January 29, 2009
Though I try not to cover local media too extensively on this site, sometimes things are just too cool. Shepherd University alum Matt Walker has been running a stellar radio show called Ghost Don’t Walk on 89.7 WSHC in Shepherdstown for some time now. The times are certainly forcing everything to adapt or die trying, and independent college radio is no exception. Walker is currently busy working on a podcast extension of Ghost Don’t Walk to replace the traditional radio version. I recently caught up with him to talk about the show.
NFI: Talk a little bit about the idea behind Ghost Don’t Walk. For those who may not know, you focused on experimental music, correct? Did you ever venture outside of that genre? Also, how long has the show been running?
MW: Ghost Don’t Walk was essentially just an extension of my late-night listening sessions I had with myself. I found that there was a lack of public sources to listen to experimental music as a whole. Sure there were specialized blogs about noise, ambient, or free-jazz, but none that ventured into tying them all together. I mean, I blatantly saw a thread between the skronking sounds of 60s free-jazz, and then the over-modulated noise of artists like Wolf Eyes. It just made sense to me.
The overall idea was to create an atmosphere, but at the same time expose listeners to sounds that they might not be familiar with. I think one of the underlying modus operandi for the show was to ask the question of what is music. For every person it’s different. I really wanted to expand and perhaps challenge the listener to make those decisions.
The problem was, giving the “experimental” genre boundaries for the show. I had a very loose definition for the most part. I used the term experimental, but that is such a large umbrella genre word choice. I think the meat and potatoes of the show was definitely ambient, free jazz, and noise. Everything else just kind of fit in the cracks. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hear something like post-rock played, or a more adventurous pop song played. If I felt like a band was trying to break the mold of what was accepted, I’d usually give it a spin. Hermit Thrushes was one example of this. Indie rock sounds, but with just enough noodling and expanding to make it out of the jungle that is indie pop rock.
The show ran on air from the summer of 07 through December 08. I think it had a run of about 60-some shows, each running 2 hours. Within that time I had some specials focusing on No Wave, Sonic Youth, jazz, and then even some album premiers and label focuses which were always fun to do.
NFI: What was your relationship with WSHC? Were they accommodating to you? Did you feel like you had a good listenership while at WSHC?
MW: WSHC is a cool little station. My relationship goes back to when I attended Shepherd University (then College). I think ‘SHC was the whole reason I jumped at the chance to attend. When I was in high school music was my life. Unfortunately for me, no one else really liked the same music. When I got to college and saw that they had shows playing the music I liked, and I could hold a conversation with others who had the same passion, I was hooked.
By my sophomore year I was assistant music director, then music director, and eventually station manager. When I graduated I was so burned out from the station, I vowed never to set foot in there again. Forward 5 years and I was sweating to get back. Luckily I still had some contacts in the department, and was let on-air again.
WSHC is great for several reasons, but one of the biggest is that its 950 watts, which means you aren’t broadcasting only to the campus. On a good day it reaches 20-some miles in all directions. Thats way more power than most college radio stations in the country. Also, WSHC has so far resisted the urge to sell out like many other stations. There might be more mainstream music on its airwaves, but the basic ideal of college radio still remains.
I had great penetration when I did the show at the station. The thing is though, I really had to hustle to get listeners. If you depend only on people stumbling on yr show, its probably going to fail. Unless you have a lot of friends. The big way I got listeners was through myspace. I feel like if I would’ve started the show a little later, it wouldn’t have worked out like it did though. Myspace is now so passe with people, that many people have abandoned it. When I started the show though, myspace was still “the thing” and was a burgeoning way for bands to get their name out there. Coming from a music director position in college, I knew how to get promos sent to me, and that made all the difference in the world. Once I had done 20 or so shows, thats when bands started contacting me to send me promos or demos which was flattering to say the least. Myspace was such a great network to work within, and I think it still is better for bands than facebook, but on a strictly social level, its lost a lot of steam.
NFI: You have conducted several on-air interviews with influential regional artists such as Baltimore’s Human Host. What was that like? Are there any other artists that you had on the show that you’d like to talk about?
MW: One of the main ideas also behind the show was exposing local talent. We live in an area which is so fertile for music, though scenes are few and far between until you hit the metro areas. Being from Baltimore I had some contacts, and been to shows, so MT6 Records was a strong place to start with interviews and live in-studio stuff. Thats really where Human Host and for the final show, Bad Liquor Pond happened. Mike from Human Host contacted me about coming in, and I gladly agreed. He talked up the Baltimore scene, and then did some in-studio improv, which is absolutely the best for a show. Having something unique is especially gratifying for me as a fan of music, but also as someone putting things out to the world.
I’ve also been really lucky to be friends with/fan of/supporter of Magnanimous Records in Shepherdstown. Curt and Dani Seiss are amazing people and their label is just as exciting and liberating for a listener as anything you would want to find in a record store. From the beginning they championed the show and supported it with promos, giveaways, and also sending bands my way. I had Polyphasic down for an interview, did a phoner with Mao II, had Luke Hazzard aka Ourson down for a show, and attended Sonic Circuits in DC for Element Kuuda‘s US debut. Its amazing that this label in Shepherdstown is putting out all this vital music that is under radar locally. They actually just put out an amazing re-issue of the long out of print Mandible Chatter record, “Grace”. Thats pretty monumental. The ebay prices for that record prior to re-release were outrageous!
There is more to come from Matt Walker and Ghost Don’t Walk in Pt. II of the interview.