Best of 2015

Oct 28

treesSometimes I post my whole Fids & Kamily ballot; this year I just love all of my top ten (and beyond!) so much that I don’t want to do that, other than saying that the best family record of the year for me was Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly’s Trees.  Funny, sweet, catchy, sometimes a little melancholy, smart: it’s so darn good.

Here’s the rest of the list, in alphabetical order (in the way that iTunes does it):

  • Alastair Moock & Friends – All Kinds of You And Me
  • Gustafer Yellowgold – Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom
  • Jazzy Ash – Bon Voyage
  • Lori Henriques – How Great Can This Day Be
  • Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band – Adelante
  • Red Yarn & Friends – Deep Woods Revival
  • Renee & Friends – Simpatico
  • Suz Slezak – Watching the Nighttime Come
  • Tim Kubart – Home

Records that came really close:

  • The Bazillions – On the Bright Side
  • Bunnyclogs – Whales Can’t Whistle
  • Cat Doorman – Calling All the Kids to the Yard
  • Lloyd H. Miller – Sing-a-Long History Vol. 1: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
  • Pointed Man Band – Flight of the Blue Whale
  • The Pop Ups – Great Pretenders Club
  • Turkey Andersen – s/t
  • Vered – Hello My Baby

And way more.  It was a good year.  Go buy some music.

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Some Numbers

Oct 10

47: The (approximate) number of folks we’ve had come by the studio since we moved to Austin just over three years ago.

28: The (approximate) number of acts I’ve booked for shows in Austin since moving here (doesn’t include The River’s Family Music Meltdown & Book Bash back in Northampton).


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The Voicemail.

Jul 14

A few months ago, motivational speaker Tony Robbins managed to get two out of three right on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Normally this would be of passing interest at most, but he happened to be playing for “Bill Childs of Austin, Texas.”

Hey, that’s me!

Well, today I got the voicemail message from Carl Kasell.  I also got a special treat for listeners of the radio show — but you’ll have to wait until this weekend’s show to hear that.  But you can hear the message that callers to my cell phone now hear, featuring him reciting, beautifully, some of the lyrics to They Might Be Giants’s “Dr. Worm”:

(Click to the left of “00:00” if you don’t see a play button there.)

Huge thanks to Carl and the nice folks at Wait Wait.  It’s a total delight.

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Jun 19

We’re traveling and so we recorded a few shows ahead of time.  So I can’t do anything on the radio about Charleston, and I don’t know that I would or should anyway.

But I do want to write a little bit here before our day in London starts.

When a person of color, or a person of a non-Christian faith, does something horrific, the narrative is about the group or groups to which they belong.  And just as often, when a white or (nominally) Christian person does a similar act, the narrative shifts to being about mental illness, and how surprising the act was.

Of course we have to talk about mental illness, and of course a fully healthy person doesn’t do these things (though lets steer clear of making this yet another chance to stigmatize those with mental illness).

But we can’t end the conversation there.  I think we have to think about how children are raised — with love or with hate, and with active conversations about race and class and differences and privilege.  And about guns.  When those conversations are not part of our culture, it’s not at all surprising that these killings keep happening.

I don’t know anything about the Charleston killer’s childhood beyond what has been reported, and I don’t know if that’s all been accurate. I’m not saying a thing about his parents.

But I do know that he walked into a place that welcomed him and sat down next to people who were raised to welcome visitors with open arms and open hearts and open minds.  He at least pretended to pray with these loving people, and then he stood up, looked around at them, these people who had welcomed him and prayed with him, and he shot them to death.  With a gun given to him by his parents.

It’s reasonable to ask why I’m posting about this on the website for a children’s radio show.  Jessica Luther, an Austin mom, posted this on Twitter yesterday:

“A 5yo black girl survived last night by playing dead. Surely my 6yo white son can survive a conversation about why she matters.”

Maybe naively, I think part of that conversation can be started and facilitated through music.  Music that celebrates love and difference and play and fun and history and the future.  Music that gets kids dancing together, spinning together, singing together, holding hands together.  Music that asks interesting questions and hopefully gives parents a chance to talk about some possible answers.

So, put on some music, hold your kids, and, if the time is right, have a hard conversation about what happened.  It can only help.

Love you all.

As usual, Elizabeth Mitchell (here with Dan Zanes) is a great place to start.  Hopefully the embedding will work:

P.S. Please don’t make the narrative be just about the South, either. South Carolina has some amazingly wonderful and loving people, and every state has its problems. Certainly there are regional issues but these are not issues unique to anyone or any state.



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Radio Nerd Dog Whistles

May 18

You might have seen this post I did over at Zooglobble about how to introduce someone to the current world of music for families.  (And Dave Loftin did one too.)  That was based mostly on the playlists from the first couple of weeks on the air at KUTX, but obviously only the songs from people who were doing music for kids.

I thought it might be worthwhile to look at the rest of what we’ve played early in our tenure here on KUTX.  I sort of think of these as what political hacks call “dog whistles” — things with multiple meanings, except where in dog whistle politics the additional message tends to be “I think them gays are icky too but need not to say that out loud,” my additional message is more like “Hey, music nerds, you’re safe here.”

