Listen Up / February 2012


A conversation with Scott Register from Reg’s Coffee House

by Todd Coder             Photo by Beau Gustafson

Reg

Later this month, we’ll celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Reg’s Coffee House radio show at the Alabama Theatre with a concert February 10 featuring a slew of artists that Scott Register, or Reg, as he is known to many of his listeners and friends, has introduced to the Birmingham music scene. Brandi Carlile will be the headliner. I visited Register to learn how he got where he is today and to discuss the long, strange trip he’s been on for the last 15 years.

TC: How old were you when you first got involved in this crazy business, when did you know this is what you wanted to do, whom do you blame for getting you in this mess, etc.?

SR: Music has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember.  It’s crazy how many memories I have as a child that are directly connected to music. I always dabbled in it but mostly as a hobby, my escape.  I can’t remember any time of my life that I ever considered music as my livelihood before 1997, when  (WRAX-FM program director) Dave Rossi made the fortuitous mistake of putting me on the air, on WRAX on Sunday mornings.  My life hasn’t been the same since.  As far as whom I have to blame for getting me into the “music biz,”  I guess ultimately I’m the one to blame, but you could make a point that three people influenced me the most.  It all started with my mother, who raised me on a healthy diet of everything from The Grateful Dead to T Rex and The Talking Heads to Carly Simon, Fleetwood Mac, CSN&Y and Steely Dan.  There was always a soundtrack attached to whatever I was doing in my youth, and I think it became a part of me by osmosis.  Then Dave Rossi had the crazy idea of turning the airwaves over to me for an hour on Sunday mornings.  Don’t think either one of us would have seen this crazy idea lasting 15 years or going as far as it has gone.  And finally, Don VanCleave gave me a chance to turn my hobby of dabbling in music into my full-time job when he brought me into the Coalition of Independent Music Stores family.  *The CIMS is a group of some of the best independent music stores in America.

TC:      You’re well known in Birmingham — some might say a local celebrity — but a lot of people don’t know that  you’ve built a national reputation in the industry.  How did that happen?

SR: I tell folks all the time, if I’m a celebrity, even locally, then we are all in a lot of trouble.  I’ve been lucky I guess.  Artist development is a combination of talent, hard work and mostly luck.  A lot of things have to line up for the precious few who go from being unknown to stars in music.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to hear music that I thought my listeners could relate to and songs that would resonate with them. For every one that has broken through to moderate or super stardom, there have been hundreds who are still obscure.  Does that mean they weren’t any good?  Of course not.  It means the stars, for one reason or another, did not align for them.   Fortunately, industry folks remember you for the ones that made it.  Learning early on about acts like Ben Folds, My Morning Jacket, John Mayer, Train, Ray LaMontagne, The Civil Wars has helped not only my reputation but this city’s rep for latching on to artists early and has  earned us “tastemaker” monikers, even though I detest being labeled a  tastemaker.  I want to be known as a conduit that connects music lovers with artists.  The show was designed to sound like your friend came over on Sunday morning with a bunch of music and shared it with you.  Kind of a “Hey, I know you dig music and I think I’ve got some stuff you need to hear. ”  I like to think 15 years later, it still sounds like that show.

TC: How does the process of discovering new artists work?  Is there a playbook?
SR:I’d like to say there is a scientific formula but there isn’t.  I have a voice in my head that goes off when I hear a song, and the rest just goes from there.  It’s been jokingly called a “golden ear,” but I’m still waiting for the gold part of it.  While it is what I do for a living, it is also something I do for the pure joy of seeing someone connect with music I play.  I’ve received a ton of phone calls, emails and tweets over the years that are worth more than any pay check.  Knowing you helped get someone out of an abusive relationship just by playing a song that gave them the strength they couldn’t find anywhere else, or that you helped a kid graduate from high school or you were the reason two people met and fell in love; that’s what makes me look forward to sharing music through my shows every day.

