Monday, October 10, 2005
Anyone who has walked into the cozy KJHK studio and taken a little time to explore the station's LP library is already familiar with Blake Gumprecht. Gumprecht's insightful, thorough and artistic album reviews are affixed to many of KJHK's most treasured records. But the reason behind the colorful reviews went beyond visual aesthetics.
"It was all part of my propaganda campaign to get people to notice new music that I liked" explains Gumprecht.
Ironically, Gumprecht's interest in underground American music was born out of his experience studying abroad in England. With nudging from British friends, Gumprecht began exploring the uncharted waters of underground music in America. The result, when he returned to the states, was his weekly program on KJHK "Alternative America." The program focused on underground artists and bands, many of which had not been heard outside the city limits of Los Angeles or New York.
"Alternative America" was part of a movement at KJHK and in Lawrence that emphasized the importance of music made independently of corporate record companies. "We started getting independent bands like Black Flag to come through town," Gumprecht recalls. "We made a real impact - bands like (Los Angeles punk band) Agent Orange sold more albums in Lawrence than anywhere else in the country outside of Southern California."
Gumprecht remembers that the station and other KJHK volunteers such as Steve Greenwood left a big impression with him. "It was a life-changing experience - it brought me further into music and made me a more curious and inquisitive person. It was an amazing opportunity for me to share my enthusiasm about independent music."
Personalities of KJHK
One particularly memorable experience involved one persistent fan, Los Angeles rock band The Dream Syndicate and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. "Every week I would receive a letter from a fan calling himself 'The Rock-n-Roll Bank Robber' who would listen with his transistor radio from Leavenworth and comment on the music I was playing." Gumprecht thought it would be interesting to have the type of band I played on "Alternative America" play inside the Leavenworth prison. "I helped book Dream Syndicate there and Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate Bassist) received her fair share of catcalls."
After his experience at KJHK and KU, Gumprecht left for Minneapolis and became the first paid employee at Twin/Tone Records, a label made famous for uncovering well-known '80s alternative acts such as The Replacements and Soul Asylum.
These days, Gumprecht is an assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire. Among other classes, Gumprecht teaches "Place and Popular Culture," which examines ways music and other forms of popular culture can shape people's ideas about geographical locations. In 2001, Gumprecht published "The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth." He is currently working on a book that will examine the American College town and will include references to Lawrence and KJHK.