When I think of what vinyl and music in general means to me, a great many things come to mind. When you get right down to it, what are we really doing here? From the outside looking in, we are a bunch of obsessive music nerds, surrounding ourselves with plastic and cardboard. But, you all and I know it’s more than that. So, so much more. Mitch Anderson, the founder and host of Black Circle Radio would certainly agree.
When I first began the Vinyl Writer Interviews series, Mitch was one of the first people I asked to participate. I knew he would give enthusiastic and intelligent answers, and boy was I right. Mitch isn’t just the host of BCR. Mitch is truly one of us. He shares the same vision as all of true vinyl addicts. He understands that music is medicine, and that the best tonic for what ails us in the increasingly digital dumpster fire we find ourselves in, is a simple touch of analog.
With Black Circle Radio, Mitch treats his listeners to an all vinyl experience. If this is something that interests you, you can head over to the BCR website and check out showtimes here. In Mitch, we have one of the true analog warriors. Someone who will ably shepherd a generation of music lovers onward and upward. This is truly one of the more honest, enthusiastic and heartfelt interviews that you will find. Getting to “sit down with” and get to know Mitch was really a pleasure, and I know you will all feel the same way.
Mitch, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Tell us about your back story. Where are you from? How did you get into records?
Thanks for having me! I live in Muskegon, Michigan and am from a smaller town not too far from here called Rothbury. Shout out just in case anyone has been to the Electric Forest music festival that happens in my neck of the Sherwood Forest.
But anyways, I got into vinyl in college while I was working at a music store. A DJ from Detroit came in to sell his scratching rig. He sold it and I bought it. I think that was 2008. A year later, BCR was on-air. Kinda wild to type that out. Not soon after I got the tables, it seemed vintage audio equipment and records seemed to just start showing up. I acquired a decent amount of gear in college that people were getting rid of because everyone was throwing things out and going digital or “modern” with their sounds. I literally got an EV RE-20 out of the dumpster at Central Michigan University. At the time, I really liked how hands on this stuff is, compared to digital. By stuff I’m saying records, reel-to-reel tape, cassettes, etc. I liked how it sounded from a depth perspective and I liked how it all physically felt and worked. That was how records first peaked my interest and it just kept building and snowballing from there.
You’ve been running the Black Circle Radio channel since 2009. Tell us how that started. What gave you the idea, and how did it become what it is today?
I started the show in college on Central Michigan’s FM station, 91.5 WMHW. I was getting my degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts and was really turned on by the thought of my voice and music being amplified across the entire mid-Michigan region. However, I did not like a computer choosing what I was going to listen to. I also didn’t like talking about topics that didn’t resonate with me on a personal level. Plus, I don’t really like to sit still. Combine all of those things I didn’t like, flip the script, and here comes Black Circle Radio. So, I pitched the show to a group of peers; that was how new shows got put on the station: voted on by a group of peers. So, after some back and forth, it ended up being approved. BCR was on that station from 2009-2012, on an Internet Radio Station called SoR Radio starting in 2012, and we found a new FM home on Muskegon 100.9FM in 2015. The fact that we have been able to do this for the past 11 years is humbling and we are grateful for the support we have received along the way. In the last 5 or 6 years, BCR has really evolved and we have had the pleasure of working weekly with so many killer folks in the music industry who come from so many different facets of it. Additionally, vinyl has really exploded in that time as well and has become so much more mainstream. So, all of that has worked together and allowed us to keep spinning our program. When we first started the show, I never would have thought you would see vinyl and turntables at Aldi, but nothing goes better with Adele’s 21 than some wonderfully priced, organic produce.
Currently you’re broadcasting over 100.9 WFFR-LP (Muskegon, Michigan) on Mondays and on SoR online radio on Wednesdays. How does the show today compare to how things were in the early days when you were just getting started? What does it mean to you to be able to do your show over live radio?
