The Current's 7 years of good luck: Dessa, Mary Lucia & more weigh in

Categories: Radio
The Current, located at 89.3 on the FM dial, is far from just another a radio station. Over the past seven years, it has transformed into somewhat of a Twin Cities institution, offering an alternative to the redundancy of commercial radio while also acting as a musical rite of passage for up-and-coming local outfits of all stripes. It's a central, cultural power within a city constantly brimming with talent, and its audience and influence extends beyond the confines of our bustling metropolis.
And now with a (sold out) two-night birthday soiree taking place at First Avenue this weekend, which features a stacked lineup of local heavyweights both new and old (Night Moves, Polica, Low and Suicide Commandos, just to name a few), the Current's significance has never seemed more pronounced. It was a long way to the top. As longtime DJ Mary Lucia remembers it, commercial radio was in a dismal state seven years ago. The playlists had become painfully predictable. Oh, and Nickleback was pretty popular, too.

"It was right around that time when music had gotten particularly horrid," Lucia says. "I was a little bit skittish to pour my heart and soul in [the station] in the beginning especially when we didn't really know where we were going exactly."

Even from the outset, the Current's rotation schedule was a far cry from the tried-and-true conventions of more established stations. It delivered indie's rising stars as well as local stalwarts like then-newcomer P.O.S. and slow-core trio Low.

For former Gimme Noise editor Andrea Swensson, it was all a much-needed breath of fresh air. While 93X and the now-defunct Drive 105 had served as her go-to's for years, she was drawn to the station immediately, recognizing the DJs' willingness to explore music in and outside the Twin Cities that would otherwise go unnoticed.

But it wasn't until a sold-out Mumford & Sons show in 2009 when Swensson, who now serves as a local music blogger for the station, realized just how influential and popular the station had become.

"Mumford & Sons played an in-studio here and then they played a show at the Varsity the same night. I remember them saying over and over again 'we cannot believe how many people are here listening to us,'" Swensson says. "And it was all because a certain selection of songs were being played heavily on the Current and it just seemed very obvious to me for the first time and why that was happening."

At a previous show at the West Bank's 400 Bar, the band played for a little more than a handful of people. But when they returned two years later, they found themselves greeted by a packed room at the Varsity Theater. The show had reportedly sold out in a matter of minutes. However, Mumford & Sons were just one of the many success stories. Acts like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Dawes, and Duluth natives Trampled by Turtles, were suddenly being touted as local favorites and as their audiences grew, so did the station's. Swensson had a name for it too -- she called it the "Current Effect."

It's certainly a phrase that gained some traction among some circles. Lucia is more hesitant to take too much credit, and insists there was no way to anticipate it any of it.

"There are a handful of bands that sell out shows in Minneapolis that probably don't sell out shows in their hometown. It's crazy almost," Lucia says. "But nobody in their right minds had any idea about that. If we did, I think our programming would be very scientific."

But despite its national clout, the station continues to make a concerted effort to support the Twin Cities' own thriving local scene. And that doesn't stop short at simply sprinkling a track or two periodically into their sets each day. In addition to the weekly two-hour Local Show, hosted by David Campbell, which airs every Sunday, the Current also offers a 24/7 local stream devoted entirely to Minnesota acts. The online channel, launched last spring, includes regular commentary from the DJs, and features well-known locals like Atmosphere, the Replacements, and the Honeydogs, as well as more under-the-radar acts like fuzzed-out retro rockers Sleeping in the Aviary and garage punksters the Blind Shake.

Perhaps the Current's greatest feat is its exhaustive coverage of the local scene. Along with daily rotations, Campbell's show and the online stream, the station's provided musicians of all stripes with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to promote their work, inviting guests to perform for in-studio sessions regularly every week. They're at tastemaker status and local artists, both old and young, tend to agree.

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