By Zach Collier
Hailing from Cedar Hills, Steven Kapp Perry is an award-winning songwriter, playwright, and broadcaster. The son of prolific LDS songwriter Janice Kapp Perry, he graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and Communications from BYU in 1987 and has released fourteen albums of original music. As a playwright, he has co-written several stage musicals – two of which have appeared on BYUtv. He has written for National Geographic Children’s Television, Deseret Book, and Prime Recordings. A radio personality, he hosts Soft Sunday Sounds on FM 100.3 and is currently the host of BYUradio’s Highway 89. We got to sit down and chat with him in studio at the BYU Broadcasting headquarters in Provo about his career, his time on Highway 89, and some of his favorite performances.
Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Highway 89.
I’m one of the hosts on the classical station, Classical 89, here at BYU Broadcasting. But when I had arrived they had already been doing Highway 89 – this show that they had invented with live performances. They were rotating through using different hosts. It turned out that it was kind of confusing for people who were listening every week to hear a different host, and so I was lucky to be – when they decided to just have one [host] – I was handy. For about two years, since 2014, I’ve been the host for all the shows.
How long have you been at BYUradio?
Have you always been involved in radio?
No, no. I did music! For the first ten years of my professional life it was all songwriting and album production. That kind of stuff. Then, when the economy changed with digital downloads, suddenly everyone had your music but they had it for free. [Laughter] All of us had to figure out other things to do. Other ways to make a living. So I started branching into radio. I do a radio show every Sunday in Salt Lake City that I pre-tape. Soft Sunday Sounds, FM 100.3. I’ve done that for about ten years. Then I came here a few years ago and auditioned.
Well, I have two questions for you. What tips do you have for people who do radio or voice work? How do you not stumble when you speak and how do you avoid dry mouth?
[Laughter] Okay. I think that’s really practice. It’s almost impossible not to [stumble], especially if you’re in a live environment. It’s just gonna happen. But mostly practice, and reading the names before. When I have a group come in here, I’ve gone through and I have pronounced their names out loud, the names of their songs, all of those things. There are other things that may come up, like, “Hey, what’s your favorite town?” and I have to come up with something from scratch. But anything I can know ahead of time, I know how to say – or when they come in I say, “How do you say this word?” or “Is your last name this?” – and it helps a lot. Just be as prepared as you can be.
[Laughter] Practice, practice! So how do you avoid dry mouth when you’re on the air?
I always have a water bottle on me when I’m on the air. I have one that’s quiet where I don’t have to unscrew the lid. It’s a CamelBak. [Laughter] So I can just pick it up. I don’t have to tilt it upside down and make gurgling, bubbly sounds that people would worry about being my stomach. I’ll just lean quietly down below the microphone and take a sip in between interview segments. [Laughter]
I don’t know if you saw the article from Reach Provo, but we did a feature on the status of radio in Provo. Value Penguin had released a study about radio and they had ranked Provo as one of the worst cities for radio. That sounds a lot worse than it is. When you take into account radio stations from neighboring cities, it’s not that bad. Especially since we’re in such close proximity to Salt Lake.
We would have a lot more in Utah County if it weren’t for that.
Exactly. It’s funny because we started looking into it and researching, and it turns out there are so many Salt Lake stations that are actually licensed in Provo, but have moved. A lot of them have been bought up by iHeartMedia or other media conglomerates. So they’re doing Top 40 radio. That got us thinking, because obviously you guys are huge supporters of local music. You guys have people on here regularly, and we gave you guys a shoutout in the article for doing that. But my question is this: what’s the history of BYUradio, and why are they positioned as a classical music station specifically?
You’ll want to ask Jackie [Tateishi, BYUradio Producer] that same question, because one of the last things she did as a student before she was hired on was to do a history of BYUradio. Almost since its beginning, which was in ’59 or ’60 – right around there – it wasn’t classical immediately. But it was pretty soon after that that they switched to classical. I think it’s partly because it’s such a niche that it wasn’t being served in other ways. There were a few classical stations around on the air. Now people can get them either through Pandora or Spotify. You can create a streaming station. If you want all Beethoven, you can get it. But what you don’t get is a curated listening playlist that takes into account the taste of the local audience. Because we hear a lot from people. You know how people are with their music. They love it or they hate it! And they let people know!
Even with classical?!
Absolutely. Maybe more.
“Not that again!” [Laughter] Or, “Why are you playing a whole day of tonal music?” Whatever it might be. Or somebody will be up in arms because we don’t feature ten military marches a day. I’m not kidding about that. I’m not making that up. They complained to the FCC! They let us know, “We checked you out, you’re fine.” But they had to follow up!
So why have you stayed classical?
I think it’s partly because we have good community partners here. We partner with local organizations like the Utah Symphony. They have guest artists come in. We often do at least a phone interview with them, if not have them come on Highway 89. At first, while the BYU music department was still figuring out what we were, we started off with more U of U performers coming to Highway 89 than BYU! And then of course, people who come through – whoever they might be, whether they’re indie [or classical] artists. We’ve been making connections. Jackie, our producer, is really good at making connections with the locals. That’s probably how she found your article! She’s always scanning and finding who’s playing and who’s coming through because we try to get the highest caliber, obviously. If we could get people on national tours, we love to bring them in. It’s always fun when someone we’ve been chasing turns out to have a local connection. Like, “Who knew they were local?!” We found them because they have ten million YouTube views or whatever, and then find out they were local folks. That’s always a fun surprise.
