Lisa Wheeler's Radio Show Focuses on Obscure Colorado Recordings

Lisa Wheeler hunting for obscure Colorado-made vinyl.
Lisa Wheeler hunting for obscure Colorado-made vinyl. Courtesy of Lisa Wheeler

Lisa Wheeler knows a few things about obscure Colorado vinyl recordings. She's amassed 2,000 albums and singles, as well a nice collection of 78s, dating from the 1930s through the ’80s. She plays them on her show, Elk Bugles, which started airing August 1 on KGNU's AfterFM. The show runs from 4 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays; on the most recent iteration, Wheeler played songs about the Broncos, songs by female Colorado artists, a few tunes by the funk outfit called NORAD Commanders, songs about dude ranches, and some obscure gospel recordings by Evangelist Elma and the Children of Truth. We caught up with Wheeler via email to learn more about her show.

Westword: What is your criteria for choosing songs for Elk Bugles, and why focus particularly on 1930s through ’80s vinyl?

You won’t hear John Denver, Firefall or any other nationally “well-known” Colorado singer or band. The show focuses on the unknown vinyl recordings of the entire state — the records missing from the state’s music history books. As for the fifty-year, vinyl-only format? It might seem like a narrow representation, but the truth is, the era was incredibly prolific, for private-label — what many call vanity — recordings. The goal of the show is to give these finds the audience (and airtime) they never had.

When did you move the show from KCMJ to KGNU, and why?

There was an almost three-year gap between the stations. North of Pueblo (what the show was called then) ran on KCMJ in Colorado Springs from September 2015 through February 2016 (it actually started airing while I was still living in Austin). When I finally moved back to Colorado, in October of that year, I got involved in nonprofit public-relations efforts and decided to shelve the show when my volunteer commitment at the station ended.

So fast-forward to March of this year. I was attending the Vintage Voltage show, and Dave Ashton, the Denver program manager for KGNU, overheard a fellow record collector talk about my esoteric Colorado vinyl collection. We were introduced, and he invited me to be a guest on the Afternoon Sound Alternative show. The guest shot was a lot of fun, and he suggested that I consider resurrecting the show, on KGNU. The first show aired August 1.

What’s the strangest song (or songs) you’ve unearthed in your years of crate-digging?

Strange could imply terrible, so I try not to interject my own personal opinion of them. You have to remember that these recordings were made by someone who might have thought this vinyl effort was a ticket to stardom, which never came to be. That said, I do have my personal favorites.

What percentage of the albums you spin are ones that you’ve found on your own versus other artists you’ve discovered through your listeners?

Oh, it’s all mine. A friend of mine calls me the Indiana Jones of record collecting — I’m always hunting. I had planned to major in archaeology/anthropology at the University of Southern Colorado (now CSU-Pueblo) before I changed my major to broadcasting. I’m digging for records every day. At last count of my esoteric Colorado stash, I have amassed just under 2,000 albums and singles, and a nice collection of 78 rpm recordings.

Have you noticed anything Colorado artists have in common?

There is nothing common about this collection, haha! I have records from grade-school-age gospel singers to elderly hillbilly twangers. The songs are also very diverse, genre-wise, but I do find lots of songs about mountains, cold weather and dude ranches — plus a plentiful number of Broncos-related recordings.

Do your shows follow a particular format, or does it change from show to show?

It’s all free-form, but it’s all Colorado vinyl. You will hear what I call random segues — polka next to punk, Spanish-language next to gospel, a 1930s 78 rpm hillbilly record next to a heavy-metal song on 45 rpm. It will keep you guessing, for sure! I will have occasional themed shows. I plan to have a show with songs about mountains, one with all train songs, an all-jazz show, etc…

What’s the story behind the name of the show?

When I was living in Austin, there was a community radio station (KOOP-FM) music show called Elk Mating. I always kept the name in my mental file cabinet. When I was combining my two obscure Colorado music blogs into one, I wanted to find a name that represented something uniquely audible to Colorado. Remember the first time you ever heard an elk bugling? It’s unfamiliar, and there’s that “What the hell is that?” reaction, which is perfect for a show dedicated to the unique and unusual vinyl recordings of the state.

How did you first discover the records from NORAD?

I think I discovered my first NORAD album at a thrift in Austin. I’m pretty sure I had a double-take reaction when I found the first one. As the collection started to grow (at last count, I have fourteen different NORAD albums), I began to wonder how the staff there had time to record these in between watching for incoming nukes!
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon