Helping homegrown music be heard

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The session starts with an addictive drumbeat.

As 89.7 WTMD-FM program director Mike "Matthews" Vasilikos and air host Don Rogers watch Jeff Trueman thump the skins in the Towson University studio, their feet tap and their heads nod slightly. Their listeners are going to love this.

The rest of the band, The Pale Stars, launches into the tune "Everything's Wrong." The best take, along with three other songs and an interview, will air Tuesday on WTMD's Baltimore Unsigned. The three-week-old program normally airs at 8 p.m. Mondays and features in-studio performances and conversations with local bands. Because of scheduling conflicts with a basketball game, this week's show airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday instead.

Vasilikos, who graduated from Towson University in 2003 and began working at WTMD soon after, conceived Baltimore Unsigned as an extension of the station's creed.

"We set a policy with Baltimore music that, if it was good, it was going to get in the mix day today," he said.

Making it happen

Baltimore Unsigned was the next step. The hour-long show starts with about 10 minutes of album tracks from various local bands. Then, Rogers plays a roughly 30-minute segment of live interviews and performances from the featured band of the week. Another 10-15 minutes of studio tunes from other local bands round out the program.

Vasilikos tapped Rogers, who joined the station last June, to be the host of the show. A Baltimore native, Rogers spent three years at 93.5 WZBH in Delaware in the early to mid-'90s. Now, he works at industrial parts and hardware distributor WW Grainger and at WTMD in his spare time three days a week.

Though Rogers has previous radio experience, sitting down and interviewing bands live was new for him, he said.

"It's getting better every week," Rogers said. "The first week I was kind of nervous ... but everything really ended up going smooth. Last week, everything went smoother."

Vasilikos books the bands for Baltimore Unsigned, based on the station's playlists and sample CDs that groups send in. He said he's had no problem finding great local acts - the schedule is full through mid-March and he has plenty of future prospects. Forthcoming acts include Private Eleanor, the Bridge and Shane Gamble.

The featured bands travel to the WTMD studio to record the Wednesday before the show airs. Rogers e-mailed the Pale Stars ahead of time to determine what subjects to cover in the interview.

As the band trickled in and started setting up, Vasilikos and Rogers held a private discussion to flesh out the questions. Then the band did a sound check and started playing. Rogers said he enjoys the intimacy that the studio performances afford him.

"It's like I come to a concert every Wednesday," Rogers said. "I get to see a free show."

After a few re-takes, the Pale Stars finished their four-song set, and it was time for the interview. Producer/engineer Ryan Glaeser, who records and mixes the instruments, set up chairs and mikes in the recording studio. Rogers asked the band about its own label, Public Records, forthcoming shows and various side projects.

Rogers has a natural, likable quality - one of the reasons Vasilikos picked him for the job, he said.

"His sound is so warm and that's what I wanted the show to embrace," Vasilikos said.

Learning as they go

Since the program is still young, Rogers and Vasilikos said they're feeling out the format one week at a time.

"It's a case-by-case basis," Vasilikos said. "The show's called Baltimore Unsigned. Most of the acts we're going to have in are going to be unsigned bands, but some might have small label deals. To be honest, these days, independent labels seem to get more press than the major labels. Being unsigned might be better than being on a [major] label these days."

So far, all three bands have played acoustic rather than electric sets, but Vasilikos said they're willing to accommodate any number of different formats.

The inaugural show featured the five-piece Doug Segree Band. The second week, they brought in Romania, a side project led by Roman Kuebler of the Oranges Band. Kuebler sang and played acoustic guitar, backed by four other musicians who sang in harmony.

"I'm super-impressed with the bands that we've had in so far and the way we've been able to capture them and the light [in which] we've been able to capture them," Vasilikos said. ... "This show has potential. It's got potential to keep growing."

Hear Baltimore Unsigned at 8 p.m. Mondays on 89.7 WTMD-FM.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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