There are ways we definitely have evolved as a show and there are for sure ways I have evolved as a broadcaster. I have learned how to operate a 1949 Rek-O-Kut lathe in the past 5 years and so now our original background music that plays under talk sets and our sponsor spots are handcut to vinyl as well. Our team is bigger now and the show physically has a different home from where it started. But also, there are foundation aspects of the show that have stayed the same – it’s always been all-vinyl and we have always had a talk set in between sets of 4 songs. I have always been the host and producer and have had a myriad of talented co-hosts, engineers, and guests over the years.
One thing I want to touch on here is the first co-host of BCR, Jordan C. Pries or “Uncle Jordie” as he goes by on-air. Jordan is one of my best friends, spiritual and sonic advisor, and also the most expressive musician I’ve ever been able to experience and work with. He was the guitarist alongside drummer Jamie Jahr of the insane instrumental duo Beast in the Field (for sure get one of their releases in your collection). So, he started as the co-host of the show and we worked together at B’s Music Shop while I was getting my degree. He now owns a brick and mortar record store in Bay City, Michigan called The Electric Kitsch. How this ties in with the show remaining the same, yet evolving and growing is that he records all of the original music beds that are used during our programming. I think it is so powerful that his musical voice and energy are still co-hosting the program every week.
To be able to do the show over live radio is a trip. To me personally, broadcasting over FM is a total high. Never knowing who is listening, where they are listening, what they are doing while listening. There is something about the mystery of not knowing who is being impacted by our analog transmission. That said, there is also something about just being live, period. Whether there is an audience or not. The excitement of knowing that someone could drop by and hear something that makes their day, or brings insight to something they have been struggling with is inspiring. Doing pre-recorded programming without an audience is kinda brutal at times. It’s so easy to get locked in my own head and overthink every little aspect of what I’m spinning or saying.
You’re the co-owner of the SoR online radio station. How did that come to be? Beyond broadcasting your own show, what are your long-term goals with the station?
Yes, I am. After graduating from college, Black Circle Radio was looking for a new home and a group of my professors from Central Michigan owned SoR and offered me airtime to keep BCR spinning. SoR Radio will always feel like home for Black Circle Radio. The way SoR Radio came to be is a quality, quick story.
It was homecoming week of 2011, I believe, and my professors were celebrating with an alumni take-over of the college airwaves. Long story short, they ended up offending some high dollar donors over statements that were completely F.C.C compliant. The donors threatened to pull their dollars if the DJ’s were not banned from the college airwaves…where they were professors of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts…the college sided with the money. SoR was born!
Over time, I became a co-owner of the online radio station. In the past 4 years, SoR has transformed from standing for “School of Rock” to “Spirit of Resistance.” So, in addition to playing Rock music of the 50’s-80’s and multiple original programs, we also are broadcasting a message of peace, love, understanding, equality for all and the importance of free speech. These moves have been made by the other owners of the station and I’m here to support their efforts and to be a responsible steward of independent broadcasting. I want to seriously thank all of the members of SoR for all of the guidance, mentorship, and live platform access to make mistakes and continue to grow my craft.
What type of gear do you use while on air versus what do you use for your own personal listening and why? Do you prefer vintage, or new gear?
My gear is a vital part of what I do, and what BCR intimately means to me. I’m very deliberate with my equipment choices because I want to hear what it is in my head. That journey is intense. I take the way my broadcasts sound very seriously because I have a goal of one day trying my ear at the vinyl mastering process. My studio is upstairs in my home. With that being the case, all the systems throughout the house get used daily for multiple purposes. Even the portable GE suitcase table/amp/speaker setup in the kitchen! There is no real difference between what I use on-air versus what I use for personal listening. I love indulging in how different setups respond to different records and mixes! My heart pulls towards vintage gear, but holy smokes is there some just simply amazing innovation being had right now in the audio world. I use both new and vintage recording and hi-fi equipment every day. Here is my current broadcasting rig rundown:
Cartridges: Sumiko Amethyst
Tone Arms: Audio-Technica ATP-12T
Turntables: Technics SP-15
Phono Mixer: UREI 1601s
Broadcast Mastering: Warm Audio WA-276EQ
Broadcast Compression: Cloud CX-335
Interface: RME UFX II
Master Buss Tube Stage: Linear Tube Audio MZ3
AD/DA Converter: RME ADI-2 Pro FS
Record Care: GrooveWasher G-2, GrooveWasher SC-1, VPI Cleaner
Microphones: Peluso P-47, Peluso PS-1
Channel Strip: Peavey VMP-2
Compressors: Altec 436b, Rocktron 360
Speakers: Klipschorns, Polk Studio Monitor 10s, NHT SB2
Amps: Linear Tube Audio MZ3, Voice of Music 6v6 Stereo Hi-Fi, Kenwood KR-1000
Headphones: AudioQuest NightHawk, AudioQuest NightOwl
Cables: AudioQuest Red River Series
You also had the chance to host the Stax of Wax podcast for Vinyl Me Please. Tell us about that and how it came to be?
