Long-time KOOPer Melinda Belles had a big smile on her face when the station reopened. She currently broadcasts live as part of the Lonesome Stranger crew and with her own show, The Africa Express. I spoke with her on November 17.
Michael A. Brown: In the show description for Lonesome Stranger at the KOOP web site, it says you “grew up with Hee Haw, 1970’s AM country radio, and Tennessee Ernie Ford.” Tell us the story.
Melinda Belles: I’m from way upstate New York and I was desperate for entertainment when I was a kid. So I listened to all my mom’s country records and also heard lots of Canadian radio. We didn’t have much TV, so I was obsessed with anything that was on, Hee Haw especially … absolutely could not miss! That, Lawrence Welk, and The Monkees pretty much informed my childhood.
MAB: The writeup for your other show says you bought your first record at age 5 … a Monkees song. It’s quite a leap from that to The Africa Express. How did you get involved with African music?
Ms Bee: I’ve always listened to stuff that had an African feel to it and I’m also fond of ‘80s new wave out of England. I liked the new wave so much, I wondered what the original influence sounded like. So I started buying the records. And surprisingly, there’s a direct line between that new wave and what I play now on The Africa Express.
MAB: Which shows and guests remain most vivid in your memory?
Ms Bee: When I first started at KOOP, I apprenticed on Adventures in Sound and my very first show on Adventures was Scottish post-punk new wave from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Then I did a show about New Zealand music. Those early shows were so much fun because I was still exploring what I wanted to do on the radio, and it was exciting sharing what I listened to with the KOOP audience.
MAB: When you hear from listeners, what are their most frequent comments and requests?
Ms Bee: Hah! Well, I’m quite self-critical about how I pronounce African artists’ names on my show … they can be confounding because they’re so different from what we’re used to hearing and saying. And coming back to live broadcasting again, there were some technical issues. But the listeners’ comments have been so supportive, like “Don’t worry, you’re doing a really good job. Ease-up on yourself.”
MAB: Besides your on-air presence, you do all sorts of other things for KOOP. Tell us about your off-air activities.
Ms Bee: I’m focused heavily on station development … contacting donors and thanking them and letting them know about goings-on at the station. I’m also actively marketing KOOP to improve our competitiveness in central Texas radio.
MAB: As we approach 2022, how do you believe KOOP might expand our reach and appeal to more listeners in Austin and nearby communities?
Ms Bee: In the coming year, I intend to champion our streaming programming, which is a way to go beyond the FM. We have some really interesting, original, fantastic programming on the stream that sometimes gets overlooked. I want to make it known more broadly in our community that KOOP still happens after our FM broadcast day ends. I also am vigorously promoting our NPA (news and public affairs) shows and trying to recruit more NPA programmers.
You can hear Melinda Belles every Friday at noon for The Africa Express and one Thursday a month on The Lonesome Stranger at 9am. 91.7FM in Austin. Worldwide at www.KOOP.org
Interview by Michael A. Brown