Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, January 29, 1997
Two Stepping on the Air: Zydeco and Cajun Radio
by Robert S. Wolf, Features Writer
Ten years ago, Zydeco and Cajun music radio programs were few and far between. Usually they appealed to small audiences and received little airplay outside of Acadiana.
But now, people from across the country and around the world have become Zydeco and Cajun music fans. Jim Soileau, manager of KVPI (1050 AM) in Ville Platte, who has been working in local radio since 1954, said Acadiana's music is now more popular than ever.
"Some of our biggest fans come from as far away as Europe," said Soileau. "Those Canadians also really love it."
Zydeco and Cajun radio now is as popular as other major music formats such as country, pop and rock 'n' roll. And that popularity is in part due to a younger line of Cajun and Zydeco musicians who are emerging on the scene, Soileau said. The new musicians are breathing life back into French-influenced music.
"It used to be the music of oldtimers," Soileau said. "Certainly the new musicians have brought Cajun and Zydeco music back."
The popularity of Louisiana music is growing and a new radio station, dedicated solely to Louisiana music, will be broadest 101.1 FM from Eunice starting in April, said owner Paul Marx. He said Cajun and Zydeco music will be a big part of its programming among Louisiana's other musical styles.
"It'll be the kind of station that when someone driving through the area tunes in, they will definitely know they are in South Louisiana," Marx said. As a long-time local musician, he said he is glad to see Louisiana music get the respect it deserves.
In St. Landry Parish, "Cajun Rendezvous," a Cajun music program hosted in French, has been broadcast since KVPI hit the air in November 1953. The program, which features old and new Cajun artists as well as select Zydeco tunes, can still be heard on weekdays from 4:05 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Their music lineup includes both old and new Cajun tunes as well as some vintage Zydeco songs. Soileau said the amount of new Cajun music coming out these days is tremendous.
"Many of the younger musicians love the sounds of the music even if they can't speak French," Soileau said. "And a number of them are doing quite well."
Aside from Cajun music, KVPI does about 18 hours of French-language programming, including news, religion and talk programs.
Luke Collins, know as the "Godfather of Zydeco Radio" to many, said he was playing Zydeco music on the air before it had a mass appeal. He first started a Zydeco broadcast in 1981 and was limited to only one hour. But after the fan mail and requests started to come in, Collins said his program was extended to three hours.
The thing that surprised Collins about the popularity was the number of young fans it attracted. He thought the listeners would be an older crowd.
"At that time Zydeco music was called 'La La' music,' Collins said. "And it wasn't played on the radio very much."
Collins' Zydeco show can now be heard on KNEK (1190 AM), broadcast from Washington, weekdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
He also likes Zydeco's revival to the new guard of musicians on the scene. And he has even seen some original variations to the core sound. While there is a clear distinction between Cajun and Zydeco music Collins said he likes it all as long as it has a French or Creole influence.
"Some of the young people tried to add rap or rock 'n' roll to the sound and that didn't always blend too well," he said. "But as long as it has an accordion and a little French in it, I consider it Zydeco music."
French language is an integral component of Cajun and Zydeco music, said Camey Doucet, deejay and sales manager for KROF (105.1 FM and 960 AM), broadcast from Abbeville. Doucet does at least half of his program in French including the commercials. French is a first language for Doucet and his first radio shows were spoken entirely in French. Since then he has incorporated English into his program to keep younger listeners hooked.
Doucet can be heard on KROF's AM band seven days a week from 6 a.m. to noon and on its FM band at the same time on Saturdays and Sundays.
"If I did my show only in French, I wouldn't have any listeners under 50 years old," said Doucet, who first went on the air in 1971 on KAJN (1560 AM) in Crowley. "So by doing my program in both languages, I catch all age groups."
He attributes the increased popularity of Cajun and Zydeco music to the bilingual programming. In turn, the music has spread across the globe, and musicians as far away as England and Canada are making Cajun music.
"Some of it is so good that I can't tell if they are from here or not," Doucet said. "But once people hear the music, no matter where they are from they automatically like the soothing sounds and good rhythms."
He said the popularity of his program is strongest from Galveston to New Orleans, and he regularly gets requests from as far away as Natchez and Houston.
Copyright ©1997 by the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser. Reprinted with permission.