California Report: Peter Thompson’s Bluegrass Signal benefit CD

IBMA 2020 Broadcaster of the Year nominee and syndicated broadcaster of Bluegrass Country, Peter Thompson, has announced his next CD compilation benefiting KALW in San Francisco and Bluegrass Country. Turn Your Radio On is a 2-CD compilation of music recorded live in the KALW studios from 1999-2019, and originally broadcast on Bluegrass Signal as part of KALW’s acoustic music programs’ bi-annual On-Air Folk Festivals. The 40 songs and tunes encompass a wide variety of bluegrass and old-time musical styles, with outstanding performances by some 33 Bay Area bluegrass and old-time bands.

Turn Your Radio On is the third compilation Peter has produced for KALW and Bluegrass Country fundraising purposes; info on the other two at the Bluegrass Signal website.

Congratulations Peter. How did this compilation tradition come about?

I’ve always enjoyed sending CDs as thank-you gifts to listeners who support public radio. Back in 2013, we’d gone through a period of relatively few releases by Northern California musicians, and I hoped that a compilation featuring some wonderful bluegrass and old-time bands would be an effective fundraising tool — and would expand awareness of the breadth and depth of talent in our region. It was a success, so I produced a second sampler CD, this time with all live recordings from clubs, concert halls, and festivals.

The pandemic shutdown allowed me to unearth a number of previously broadcast shows featuring musicians performing live in the KALW studios. While revisiting them for Bluegrass Signal programs produced from home, I realized that some truly exciting music had been made at those seat-of-the-pants sessions. So, with the help of graphic artist Ellen Silva and audio wizard Lou Judson, I produced a 2-CD set of some of my favorites in time for both Bluegrass Country’s and KALW ’s Spring Membership Campaigns.

Do you have many repeat performers?

Many of those on the new compilation — Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin, the Kathy Kallick Band, Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum, The Tuttle Family, AJ Lee, Suzy & Eric Thompson, High Country, Windy Hill, the Stairwell Sisters, and others — have been part of previous Bluegrass Signal collections. Some of the younger bands on this one, like North Country Blue and Crying Uncle, hadn’t even formed when the earlier ones were released, and a few of the musicians on those, including David Grisman and Peter Rowan, have yet to perform live on Bluegrass Signal.

As I recall, the studio space is very limited. How does that impact live recordings?

KALW has never had rooms designed for music-making, but we learned a great deal about effective microphones and effective microphone placement. Musicians have been extremely helpful, and quite tolerant of the vagaries of live radio. I have to admit that the music sometimes doesn’t sound particularly refined, but, then, that’s never been a crucial part of musical excellence for me.

You’ve had a lot of guest DJs in recent years. What does the future look like for Bluegrass Signal?

I’ve been producing and hosting radio shows since 1975, so you can imagine my delight when, within a few weeks, I had separate conversations with two young women about their interest in not only bluegrass and old-time music, but also radio. It turned out that both Allegra Thompson and Leah Wollenberg had great ideas about how to present music on the radio, and they’ve been doing so on a regular basis for several years. I also enjoy the perspective of musicians who like to program and talk about music and have done so with Ryan Breen, Kathy Kallick, Scott Nygaard, and many others over the years. And I appreciate how fellow collector-fans like Todd Gracyk and Jose Segue have shared their obscure discoveries. I hope this mix of presenters will continue on Bluegrass Signal for the foreseeable future, and that one or more of them will want to continue the program after I’m unable to do so. Assuming that such a thing as radio still exists …

More information about the Turn Your Radio On compilation can be found at the Bluegrass Signal website. Turn Your Radio On is featured on KALW online, Saturday, May 8, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. (PDT), and is available for a $75 donation to this listener-supported public radio station via their secure online donation page.

Peter shared the following videos.

The traditional tune, Roscoe, performed by the Kathy Kallick Band on the USS Potomac (Oakland, CA) on 3-20-14 with Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (banjo), Tom Bekeny (mandolin), Cary Black (bass), and Kathy Kallick (guitar). The new compilation has an Annie-Kathy duet of this tune.

Roy McMillan’s Cold Wind performed by Windy Hill at the Freight & Salvage (Berkeley, CA) on 7-17-12 with Ryan Breen (banjo), Henry Warde (mandolin), Thomas Wille (guitar), and Kyle McCabe (bass). Windy Hill has two songs on the new compilation.

Molly Tuttle’s Another Side performed by The Tuttles with A.J. Lee at the Freight & Salvage (Berkeley, CA) on 1-2-14 with Molly Tuttle (banjo), A.J. Lee (mandolin), Jack Tuttle (fiddle), Sullivan Tuttle (guitar), and Michael Tuttle (mandolin). This very song was on a previous Bluegrass Signal collection. Molly performs with two different bands on the new compilation, and it also includes two songs by AJ Lee & Blue Summit.


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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at