Radio Ranch Music Station is located in Red Lodge, Montana, but its reach is noticeably further. Since 2014, there have been listeners from 187 countries – including some Powell fans.
Throughout the day, every day, the station broadcasts artists from a range of different genres online. Local musicians Paul Faxon, Rayven Moore and Noah Faxon have all appeared on the Independent Spotlight station show, which airs every Wednesday from 7 p.m.
“You can listen to Foo Fighters one minute and Merle Haggard the next,” said DJ and station founder Jimmy Kujala.
Kujala estimates that he has about 3,000 songs in the 24/7 rotation. He has ranchers playing the station for their crews while they are marking because he is always playing something small for everyone.
Thrown into the mix are hundreds of independent artists, whether they play heavy metal, folk, country – you call it.
“The whole premise of the radio station is to support independent artists,” Kujala explains.
DJ has been a music lover all his life. He had his first pay concert when he was 9 years old, at the Snag Bar in Red Lodge. At one point in his life, he traveled the country, touring for up to eight weeks at a time.
Today, he has six children of his own, headed by several grandparents. He has tattooed some of their names on his arm.
“There are three more that need to continue there,” DJ said.
Behind his studio chair are several mixers, one with effects for artists performing directly in the air. Kujala is surrounded by microphones on the wings of the boom. On the wall in the hallway hang four acoustic and electric guitars.
Adjacent to the studio is the direct 40-seat venue called Jimmy’s Roadhouse. There is a bar where people can sit and watch through a studio window, and in front of the station is a production studio.
“Anyone can call and ask for almost any song. And Jimmy plays it, ”said Greg Creasy, another DJ and co-host of the station. He is a geologist and operations manager for the Yellowstone Beartooth Research Association, which gave him the nickname The Rock Star.
The station plays no sport, no politics and no religion – nothing controversial.
Some swearing can be inserted into the lyrics of some songs, but otherwise Kujala keeps it clean.
“I’m old school. I came from a time when you respected people. Do you know what I mean? Tha Kujala.
Construction of a station
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Back in 2014, Kujala owned a Kawasaki Representative in Red Lodge, where he sold Mules, branded motorcycles and ATVs. She did well in her 24-year life, but he decided it was time to end it.
“I was just tired of it,” Kujala said.
Retired, he wanted to get back into music and was starting with some ideas when a friend suggested he have his own radio station. In a few days, Radio Ranch Music was born.
“I remember when I saw that I had three people listening. I was like, ‘Oh god, that’s good,’ “Kujala recalls. “I could not believe people were tuning in and listening.”
Kujala has a lot of connections in the musical mecca of Nashville and Los Angeles, and he started giving performers airtime on his radio station.
“Very soon, they would call me to say they would release a new song,” Kujala said, as he pointed to a bunch of CDs the artists have sent with examples of their music.
In its nearly seven years, Music Ranch Radio boasts 174,000 sessions (an analytical measurement of interactions with its website) and around 50,000 unique listeners.
When Kujala launched the operation, the most traditional radio stations rejected the idea of internet radio. Now, they all have live broadcasts.
Most often, people listen to the radio in their cars, which has been a barrier for internet radios to reach listeners. Tani, me
Nationwide connection to telephones and car media systems, this hurdle is disappearing.
“I made people listen to me from one end of the US to the other,” Kujala said.
However, despite opening up to music broadcasting, he said corporate radio has not done much for independent musicians.
“They have not changed their attitudes,” Kujala said.
When the federal government regulated media ownership beginning in the mid-1990s – allowing companies to own multiple outlets in a single market – corporations began buying local radio stations. If a station does not do well, it shuts down and a DJ will do all the work for 15 stations.
“Local radio is killing,” Kujala said.
Fortunately, the internet has opened up another avenue for independent artists to be heard.
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Described through the door leading to Jimmy Roadhouse are the artists who have performed in the country over the years. A number of them have also placed stickers in the fridge, including Bones in the Road, in which Paul Faxon plays guitar and sings.
In the summer of 2019, their place at Red Lodge had artists performing twice a month. The COVID pandemic shut them down for a year, but this year they hope to increase the game and make even more shows.
On July 10, Robert Klein Jr., from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, will perform. His Blurb in “Independent Spotlight” describes his music as ranging from Texas bar house country rock to bare-bone acoustic ballads.
Creasy goes home every year to Illinois, and their show in the spotlight has featured a number of artists he has run there. This includes Jimmy Nick, a musician from Crystal Lake, Illinois. Creasy heard Nick was playing in a bar in Illinois one night and was so impressed that Kujala called out.
“I told him we should take this guy to the Independent Spotlight,” Creasy said.
They have had some of the biggest names on the show, such as Ivy Ford, a Chicago blues performer, and Abby Kasch, who recently appeared on The Voice.
Some visitors to the Roadhouse this summer came from Frederick, Colorado; they had bought a Lexus there when they heard Radio Ranch Music playing in the showroom.
Despite having a wide reach, the internet brings together Radio Ranch Music fans. Around 1pm every day, the board starts to light up as people tune in to hear Kujala go live.
If he is late starting or the broadcast drops, texts and emails come asking what is going on. He has learned to recognize the IP addresses of some of his regular listeners and will give them a shout in the air to thank them for listening.
“When you do that, they feel like it’s their show. “It’s a pretty good deal,” Kujala said.
He will sometimes yell at Paul Faxon when the farmer is working in the fields around Powell, and Faxon will send a greeting to Kujala.
“Like a big family,” Kujala said.
In addition to thousands of dollars of equipment, there is an expense involved in running the station – including a license from the American Composers, Authors and Publishers Association (ASCAP) to play copyrighted music and server service. Kujala sells some ads to help cover it, but he does not put much energy into the financial side of things.
“If I had to do this to live, I would not do it. “I do it because I love him,” he said. “The advertising revenue is good enough that I can make it work.”
With corporate radio killing local radio and not supporting people making music, Kujala said he wants more people to start independent internet radio stations. He has people called to ask how to do it, and he is happy to lend his expertise.
“I would like to see more people doing it. “For me, it’s just a shame that artists are being robbed,” said DJ.
Kujala looks quite happy sitting behind the desk in his studio. With an Apple computer, a blackboard and a couple mixer at his fingertips – at the top of a playlist that every music fan envies – he is bringing a lot of great music to people.
“I’m a kind of lucky guy,” he said.
To listen to Radio Ranch Music, visit www.musicranchradio.com.