Thanks for bringing this question up! That was such a rad undertaking, wow! VMP and I have had a cool relationship that has taken on many different forms over the last 5 years and this for sure was the apex of it so far. Stax of Wax came about as a programming pitch that I put together. I pitched it to try out the streaming platform Mixcloud by using vinyl records that were available in their store or record of the month and creating a story around that. Working with their team was smokin’. I was blown away by the amount of creative freedom I was given during those nearly 50 episodes. I still go back and listen to those shows. I’m very proud of that series.
Do you use your personal collection for radio shows, or do you have separate stacks for showtime? If you do use your own personal collection, are there any records that are off limits?
Great question – my personal collection and what I play on BCR are one in the same and the only off limit tracks are those that violate FCC guidelines. I have some rare vinyl that on one hand, I try to preserve and limit, but those are also some of the records I’m most excited to share with listeners.
I’ve always been a big vinyl guy and my wife Angela has gotten into it as a result as well. Your wife Debra is a big part of Black Circle Radio. Was she always a part of the show, or did that happen over time? Was she always into vinyl, or did she get into it through you? Do you guys have separate collections, or one big combined collection?
Great question, that’s cool to hear about you and your wife. Yeah, I think it’s something we’re both into, but that has evolved over time and has been spearheaded more by me. We do have separate collections although we appreciate listening to most of them together as one big collection. When the show first started, Debra was not a co-host but would drop us off records and beer at the radio station to be supportive. Hahah. We would also shop and listen to records together in college which was fun. It’s funny how we each have evolved as DJs too. Deb’s dad is a musician (and frequent guest of BCR who goes by the handle, EZ-Action which was the name of his first band in Detroit!) and she was much better versed in different music than I was when we first met. She makes fun of me that I couldn’t even name 5 Beatles tracks then, which was true then, and may still be now? After college, Debra became co-host, DJ Crinkle, as the show was moving around and over time she has taken on more and more of a key role on the show and behind the scenes.
All of your ad spots and commercials are literally recorded to vinyl as well, which takes the “all vinyl radio” experience to another level. Tell us about that process, and how it came about.
I think it does, too! Essentially, I wanted to have 2 hours of uninterrupted, vinyl based programming that was free of FCC, Streaming, Podcasting, or Broadcasting legal limitations. And we’re getting there! Lol!
It was roughly 4 years ago that Debra and I bought our first record lathe. It’s a 1949, mono, Rek-O-Kut with Rek-O-Kut cutting arm and Presto 1C cutting head. The main reason for the purchase was rooted in access for any musician or artist to be able to be featured on the show. It is my choice that BCR is all-vinyl. With that decision, the responsibility is on me to ensure that anyone can partake in BCR programming regardless of if they have their music on vinyl or not. The solution was to learn how to hand cut records. Since then, the lathe has really opened the gatefold to so many new possibilities in regards to what BCR is capable of.
One of the big reasons I collect vinyl is I am looking to attach memories to music. Vinyl allows us to do that. Would you agree? You’ve called vinyl a “multi-sensory medium.” Can you go more into what you mean when you say that?
