or "Ballad Of Jed Clampett."  But Australians and Americans are like brothers. There are so many similarities in our backgrounds and personalities. I know that the odds are if I play something an American is likely to enjoy, I can be pretty sure Aussies will enjoy it too."

(UG) Did winning the IBMA award affect your radio show in terms of traffic and popularity? Do you feel it brought a lot more awareness to your program? 

"I have been pleasantly surprised at how much the IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] Broadcaster of the Year Award has opened doors for me, some of which I hadn’t even realized were closed to me. I'm not meaning that I had been deliberately shut out of things, but since my profile was raised by the IBMA Award, there are lots of people contacting me that I've never heard from before. For example, people began asking can they send me music when before I always had to go hunt for it. To be honest, I cannot easily determine if the Award has increased the listenership at all,  but I assume it has. I see more activity on my Facebook page during the show now than before."

(UG) What determines your opinion on song selection for your shows? Is there a particular style of bluegrass that you enjoy? And, what other types of music do you listen to when you’re off air?

"I am a sucker for tight harmonies.   A song that has good, accurate, close harmonies will grab me before any other aspect of the song. There are even some favourite songs that I have never listened to the lyrics. More than once I've transcribed the lyrics of a song so that I can learn to play it myself, only to say, 'Wow I had no idea that's what that song was about!'

For the show, the factors include, how recent is it? Can it broadly be classified as bluegrass,   newgrass, or acoustic country? And if not, can I justify the airtime and the fact that to put it in my list, it'll push something else off the list? Musically, is it any good?  (i.e. instruments in tune, singing on pitch, diction clear, things like that). Is it acoustic?  A "fail" on any of these factors doesn’t automatically prevent a song from getting played on my show but there will need to be good scores on the other factors to compensate."   

(UG) With all of this time invested now, and many successes behind you with the program, are there any new goals or plans in place for the future of Foggy Hollow?

"I try to make changes small and gradual rather than undertake a wholesale overhaul of the show. I'm mindful of the old saying "if it ain't broke don’t fix it." But not changing anything is a recipe for disaster. Eventually the show will sound old fashioned and stale. So I constantly look for things I can do to add something interesting to the show, and to do so in small ways. I don’t have unlimited freedom to change things -  no matter what I could do on my local station HawkFM in Sydney,  there are still other stations in the USA that take the show so I need to keep them in mind always. What's normal and acceptable in one station is not necessarily normal and acceptable in another. There are always cultural differences to negotiate. Not just between Australia and the USA. But other countries too. Radio has a worldwide audience these days and we have to be mindful of the sensibilities of many different kinds of listeners.

That's why it remains such an interesting challenge. I have to keep it moving,  not let it get stale,  not let it get boring,  but still remain loyal to the original purpose of the show - "New releases, bluegrass, newgrass and acoustic country."

Be sure to check out Mike's "Hot 100" lists at the link below to see if your favorite artists made the cut! And tune in to the anniversary show on Hawkesbury Radio or Bluegrass Country Radio! Many thanks to you Mike and congratulations!

ARTIST INTERVIEW CONTRIBUTIONS