So far, the radio nerd dog whistle songs have included:

  • Brian Eno, I’ll Come Running – I still remember in the early fall of 2005, when we’d first launched, another volunteer at Valley Free Radio coming up to me and saying, “You know, I thought what you were doing was interesting and stuff, but it was when I heard Eno that I really got what you were doing.”  It’s no surprise that it was the third song we played on KUTX.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell, Lovely Day – Yes, this was on the Zooglobble list too, but it fits here too, because (a) it’s originally by Bill Withers, one of the finest songwriters and singers in history; (b) Elizabeth and Daniel have a long and amazing musical history outside of family music; and (c) I really wanted to also play Withers’s Lean On Me, but don’t think I can play that without crying yet (listen to this show and read this post for why).  I’ll get there soon.
  • The Ramones, Spider Man – It’s the Ramones.  No explanation really needed.  (As an aside, I filled in for my friend Elizabeth McQueen in doing an interview with John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants for her great podcast This Song.  His choice for the song to discuss was the original Batman theme.)
  • Asylum Street Spankers, Sliver – Again, this is on the Zooglobble list, but here because (a) the Spankers only did one (amazing) family record and (b) it’s a Nirvana cover, and a song that is not obviously something you’d play for kids.
  • Mates of State in-studio – I could have held onto this until later and gotten more songs in, but this seemed totally perfect to me.  I mean, sure, part of it is that I just adore MoS, and one of my great joys is that they did a Guided By Voices cover on the Science Fair CD (the end, with their kids singing? gets me every time).  But again, it signals something about our show that I don’t think any other show for families does (or if they do, I don’t know about it).  Those were two songs by a really well-respected internationally touring band that you cannot hear anywhere else in the world!
  • Prince, Starfish and Coffee – again, like the Ramones, probably doesn’t need much explanation, though I will also note that this is a bit of a shout-out to the many Minnesotans resident here in Austin.
  • Carrie Rodriguez in-studio – Carrie’s Sacred Heart Project is fascinating and gave us an opportunity to share some Mexican history — musical and otherwise — from someone whose music I think is accessible to kids without being aimed at them.  I’m also trying to be more intentional about having Spanish language songs in particular.  And again, her second song (“Lake Harriet”) was about one of Minneapolis’s lovely lakes.
  • WillieUnveiledWillie Nelson, Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon? – It was frustrating not to get get Willie into the first week’s show, so he definitely was getting in the second.  He’s so fundamental to Austin music (there’s a statue of him!) that it was a necessary wave to the history of the town.  Plus, uh, he’s Willie Nelson.
  • The Pixies, Tony’s Theme – Same category as the Ramones, really.  I figure a lot of current parents grew up on the Pixies (and Nirvana, etc.), and the rest at least heard them on (sigh) “Alternative Classics” or whatnot.  This song (and Prince, too, I suppose) makes a particularly good example of us finding kid-friendly songs from bands that most do not do that, and not just songs that get contributed to kids’ compilations (though nothing’s wrong with that).
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Ever since I heard this done on 89.3 the Current, I’ve felt like it’s one of the very best versions of a song with roughly 34 millions versions of it out there.  Sharon Jones, of course, also appears on the Baby Loves Jazz releases, and does a fine job there, but the Dap-Kings…well, they’re ridiculous.

I still feel like we’re in introduction mode and will be for quite a while.  This week, the nerd whistle songs will include Loretta Lynn, Dean Jones with the Felice Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Fugazi, Frank Turner, and Cornershop.  Should be fun!

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We’re living on the air in Cincinnati (and northern Kentucky)

Mar 23

We had a great couple of shows during SXSW (check out our Facebook page for photos and more), with at least 2,000 coming out on Wednesday and more than that on Sunday.  Thanks to all of our sponsors and everyone who came out!

And we’re still totally amazingly excited about launching on KUTX starting May 10—and now we’ve got another station launch to announce!  Starting this week, we’ll be heard on WNKU in Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky, every Sunday morning at 8:00.  And that actually means we’re on four different stations in the Cincinnati region, including a 100,000 watt station!  Check out where we’ll be hearable on the little maps below, or click here to see a PDF of them all combined.


That is a massive set of signals, blanketing the entire Cincinnati metro area, with WNKE reaching all the way over to West Virginia (even covering a little of Charleston!). Looking over a map, it looks to me like it easily covers all of the Cincinnati metro area…that’s a total population of over 2 million people.  Whoa!

WNKU is, like KUTX, an eclectic listener supported station.  Glancing at the playlist right now, I see Chris Smither, The Decemberists, Old 97’s, War on Drugs…tons of stuff we love.  It’s going to be a great fit, and we’re just totally thrilled to be joining them!

There’s something a little extra special for me.  I’ve never lived in Ohio, and have only visited Cincinnati a few times (I coached a moot court team whose competition was there every year), but WOXY, a station broadcasting from Oxford, Ohio, was a huge part of developing my love for radio.  WOXY was a terrific commercial alternative station that I turned to after the demise of my beloved Rev-105, and for years, WOXY was the little station that could, moving from terrestrial radio to internet radio, being revived like a horror movie villain multiple times, until it finally died its final death after a move here in Austin, Texas.  Its signal was pretty weak and its budget low, but they continued to make great radio for years, and I’m thrilled to be on in the same market they were.

And that’s not even mentioning WKRP, the fictional radio station that was central to a ridiculous number of radio people’s love for the medium.  Did I buy the full DVD set recently?  Of course I did.

It is no coincidence that we have imaging for our show that incorporates audio from both WKRP and WOXY.

So: Hi, Cincinnati and northern Kentucky!  We are super excited to meet you.



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