Vinyl is THE multi-sensory music medium. I 100% agree with you that vinyl attaches memories to music. Or is it music to memories? lol. When I say multi-sensory, I essentially mean that in one record-playing session, all five senses can be stimulated at once. And this is not uncommon, which is what makes it meaningful. Not sure if I’m the only one who tastes their vinyl with a solid lick before playing it, but I just feel like I really need to make sure the pressings meet my demanding palette’s standards. QRP pressings tend to have notes of certain nut butters. RTI drifts toward apps and zerts. Gold Rush somewhere along the lines of vegan surf and turf. Furnace obviously like raw California Reapers, and Archer the meal you have after seeing Fu Manchu close down the bar.
Do you go into each show with a specific theme in mind, or do you try and take the listeners all over the map? Are the shows scripted, or do you allow fate to lead the way?
The program is not scripted, although we do stick to a format every show so we know what to expect in that sense. Otherwise, the program is live and each guest or DJ on the show picks out their records independently and we see where the show takes us. A lot of times, the program is put together while the broadcast is happening. This is because I put together my sets of music simply based on how I’m feeling that day. BCR is an absolute support mechanism to the other forms of therapy I use. I’m very open and honest with those that choose to listen about my personal life. Challenging times as well as times worth celebrating. I think it was about 3 years ago that I started openly talking about my struggle with Manic Depressive Bi-Polar. Instead of playing what I felt people may want to hear, I play instead what I need to hear. That has been rewarding. It’s also one of the reasons we have so many guests and co-hosts, haha!
I know this is a broad question and many of us who listen to your show will know this, but for those who might be new, who are some of your favorite artists and albums? What’s your favorite genre, and why?
I personally consider BCR “genre fluid.” Meaning, that any and all forms of sonic expression are welcome. Genre has been a term that I’ve really struggled with for a bit now. I’ve been trying to associate listening to music to different emotions that make up a feeling wheel. My current main feelings would be, “Apathy,” “Vigor,” and “Grace.”
As for bands and albums, these have been on my tables quite a bit:
- Joe Henderson, In Pursuit of Blackness
- Badger, One Live
- Arc of All
- Ron Carter, Blues
- Karen Beth, The Joys of Life
- Ruth Copeland, I Am What I Am
- Taking Back Sunday, Tell All Your Friends
- Roy Harper, Stormcock
We know you collect records, but beyond the collecting, what do records mean to you? More so, what does music mean to you in general?
Sounds are a physical experience. A record is the closest we as humans can get to holding an artists voice (in any meaning) directly up to our ear. That’s heavy to me. Records also are the most lucrative music medium for artists. That is so important in so many ways. Buy records. Continue to receive amazing music. Support one another.
In general, music to me means whatever I am meant to be given from it when the spirits decide I’m ready to receive it.
I feel that it’s important to say something here that I say on BCR. “It’s imperative to remember that the definition of music is not and has never been, entertainment.”
What are some albums you don’t have, but hope to find one day? Are there any albums you’ve given up that you wish you hadn’t? Are you like some of us who purge records only to rebuy them again?
Truth be told, I have been looking for an original pressing of Something Corporate’s, Leaving Through the Window at nearly every shop I go into since 2009. One of my personal coming of age records! I’d also really like to find The Fields of November by Norman Blake. I’m pretty much at peace with any and all of the records that have left the BCR Archives. If they are meant to come back, they will!
Is there anything within the vinyl industry that you would like to see change for the greater good of the community?
I totally think there is. If you don’t follow the Women In Vinyl blog platform, you for sure should. Racial and gender inequity within this industry, like most industries, is very real and it’s very ugly. I’d also like to see massive reform in how artists are compensated for their art. The current royalty structure is screwed up. Finally, the vinyl industry needs to keep pushing for higher quality standards that are rooted in environmental sustainability alongside sustainability of our favorite music medium.
Is there anything else you want all of us vinyl addicts as well as the general record-consuming public to know?
Just wanted to say thank you so much for the really well-thought-out questions. This was quite the trip down memory lane. Cheers to Vinyl Writer from myself and Team BCR!
Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews