SHINER — Radio gets it right when it is allowed to flourish on its own down at the local level. Free from the shackles of corporate pressure to promote the “next big thing,” small-market owners are able to experiment with their station — and hopefully turn a profit in the process.
If you have been tuning in to Texas Thunder Radio — heard locally on 94.3 and 99.9 FM — you've no doubt heard their promotions for what they call their “live music showcase.” And if you dial over at 8 p.m. Wednesday nights, you are likely to hear up-and-coming musicians who hope that through hard work and a little luck, they too will achieve that “next big” status.
“It's exciting to bring a show like this into an area like this when places like the metro areas of Austin and San Antonio and Fort Worth are used to having a setup like this,” said Egon Barthels, station disc jockey and area emcee celebrity. “To bring this to Shiner and South-Central Texas is something that is special to the area.”
The music showcase is nothing new, but the location is. The formula began in October 2013 with Mario Flores and the Soda Creek Band. Along the way, acts like Jarrod Birmingham, Mike & the Moonpies, Doug Moreland, Jason Allen, Sunny Sweeney and Cory Morrow have played the series when it had its previous homes in Yoakum and Moulton.
But the showcase has a new home now in Shiner in the old Green Building on the corner downtown. It is in the side showroom of TKO's Bar-Grill-Music, owned by Travis and Laura Kremling, who also own the radio station just upstairs.
“I'm pretty sure it's found its [permanent] home. We've had great support from the community and everyone coming out for the show,” said Travis, who goes by TKO on-air.
Like most small-town radio signals, Travis handles multiple duties for the station. He is the program and music director, handles engineering, and pitches in on the live high school football broadcasts. When him and Barthels aren't announcing breaking local news on the air, they are planning on who to bring next into the music series.
“This is set up like a radio in-studio interview,” Barthels explained. “A lot of artists that come to our shows are on a radio tour and their promoters will route them to places like Austin and down to Corpus, and on their way back they'll make this their last stop on their Wednesday evening and that's how we obtain some of the artists on the showcase.”
Last Wednesday, the series kicked off with Dalton Domino, one of the newer and buzzed about acts on the Texas music scene. He played solo acoustic and chatted with Barthels — who emcees the series — in between songs.
The troubadour was on his way back to Lubbock when he stopped by. He plays regular venues like Cheatham Street Warehouse in New Braunfels, George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, Ark., and Hurricane Harry's in College Station. So it is a treat to local listeners and music fans when artists like that get to stop by for a free show, Barthels said.
Tomorrow, the showcase features East Texas songwriter Sarah Hobbs, who will be holding it down for the hour that the show is live. And as usually is the case, once the broadcast ends, the music continues as it did last week with the artist going overtime and taking a few requests from the audience.
It's always wise to show up a bit early, because seating is at a premium, especially when they snag a major act. On Nov. 23 when Rick Trevino makes a stop, it will be even more so.
“There's a lot of history with folks around this area that were known on a nation level, like Rick Trevino,” Barthels said. “When he started out — he went by Ricky Trevino back then, before his 'Just Enough Rope' single — he played Kloesel's in Moulton. And for him to come back home per se and get paid about as much as he did at Kloesel's, I'm surprised he said yes.”
That might not be the only high-profile act to swing through TKO's this fall, but that information is a closely held secret at this point. Looking ahead, a few highlights in the series are Dub Miller on Sept. 21, Austin Meade on Oct. 19, and Rich O'Toole on Oct. 26. There are 11 more acts that have promised to stop by for the showcase, all of whom can be found on Texas Thunder's website.
Meanwhile, the burgers and tunes will continue to be hot at the area's newest live music destination, both on-air and off.