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Conquering the World One Set of Ears at a Time

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BY Jean Detjen Photos by Larry Radloff Photography

Quick! Can you name seven original independent rock bands from Wisconsin? How about seventy? You may not have heard of many…yet! But The Great Unknown (TGU) Radio has close to 700 bands on their non-profit internet radio station roster. Grassroots founder Kent Waush could tell you something about each and every artist. They’re akin to his foster children whom he watches play and helps groom for letting their talents shine.

“You don’t want to get into a music trivia contest with me!” says Waush, a fifteen year radio veteran with Wisconsin roots.
Waush can tell you how many songs each band has produced, their genre, and when they’re on TGU’s airwaves. When he’s not hunkered down managing the station, he’s out scouting bands and getting to know local musicians.

Born and raised in Appleton, Waush loves all kinds of music and has an extensive background in the radio industry. His goal with his 18-month-old station is to be the state’s primary radio source for local and regional independent rock music. “We play all types of original rock…acoustic, indie, or the hard stuff, we are your home for everything that needs to be heard. I’m truly dumbfounded by how much talent is out there throughout this state. So many people listen to the same old stuff they’ve been accustomed to, and I’d like to get them exposed to what else is out there musically, especially the great music being created right here in their own Wisconsin backyards.”

marty_p_TGUbenefitshowDuring his high school years at Fox Valley Lutheran, Waush drummed for fun with buddies in a garage band that included Marty Paschke of Leading the Blind and A-Town.

“Marty’s bro used to write songs. One in particular I remember got us all in a bit of trouble. The song was Lord of the Flies which is a euphemism for the devil. We played it at a school talent show, someone figured it out, and we were all in hot water.”
The two friends are still close and learn a lot from each other. Listeners can even listen to Paschke’s devilishly good tracks on TGU.
Paschke has tremendous respect and appreciation for the platform provided. “Starting a radio station is an incredible undertaking and the job Kent has done to get all the songs and material together is something to be extremely proud of. We as musicians are fortunate to have Kent support the original music scene in this manner.”

After high school, Waush moved away to attend radio school in Madison. In 1990 he moved to the UP to work at local FM radio station.

Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of how close to the inner workings of music making, Waush would eventually get with his venture creating TGU.

Waush first saw Milwaukee artist Ricky Ganiere of Great Lake Drifters at the inaugural Mile of Music festival in downtown Appleton. “Good Lord!” Waush said, “People need to hear this!” He made a point to meet the talented musician during the festival, eventually got him on air, and the seeds of a friendship were planted.

“I’ve gained an excellent friend because of TGU,” says Ganiere. “Kent is one of the most genuine folks I know and I am honored to be pals with him. One thing he says every so often between songs on the station is, ‘the Great Unknown is a labor of love.’ He is doing something that I have talked with people about for years. None of us had the guts to attempt it. Hell, none of us have the time. TGU has become Kent’s passion, purpose and investment.  A labor of love, and the return he gets is the satisfaction of knowing he has provided a platform for hundreds of musicians who may never be heard anywhere else.”

“A big movement that started sweeping the nation a few years back was all about supporting local businesses. Buy local, eat local, invest local, etc. When it comes to media, everyone becomes a zombie and heads to the easiest and nearest feeding ground. Mass media tells everyone what they will like and like idiots, everyone eats it up. The Kardashians get richer and Coldplay sells out arenas all over the globe.  Meanwhile in Two Rivers, Wisconsin ‘Nobody Joe Blow’ and his guitar plays coffee shops and has no platform in the media. The zombies get their Coldplay fix and they’re missing out on who could be the next Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash.” 

“Kent has a vision to change this way of thinking and thank God he has a passion to support local musicians. I’ve had a friend from out of state say, ‘This is incredible!  Why isn’t there something like this here in Minnesota? Now he is a regular listener of TGU and has found new bands he loves and buys their records. HE BUYS THEIR RECORDS!!!  Kent and I have discussed even bigger plans for TGU. This sucker is getting bigger and badder by the second. Stay tuned!”

Ganiere wasn’t the only artist that inspired Waush’s cultivation of pure Wisco listening enjoyment. Building this is in many ways a tribute to how awestruck he has been by the talent seen on a regular basis.

redhead“Kent Waush is like the Moses for the Wisconsin original artists, working tirelessly to make sure they have a voice in the Wisconsin music scene,” says Wisconsin singer/songwriter Kurt Gunn. “He’s one of the best supporters of original music I’ve met in a long time.”

Exactly how “Moses” arose from the reeds to give birth to TGU came down to passion meeting (unexpected) opportunity.

“Bored out of my mind with commercial radio and the national music landscape,” Kent said “I had some free time on my hands and all I could think about was making this dream a reality. For about two to three months straight, I was in an obsessive flow, working 24/7 on building the foundation. I barely remember eating or sleeping during that time. Looking back, having this gift of time and the freedoms of being a single guy without kids allowed me to dig in and focus without distraction. I wouldn’t trade anything for what I’m doing now.”

Always keeping the mix interesting, Waush gets creative with TGU’s programming. Every Wednesday, a full album is played on air, front to back, five times per day. Acoustic Sunrise, kicked-off early in May, gives a “deserving spotlight” to singer/songwriters on Sunday mornings from 9-11. Flashback is a randomly sprinkled in segment which highlights 60s-90s era music.

“The whole thing’s been an evolution,” Waush said “the music and programming are continually being updated and expanded upon and that’s part of the fun of this whole experience. My primary challenge remains getting the word out. Like the tagline says, we are focused on ‘conquering the world one set of ears at a time.’”

Enthusiastic listener Andy Wittig’s ears couldn’t be happier.

“The Great Unknown radio station is tuned in almost daily at work,” Andy said “or when I’m working around the house. I can’t even count the number of new bands that I’ve discovered through TGU. I enjoy the weekly Wednesday full CD plays, especially when he showcases new releases. He’s always coming up with fresh new ideas for new programming. It’s an incredible alternative to the mainstream stations that are driven off the corporate culture, record companies, and ratings. TGU really gets me closer to Wisconsin’s Indie music scene.”

That appreciation knows no borders. In a recent email signed “your fan” with the subject line “like radio,” Stanislav Barabash shared how TGU helps him get through the work day:

Hello to you from Ukraine. 

“Allow me to thank you from itself and the colleagues, all staff of your radio station, for excellent operation. Working as the most part of day at the computer, I listen to your radio station. Your radio station helps me ordinary office manager, configured to work, and little to distract from the task of his boss. But in our country not possible to see small gifts with a logo of your radio, pens, sticker, a t-shirt… all that can remind me of your radio. I am writing to request you to send me if you have such a product with your logo, if it does not entail significant costs for your radio. It would be remarkable.”

Waush, in turn, is humbled and grateful for those who support his efforts.

“Funding from individual donors and money raised at fund raising shows keep things going with supporters all across the state. Key local partnerships with Mill Creek and Fox River House have helped us do that and we are incredibly grateful for these collaborations.”

Get to know The Great Unknown Radio. Visit the station website at TheGreatUnknownRadio.com and click on LISTEN LIVE. Smartphone users can download The Great Unknown TuneIn app. Have a suggestion? Want to be heard? Shoot Kent at TGU a line at thegreatunknownradio@gmail.com, friend him, and share TGU on Facebook. 

You, too, can help conquer the world with music. (Somebody PLEASE send Stanislav a t-shirt!) jdetjen@scenenewspaper.com

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