And then they only have to drive ten minutes to get here.
That’s great. We know that you guys have live performances. I particularly enjoyed the episode featuring Festive People. Do you foresee a radio block or any other form of support for local artists other than live performances on Highway 89? Like, instead of classical music, playing a block of local contemporary music for an hour?
I would be very surprised if we did that on Classical 89 just because the audience is so dedicated to that as the source. We do branch out a little bit Saturdays in the morning and in the evening. One of our most popular programs is called The Score – which is movie scores. It inhabits that world of usually classical instruments but sometimes other sensibilities that have crept in. It’s a lot of fun. That’s a very popular show.
We do Highway 89. The more indie, or the rock, or the folk, or the pop episodes appear on BYUradio, which is satellite radio. Sirius XM 143. Or you can get it on the BYUradio app or on byuradio.org. You can listen to it streaming. There’s a lot of variety there. Highway 89 is on every day at 10PM eastern, 8PM mountain time. In a way we have that block, and we may try to exploit that and do more and more new episodes. We’re new enough that we still throw in some repeats of our very favorites. The preponderance is new, but we’re not to totally new every time yet. That would be cool to get there.
It’s always good to have a back log, just in case!
That’s cool. So, for those who might be reading, what’s the difference between BYUradio and Classical 89?
Classical 89 is the terrestrial station sending out an FM signal. All classical, all the time. You can also listen to it streaming. Classical89.org. Or we have a free app that people use. BYUradio is mostly talk radio. And it’s all satellite radio or online. It’s not being broadcast over an FM channel. It’s all satellite and online.
So it has a little bit more diversity in terms of programming? Since it’s talk radio.
Yes. When we have the episodes of Highway 89, we divide them into classical – which air on Classical 89 – or the pop/rock/indie/contemporary (whatever you want to call it), that airs on BYUradio, except we do classical Tuesdays. That’s more where you would hear contemporary artists, or contemporary music, I should say.
In the classical episodes, we feature more music and a little less talk. We take a little longer on the pop episodes or the rock episodes just because we take a longer show. That gives us a little more in depth time to talk to the artists and get to know them in between.
So is tonight’s episode featuring Will Hagen live, or is it a repeat?
Tonight will be a repeat. But he was in just a couple months ago.
What was that like? How did you make the connection with him?
He was coming as a guest artist with the Utah Symphony. So we heard about that, and we had had him come in to help with fundraising once. In fact, he showed up, he brought his violin and played – no reverb, nothing – just playing in the booth a little bit of something just as part of our fundraising. We knew he was a good sport. He’s fun to talk to. He came in and just gave us a great program, with Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill and a Mozart sonata. He came in and was just, “Here, I’ll play the hard stuff for you!” [Laughter] He’s so great. We know he’s really good to talk to. He’s a great interview. That was a lot of fun.
Last question. Do you have a particularly memorable performance? Or a favorite? I don’t know if you want to name favorites. [Laughter] But one out of all the performers who have come onto Highway 89?
Oh, I could name two or three, for different reasons, that are favorites. One was we had these guys from Catalonia. It was a folk group who were traveling through Utah. They were here with the Springville World Folk Fest. They came in with the greatest songs including one about “barbecuing and killing the pig” which just happened to be one of my favorite songs that I had ever heard. And they were so adamant that they were not from Spain. It was Catalonia. And their berets were even the colors of the Catalonian flag. Their music was so distinctive and they loved it so much and their culture. That’s one that stuck out in my mind.
One that was really fun – and I could actually even share the audio if you want me to – we had Phillip Walley-Stack. Aboriginal Australian. He came in and he was singing and playing. He does the Didgeridoo as well. We were just chatting. We never know what we’re going to say when we’re just talking. I said, “So, what are you doing with your lips? Pull the Didgeridoo away. What is the sound you’re making?” It was pretty funny what he did. [Laughter] Then we talked about it.
Some of the classical artists, what they do is at such a high level. We’ll have the Bachauer gold medalist come, for instance. What I love is that they will come in, and they care so much. I have seen some of the highest caliber of players be the most nervous, because they’re thinking: how many people are listening on satellite radio and I want to do a good job for all of them. I have seen them sit at the piano, and I thought, “Is the fan on?” It wasn’t, but their shirt was shaking before they started playing. They were just so intense. Of course, they have a level of concentration I can’t even imagine. Then once they start to play it blows you out of the water. It almost seems impossible what they create.
Make sure to like Classical 89 on Facebook and tune in to BYUradio on Sirius XM 143 or online at byuradio.org. You can hear Steve’s Didgeridoo conversation with Phillip Walley-Stack below. For full episodes of Highway 89, click here. Follow Highway 89 on Twitter and Instagram @byuh89.