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Jeremy Butler has loved radio ever since he first tuned into top-40 stations while growing up in Phoenix in the 1960s. But it wasn’t until he heard the “underground” station KCAC that he realized that radio could do more than play the same 40 songs over and over each week. It could play songs from an album that weren’t selected as hit singles. It could introduce you to all sorts of strange, sometimes psychedelic, sounds from performers with intriguing names like Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, the Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, and Country Joe and the Fish. It could even play entire sides of concept albums like the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed. And there were folkies and protest singers on underground radio, too—Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and more. Jeremy was thus introduced to the idea of alternative radio, of radio outside the mainstream.
Underground radio and a love of music inspired him to try his own hand at radio announcing when he entered college at Brown University in 1972. He’s pretty much been hosting a radio show on a college or National Public Radio station ever since. In the 1970s, Brown owned a radio station that had grown to be one of the major album-oriented rock (AOR) stations in New England. WBRU-FM covered all of Rhode Island and portions of neighboring states and it had a sister station on the AM dial that was broadcast solely to the Brown campus. It was on WBRU-AM that Jeremy learned how to do radio—hosting a weekly program of eclectic music that was probably only heard by his friends back at the dorm. Tapes of those early shows reveal that he sometimes did them with a bogus British accent, for no discernable reason.
He soon graduated from the lowly AM station to the FM powerhouse—serving eventually as its music director and working there full-time during two summers. WBRU’s DJs were given the freedom to select a broad variety of music and Jeremy’s shows often featured more folk and acoustic music than the rest. And he was an early advocate for singer-songwriters such as Tom Waits, whom he interviewed in 1975.
After completing his degree with a major in film studies, Jeremy headed to graduate school at Northwestern University, in a suburb of Chicago. He kept his hand in radio by doing an occasional shift on Northwestern’s WNUR, but the pursuit of a PhD prevented him from doing much with music during this time. Moreover, rock had hit a low point in the mid-1970s and Jeremy’s interest in it was waning. Rock was no longer underground or progressive. It had become the mainstream against which it used to rebel. Its sound was bland and formulaic. But Jeremy’s interest in rock was reinvigorated by the emergence of punk in the late-1970s. Punk rejected the slick commercial music that rock had become. It was raw and energetic and the AOR stations were appalled at the rowdy antics of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Clash.
Jeremy fell in love with rock music all over again and started co-hosting a punk radio show broadcast by WVUA, the student radio station at his new (and current) place of employment, the University of Alabama. “Progressions” had been started by local record-store owner, George Hadjidakis, while he was a student. Jeremy joined the Progressions crew in 1981 and continued volunteering at WVUA until Progressions went off the air in 1986. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jeremy had burned himself out on loud, aggressive music, and he had the tinnitus to prove it. He found himself returning to his folkie, acoustic roots. Further, he discovered a new wave of singer-songwriters that were just coming on the scene: Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco, John Gorka, Bill Morrissey, Shawn Colvin, and more.
In 1993, he approached Roger Duvall, then general manager of Alabama Public Radio and pitched the idea of a weekly, all-acoustic show. To his surprise, Roger said yes. As an NPR-affiliate, it seemed that the folks at “All Things Considered” might not mind if we toyed with their name to brand our show and so “All Things Acoustic” was born! Ever since then, Jeremy has been hosting “two hours of music from the edge of technology” on Friday nights.