They’ve been close friends for two decades, and for the past five months Kasey Rausch and Mikal Shapiro have been partners in radio.
In March, the two singer/songwriters launched “River Trade Radio” on community radio station KKFI (90.1 FM). The show runs from 9 to 11 a.m. Sundays and features live performances and recordings. Its time slot had a big influence on the programming.
“Initially, one of our ideas was this ‘Click and Clack’ thing with sound effects and an old-time radio vibe,” Rausch said, alluding to the brothers who host the National Public Radio show “Car Talk.”
“But the deciding factor to go mellow was, it’s Sunday morning, and we want to wake people up sweetly and gently and positively rather than be in their faces.”
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That time slot opened in September after the unexpected death of Jeanne Jasperse, host of the “Coffeehouse Radio Show.”
Station manager Barry Lee said he had something particular in mind as he searched for Jasperse’s replacement.
“It was important to me to have a folk show that had young, creative, media-savvy hosts who would continue Jeanne’s predilection for live music but also play a great variety of other kinds of music that stretch the boundaries of folk music,” he said.
Rausch said she’d heard from people at the station that her name had been mentioned as a possible replacement.
“I started thinking about the idea for a while before I approached the issue,” she said. “Then another person approached me about it, and by then I’d given it some thought. So I contacted the station and told them I’d be interested. They encouraged me to apply. But I knew I’d need some support, partially because I travel and because it takes a lot to do a good radio show. Mikal was the first person I thought of.”
The two have known each other since 1993.
“We met through ex-boyfriends,” Rausch said. “I was 18, she was 17. We ditched the boyfriends and kept each other.”
Both have since become mainstays in the city’s singer/songwriter circles.
“Kasey gave me my first guitar and taught me my first chords,” Shapiro said.
“When Mikal signed on, I realized we had a really strong team of talented programmers who could spell each other when one of them was on the road, if necessary,” Lee said. “The chemistry between Kasey and Mikal goes back many years. They’re close friends. Their repartee on the air and their interactions with their guests create an intimacy that’s all too rare on radio these days.”
The show gets its name from the theme the two established.
“We focus on how music comes into Kansas City and how music is carried back out,” Rausch said. “Kansas City was a hub for physical trading of goods, with the river and the railroads and all the trails. We brought that in as a theme to honor those routes.”
So the show features musicians coming into town for shows. It also features local musicians, who play their own songs and music that influenced them.
“Sometimes the touring musicians coming through town contact us, sometimes we contact them,” Shapiro said. “We also ask local artists to bring in a track that influenced them and the music they play in Kansas City.”
A recent Sunday show featured live performances by Cotton Wine, a Nashville duo who had played shows in Kansas City the previous two days, and Brian Frame, who leads Kansas City band the Blessed Broke. Each got about 25 minutes to perform live and play tracks off their recordings.
In between the live performers — typically two artists perform — Rausch and Shapiro play their own selections. Sunday’s playlist included songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Frank Lee, Leonard Cohen, Dolly Parton with Porter Wagoner, Mountain Man (an Appalachian-folk trio from Vermont) and Lawrence band Drakkar Sauna, who covered the Louvin Brothers’ “Lorene.” For his influential track, Frame played the gothic-folk tune “Black Spring” by Joe Winslow.
Rausch said that musically the show has “parameters without boundaries.”
“We don’t play much crazy electric stuff,” she said. “Keeping to the Sunday morning vibe is important. It’s roots music, which can be all-encompassing: country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, acoustic rock, soul.”
Rausch and Shapiro help fulfill the show’s mission by featuring music they hear while touring.
“We’ve played music from people we’ve played with or meet along the way,” Shapiro said. “It’s a real great grass-roots way of introducing music to our listeners.”
The show featuring Cotton Wine was “River Trade Radio’s” 25th. Its hosts said they have several favorites. One was the Father’s Day show featuring Johnny Hamil, a Kansas City musician, and Quinn Deveaux, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco.
“They had never met,” Shapiro said. “They met in the studio and worked it out before they came in and pulled it off. There was so much joy on their faces, playing with a stranger live on the radio for the first time.”
Both mentioned a show featuring Havilah Bruders of the Kansas City band Cadillac Flambe.
“She came in with her mother and sister, and they sang a cappella gospel songs and old barbershop tunes,” Shapiro said. “The family harmonies were amazing.”
The show has plans for projects outside the studio. Recently it was awarded a grant to compile print and online versions of a Greater Kansas City Music Directory. They are also talking about a “River Trade Radio” festival. And the show has become a sponsor of “Here’s to the Roots,” a weekly local-music showcase Sunday afternoons at the Dubliner in the Power & Light District.
Rausch said those are all ways for two veteran musicians to help their local music scene.
“We can play our own music (on the show) if we want, but we don’t do it much,” she said. “If Mikal’s out of town, I might play one of her songs, and she might do the same.
“But that’s not why we got into this show. We have been so supported by this community. This is a great way to give back.”
“River Trade Radio” is broadcast from 9 to 11 a.m. Sundays on community radio station KKFI (90.9 FM).