KXT's Sarah Jane Semrad on the Value of Independent Radio
Photo: Tyler Sharp
Sarah Jane Semrad's first local show was Course of Empire. And so it began.
Nowadays, SJ is easily one of the most important and hard-working people in our local music community. She's marketing director at KKXT-FM 91.7, a station riveted in local music support, where it's pretty damn satisfying to hear Dallas' Dead Flowers right out of, say, The Jayhawks and Thin Lizzy. A job like hers at a nonprofit station is a tough gig: KXT's giveaways and promotions have to have gold-currency motivational value. They need to move listeners to the point where they don't just dig your station, they donate to your cause, as opposed to marketing in commercial radio, where the goodies and events just have to relate and appeal. As a result of KXT's hard work, her office is (firsthand testimony from your author) a treasure vault: a music geek's holy wonderland of shiny new shrink-wrapped vinyl releases and amazing music merch of all kinds. This is stuff that doesn't go home with the jocks or the bosses, it's essentially exchanged for donations toward their electric bill.
Anyway, SJ may have her work cut out for her at KXT but, lucky for us in the community, it's a labor of love, a deep and genuine level of music fandom all her own. If only all people in her field of work were such fans. The music radio world would surely be a happier, healthier place overall.
You are, technically, a Course of Empire spouse and it was your first local show. But is it true that CoE wasn't particularly your cup of tea?
CoE shows were outrageous and packed and unlike any other local shows I've ever been to before or since.Their music is a little hard for my tastes, but that's exactly what made the live shows so amazing. Paul [Semrad] played bass for CoE for 10 years and we first started dating towards the end of the band's run. At first, it was a massive turn-off -- dating a guy in a band, any band. But Paul wasn't like other musicians I knew. After dating 18 months, we married just as CoE was breaking up. We eloped and ran off to Spain in lieu of a wedding. That's more our style. Nowadays, Paul works with the Undermain Theater on most of their productions that involve music, from sound design on select plays to the production of Neil Young's Greendale, to starring with Bruce Dubose in An Illiad last spring.
Do you play any instruments yourself? Ever given it a shot?
I aspire to learn to play pedal steel because my God, what sound could possibly sound more beautiful?
I really agree, and it seems a fun instrument to pursue. How much pedal steel have you learned so far?
I had exactly one lesson with Joe Butcher (King Bucks, Pleasant Grove) last fall and then a KXT pledge drive started and well, I didn't practice. I'll have to sheepishly go back now and get my first lesson all over again. I even bought a pedal steel from KXT personality Allen Roberts. It sits in my living room, just staring at me.
Ha! How goes the fundraising at KXT, anyway? It seems the process of it on-air has been streamlined, and has come a long way since the first round.
I'm glad the fundraising sounds more streamlined because it is in many ways. Fundraising is a big part of my job -- from planning the campaigns, to producing to being on-air. Believe it or not, the campaigns are a lot of fun because staff that may not normally work together get to hang out for hours on end, it sometimes seems, and get to know each other better. KXT is still a relatively new station so I still meet people who haven't tuned in.
I can understand it not being for everyone, but when you can hear Dallas' Little Black Dress, and cuts from Pink Floyd's Meddle LP and Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball album all in the course of 15 minutes, well, I'm down.
I love to turn people on to KXT and blow their minds that we play so much local music! It's easy to plan and ask for money for something when you believe in it. It's like watering a plant.
What first sparked your interest in music overall? Way back when.
I played piano in grade school. I was a band nerd starting in sixth grade -- playing flute and piccolo for seven years until I graduated high school. I was in the Permian High School marching band (Friday Night Lights, anyone?) and absolutely loved it. My brother is a professional musician living in New York, playing in subway bands, in a church in Harlem on Sundays and teaching middle school band in Chinatown. Music is a huge part of my personal life -- that's what makes working at KXT so much fun!
Favorite local artists? Best live local shows you've seen?
Favorite local artists right now are Doug Burr, Air Review and Overseas. The best live local shows I've been to are the Barefoot at the Belmont Summer Concert Series and KXT's Summer Cut. Mostly because I have a hand in making decisions and try to create shows I want to attend.
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