By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
With more than 23 years in the broadcasting business, Cat Wilson said she considers herself lucky to be hosting “The Cheap Seats” on Cool 102, a two-hour radio show based out of Hyannis, Mass.
“In a time when commercial music is just compressing itself, I have the opportunity to tear that hole wide open every week,” she said. “Commercial radio has gotten very small and their play lists are very tight. I get the freedom to play new music and introduce people to bands they have not heard before. There’s something for everyone.”
Wilson, who plays everything from rock and blues to pop and funk, often invites New England bands and artists to appear on her live segments on Sunday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. They share their music, experiences, as well as a handful of tunes from their favorite local bands while co-hosting the show.
“I like to think that I give them the opportunity to tell their stories about their songs, their life on the road, or their practices,” she said. “I’ve even been known to let slam poets on the air with me. It’s not an ego thing for me; it’s the excitement of it. Even if they’re not in the studio, they can sit at home with their family or be at a barbeque and hear their song being played on the radio.”
Wilson originally began hosting The Cheap Seats in 1997 on Rock 104.7 FM, which is now known as WKPE. The show temporarily went off the air before she resurrected it two years ago on WCIB Cool 102, or 101.9 FM, a 50,000-watt commercial radio station.
“It actually got a Massachusetts Broadcasters Award for an ongoing music program,” she said.
Of the many musicians she’s had on the show, Wilson said one of the most “amazing” co-hosts was Boston-based blues artist, James Montgomery. Best known as a singer and harmonica player, Montgomery fronted his own band in the seventies and has toured with acts such as Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Miller, and the Allman Brothers.
“I was actually a bit nervous because he is a god and when he came in, he was nervous, too,” she said. “It was just him and me in the studio.”
But as the show got going, he asked Wilson to play a CD from a group of young musicians he was acquainted with. While the song was on the air, he told her that he planned to help them tighten their arrangements.
“He was so interested in giving feedback to this younger band and told all these amazing stories throughout his entire career,” said Wilson. “He really is every bit as excited about finding new bands as he is about getting onstage.”
She also had Grammy-winning jazz and blues artist, Doug Bell, on the show.
“I ended up swapping recipes with him,” Wilson said laughing. “It was hilarious.”
In addition to great interviews, she said she’s also conducted some unsuccessful ones. Fortunately, her “favorite awful interview” with Goo Goo Doll lead singer, Johnny Rzeznik, wasn’t live. To her relief, it was over-the-phone.
“It was when ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ came out and they were on tour,” Wilson said. “I’d been waiting in the studio for his call to come in and the band had problems crossing Canada getting back into the United States.”
When Rzeznik called, he was an hour-and-a-half late. He was exhausted, but still willing to do the interview.
“I was excited about asking him a question about co-writing a song with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements and come to find out, Westerberg was one of his big influences,” said Wilson. “All of a sudden, I hear, ‘whoop’ and then muttering in the background. He’s gets back on the phone and said he fell off the bed while he was talking to me. The entire interview went straight into the gutter.”
But Wilson thinks it is important to learn from mistakes. In fact, she said she was “awful” when she started her career and often plays an old air-check tape of herself doing a newscast for aspiring broadcast college students to prove how “horrible” she once was.
“At the time, I was so shy that I was pretty much wallpaper,” she said. “To save my life, I couldn’t pronounce peoples’ names, whether it was an international military figure or a sports person. The kids all laugh. It seems to break the ice and there’s always that one shy, quiet kid in the back and you can see them light up a little bit when they realize how tragically bad I used to be.”
Wilson began her training in radio in high school at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts. Inspired by MTV Video-jockey Martha Quinn, Wilson knew she wanted to host her own music show, just not on television. In time, she started hosting radio shows at Ripon College in Wisconsin, where she was majoring in English and working on a minor in Business Communications.
“As goofy as it sounds, it was MTV that did it for me,” said Wilson. “MTV just came out and I was developing my ear for music. I said, ‘that’s what I want to do except I don’t want to be in front of a camera.’ I was always more comfortable behind a microphone than on stage or even in class in front of people. I could just sit in a room and listen to music. As far as I knew, I was talking to myself about the music I was playing.”
After graduation, she moved around the country and worked in various radio stations. She lived in locations such as Olympia, Washington, and Savannah, Georgia, before returning to the Cape Cod area.
For Wilson, her most cherished thing about Cape Cod is the fact that “you’re always a half a person away from a musician.”
“Once you start talking about music, people say, ‘oh, yeah. My son’s in a band,’ or ‘I used to be in a band,’ or ‘I play in a band,’” she said. “It’s really amazing the musicians per capita we have here in Southeastern Massachusetts. That’s why I love being able to have the show here. Music is such a part of the culture and it’s great because there are so many talented people.”’
While she hosts The Cheap Seats on Sunday nights, she spends her days as the Marketing Manager at Cape Cod Harley Davidson.
“I had Aerochix do a benefit show there last summer and it was hugely successful and a whole lot of fun,” she said of Boston’s only all-female Aerosmith tribute band.
Wilson said she wants more bands to know how much she enjoys providing an avenue for them to expose their music. She encourages artists to send her their material so she can share it with her fans.
“I don’t play everything I get, but I do always listen to it,” she said. “I’m always willing to talk with bands and I do one-on-one meetings with them. I love music and I count myself very lucky that I’ve been able to find my little niche. I always thought of The Cheap Seats as this crappy local music show, but what I realized is that it’s just music. Whether the musicians are 16 or 60 years old, it’s good music and that’s all that matters.”
Wilson can be contacted through The Cheap Seats website at thecheapseats.net. Artists can also mail their information and music to Cool 102 at 154 Barnstable Road Hyannis, MA 02601. Check out The Cheap Seats on Facebook.com/thecheapseats. Past interviews can be accessed on the web site.