July 11, 2010 – “End of the Road”

Being on the farm, to get away to a place more remote takes some driving!  About nine hours north of us, literally at the end of the road, we exchange our automobile for a canoe and cabin.

This sign is nearly to Canada, in far northern Minnesota and the area is affectionately known as “the end of the road.”  The local community owned radio station WELY is a hoot!  Charles Kuralt was so enamored with Ely and the station from discovering it during his “On the Road” show that he purchased it to keep it going.  It is now owned by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and maintains its eclectic programming including Lutheran Hour, The Old Town Polka Show, 80’s Night, and this description of a Wednesday Night show called The Feast:

Following Quote by Chris Godsey at Secrets of the City

Dark evergreen silhouettes loom against a wash of indigo sky on both sides of Minnesota Highway 1. Driving southwest out of Ely, toward Tower, the early autumn moon is so bright, so close and full, that driving without headlights seems only appropriate.

After a news update from ABC Radio, the voice of late-night DJ Brett Ross takes over. Ross sounds surprisingly present: “From Alan Watts,” he intones, “‘When everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful, then there is ugliness. When everyone recognizes goodness as good, then there is evil.’” Ross’s conspiratorial baritone is the night’s perfect complement: ominous and comforting and mysterious; distant, yet intimate.

An electronic beat—a tune called “Salted Fatback” from a DJ named Mocean Worker—begins pulsing in and around a sound collage of snippets from the First Amendment, Martin Luther King, Jr.—“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord!”—and other revolutionary sources. After the beat runs on its own for a minute or so, Ross is back: “End of the Road Radio W-E-L-Y,” he announces, “at 94.5 over the FM airwaves, streaming live at w-e-l-y.com, around the globe on the World Wide Web.

“It’s The Feast. So very good of you to drop in for another course.”

That’s WELY as in: owned by Charles Kuralt in the 1990s; saved from Minnesota Public Radio homogenization by a local buyer after Kuralt’s death; now owned by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa; it’s a station that is inevitably compared to KBHR from the TV show Northern Exposure, primarily because they’re both eclectic community bastions in wilderness towns populated by plenty of delightfully eccentric and intellectual people.

Introductions accomplished, Ross launches into an hour of music and words: “Rolling” by Soul Coughing; “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” and “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads; Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” He reads Emily Dickinson’s “To fight aloud, is very brave” over the tune “Invocation” by an Italian ambient-electronica duo called the Dining Rooms, then spins Pearl Jam’s “Footsteps” and “W.M.A. (White Male American),” Sara Softich’s “Whiskey,” and “When the Ship Comes in” by Bob Dylan.

Perhaps none of that would be remarkable anywhere, on its own or during daylight. But late at night, driving through a forest in northern Minnesota, it’s perfectly unique, unexpected, and thrilling.

More about the trip later…but thought I should make an appearance for the faithful.
one year ago…”10 Hours in the Car”