River Rising — Omaha’s indie radio show moves to Sunday afternoons

Is having one good radio station in a city the size of Omaha — a city purported to be one of the “best places to live in America” — too much to ask? Apparently, it is. But at least for two-and-a-half hours a week we have New Day Rising on FM radio station KIWR, 89.7 The River. No, NDR is not a new program. It's been around since December 2004. But if you're like me, the last thing you're doing Sunday nights at 9 p.m. is listening to the radio. Thankfully, the people who run The River decided to move NDR to the new time slot of 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, where it's now being discovered by people who live “normal lives.” The show's promo calls it, “The future of music. The best deep cuts and the best new tracks.” But it's more than that. NDR is the only locally produced broadcast radio show whose purpose is to play, promote and talk about indie rock — or at least the style of indie rock preferred by the show's producer, engineer and host, David Leibowitz. “I'm not trying to out-indie indie music fans,” Leibowitz says between songs during last week's show, broadcast from The River's Council Bluffs studios on the campus of Iowa Western Community College. “People who are serious music fans and read all the blogs and Brooklyn Vegan and Pitchfork aren't going to have never heard these songs before. This is for moderate, traditional music fans, some of the regular River listeners or someone who's just casually tuning in.” For the same reason I began writing about music some 20-odd years ago, Leibowitz began doing his radio show six years ago: To get free music. "I get too much of it, actually,” he says. “Parts of my house look like I'm a hoarder because of the piles of CDs." But he added, “The show is my only connection to the local music community. I'm playing my role.” That role involves proudly carrying the banner for College Music Journal-style rock. His playlist for last Sunday afternoon's show included tracks by Middle Brother, Ponderosa, The New Pornographers, Say HI, Tapes 'n' Tapes, The Dears, Men Without Pants, Cold War Kids, P.J. Harvey, King Kahn and the Shrines, Sleigh Bells and Starry Saints. NDR is the first radio show in Omaha to air a track from the upcoming Mogwai album Hardcore Will Never Die. That alone makes it relevant. Besides new music, Leibowitz sprinkles in classic tracks by the likes of Hüsker Dü, Grant Hart, Gang of Four, Radiohead, Buffalo Tom, Wilco and perennial sign-off band Sonic Youth. Like the old-time radio DJs who have long since left this earth, Leibowitz's playlist reflects his personal taste. “I would say (the show) is in the traditional indie rock vein,” he says. “There's a resemblance to ‘80s college rock. I don't want to play stuff that I absolutely don't like. That's just a fact. My taste doesn't match up with Pitchfork, but I'm not concerned about it.” You're not likely to hear a Pet Shop Boys or New Order track on NDR. “I'm less inclined to play synthier music,” Leibowitz said. “My past is with Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, but I didn't like The Cure in the ‘80s and I do now. If New Order has a new record out, I would give it a spin, even though New Order doesn't really fit into the format.” Another “artificial constraint” is not playing songs you could hear on another radio station. “T. Rex would fit in, but you can hear it on Z-92,” he said. Leibowitz there's a variety of indie-flavored Internet radio shows that are just a click away for most fans. What makes NDR unique is its local angle. Leibowitz plays songs by bands that are headed to Omaha to perform in the coming weeks or months, such as Best Coast, Now, Now and Mogwai, along with a handful of local indie bands that are ignored by The River's local-only radio show, Planet O. In addition to the all-stars on the Saddle Creek Records label, Leibowitz has played tracks by Little Brazil, Honey & Darling, It's True and Thunder Power, among others. “I don't play those bands just because they're local, but because their music is of the same quality as the other music on the show,” Leibowitz said. Sometimes those tracks even catch the attention of The River's program director, Sophia John. “She acknowledges that there have been records that premiered on New Day Rising that have made it into regular rotation,” Liebowitz said. “It's great to see these bands get heard by a wider audience.” So, how well is NDR doing in the all-important Arbitron ratings? Leibowitz said he's “blissfully unaware, for the most part. We must be doing well since they keep moving us up to better time slots.” Could NDR ever find a regular, daily slot on The River's schedule? Unlikely. Indie music always has been a niche genre that's lived in the cracks between commercial rock and the style of “alternative” screamo goon rock that makes up The River's usual programming. And that's the way it's always been, Leibowitz said. “There's just more of them than us,” he said. “It's the nature of being an indie music fan. It's part of the psyche.” Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on the Omaha music scene. Check out Tim's daily music news updates at his website, lazy-i.com, or email him at lazy-i@thereader.com.

posted at 09:08 pm
on Thursday, February 03rd, 2011

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