The Times-Record recently chatted with âDakota Air: The Radio Showâ producer and host Merrill Piepkorn about his showâs return to Valley City as part of pre-Winter Show weekend festivities.
Dakota Air will bring its band of traveling troubadours and comedians to Vangstad Auditorium Sunday, March 4, at 3 p.m.
Times-Record: How did you come up with the idea for âDakota Airâ?
Merrill Piepkorn: Dakota Air is an idea Iâd been kicking around in my head for 15 or 20 years. Itâs the idea of doing a live, old-fashioned radio show with music, comedy and fun designed for both a radio and live audience.
I got together with a couple of friends at Prairie Airwaves, we rounded up sponsors and venues, and in September of 2010 we did our very first show at Vangstad Auditorium in Valley City. Between now and then, weâve done 17 shows, and now the word has spread and people are requesting the show come to their town.
T-R: How does a radio variety show fit into the modern entertainment landscape?
Piepkorn: Our local attendance and popularity have really taken off, and social media like Facebook has made the show more accessible. The business is much more viable than it was in the past, and now weâre at that break-even stage. Itâs very rewarding.
We rely heavily on our radio audience. We perform the show live and record it, then it takes seven to ten days to turn it around, and we broadcast it statewide on Prairie Public radio.
The local stations around the state have also been playing the show back, and we have archived editions available online anytime.
We did a show in Hopkins, Minnesota, and everyone who attended, even though they donât get Prairie Public radio, was able to go back and listen online. Itâs nice to have that online presence. Weâre incorporating new technology to connect, spread the word, and find a new audience. Itâs always a question of âHow can we grow?â
T-R: What can audience members expect during a Dakota Air performance?
Piepkorn: A big part of the show is our own entertainment, like the Radio Stars Band. Our fiddle player Loy Larson is often a crowd favorite. Everybody loves Loy, they enjoy hearing him play âOrange Blossom Specialâ.
We also have our own original comedy skits, performed by the Airheads Radio Acting Company. Itâs tougher to write comedy that is family oriented. It is easier to get a laugh with blue language, but our comedian, writer, and historian Steve Stark does a great job.
Here at the Winter Show, weâre going to rely on the stories and the history of the Winter Show to provide material for our sketches and comedy.
We bring a lot, we can put on a great show by ourselves. Weâre a lot like the weather, if you donât like whatâs going on, just wait 5 minutes.
T-R: Where do you find your performers and on-air talent?
Piepkorn: Sometimes I go out and get people, but often we rely on local tips. If I donât know the local area, weâll just ask around.
One of the real joys of producing this show has been bringing local and regional talent to the audience and exposing our radio and live audiences to new, young talent they havenât seen or heard before.
Iâve been looking for an opportunity to use (acoustic trio Tuckerâd Out, from Fargo,) in a show because theyâre so good.
For the Valley City show, we also have western poet Elizabeth Ebert, from Lemmon, South Dakota, who is in her 80s. Thatâs exciting to be able to showcase her. Sheâs got the heart and energy of a teenager, and she is one of the countryâs premier western poets. Iâve got this venue, this radio show thatâs just perfect for what she does. This style of entertainment also fits in with the tradition of the Winter Show.
T-R: What is the best part of having a traveling radio show?
Piepkorn: Itâs terrific, we perform in a lot of historic venues around the region. Vangstad Auditorium is perhaps the most historic of all, and itâs an honor to be in that room where so many events have taken place. Itâs neat that weâre able to help kick off the opening week of Winter Show with a historical, lighthearted perspective.â