TC:      You were the figurehead for Live100.5 during its existence on local radio.  In my opinion, it was the best station our market has ever had.  Once corporate pulled the plug, a giant “Save Live100.5 FM” campaign arose out of nowhere.  Can you tell us how that all happened, how bittersweet it must have been to be in the middle of it and your thoughts about the station?

SR:Honestly, I don’t want to dwell in the past.  It was two years ago this month, and no one knows where it could have gone, but everything happens for a reason, and I believe (Internet-based) Birmingham Mountain Radio is that reason.  I’ve had more fun this past year on Birmingham Mountain Radio than I can begin to tell you, and all without the stress of corporate suits breathing down mine and my staff’s necks or the snakes in the grass slithering around the studios of a corporate cluster.  They don’t know much about this town and know even less about the music or the music fans of this city.  As The Ramones so eloquently put it “We want the airwaves.”  And if the powers that be can’t see that we have our fingers on the pulse of something special here (in Birmingham), that’s their loss.  We’ll just take what we want on our own terms.

TC: You were without a show for some time after Live100.5 went off the air.  Walk us through the different opportunities that were offered to you during this time and what led you to join Birmingham Mountain Radio.

SR: I spent 13 years building a brand in this town, throughout the music business and across the country. I wasn’t going to jump into the first thing that came along. There were conversations here and there and a ton of meetings about possibilities, but I left most of them feeling like the people on the other side of the table didn’t understand my brand, or me, for that matter.  When the Birmingham Mountain Radio guys came along, I knew within five minutes that this just might be the place to call home.  It’s been 12 months and boy, was I correct.  We’ve done in a year what I thought would take us two to three years to do.  Can’t wait to see what year two brings to our little experiment.

TC:      You’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of Reg’s Coffee House with the concert at the Alabama.  How did Reg’s Coffee House get started? What are some of the ups and downs you’ve experienced?

SR: The idea for the show started in 1996 after I struck up a friendship with Dave Rossi, who shared a love for adult alternative music.  I never imagined Rossi putting me on the air and just thought he wanted me to program it.  But in January of 1997, he called me one day and said, you start next Sunday, you’ll have a producer for 6 weeks and then you’re on your own.  Let’s face it, as bad as I am today, I was absolutely atrocious those first few months (hell, first few years), but the music carried me as it does today.  We went from an hour show in 1997, eventually to a four-hour show in 2004, I believe, and changed signals, call  letters, program directors, sponsors and who knows what else over the next 15 years, but we’re still standing, and helping build music libraries everywhere, one song at a time.

TC: I know that you and Brandi Carlile are close friends, and she’s a perfect fit for the anniversary show.  How did you decide to have her headline, why at the Alabama Theatre and what can people expect?
SR: I can’t think of another artist and friend that I would like to headline the 15th Anniversary Show more than Brandi.  She epitomizes what Reg’s Coffee House is all about.  I was one of the first DJs in the country to get behind her, and she’s grown a legion of die-hard fans in Birmingham. Along the way, we’ve become friends, and I’m so proud to have her headline this show.  And what better place to have it than The Alabama Theater?  I love this city, and The Alabama Theater is a pillar of this town on an entertainment and social level.  Just like the 10th Anniversary, the 15th will be my chance to say thanks to the people and a few of the artists who have allowed me to share music for almost a third of my life.  It’s a chance to do what I love, connect music lovers with artists and I can’t think of a better way to say “Thank You!” for 15 amazing years.

Come out to the Alabama Theatre on Friday, Feb. 10, for an amazing night of music celebrating 15 years of Scott Register’s Reg’s Coffee House radio program. For tickets and more information, go to www.bhammountainradio.com or www.ticketmaster.com. You can hear Reg’s Coffee House on Sundays, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at bhammountainradio.com.•

Todd Coder is the Director of Music Account Development at TicketBiscuit.  He is also the talent buyer at WorkPlay Theatre and for The Hangout Music Festival.

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