More From MPR
May 1, 2006
Bill DeVille has to work every weekend. While many of us would bemoan that arrangement, DeVille couldn't be happier. Heard Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., DeVille helps define The Current's weekend sound. "The coolest part about this shift," DeVille says, "is that people are listening while doing their weekend thing: working in the garage, cleaning house, sitting around reading the paper. It's fun to play music that accompanies what other people are up to."
Bill DeVille likes to match the rhythm of his show to listeners' weekend rhythms. "I try to keep it mellow for the first three hours," he says, "with more chill sort of music. By noon, it starts to rock a little bit."
DeVille is a great weekend companion. He's like the friendly guy who works in a record shop and tells you about his favorite music. Maybe that's because DeVille actually worked in record shops for a long time.
"It was one of the better things that happened to me," he says, "and it's how I got to start loving music, learning all kinds of stuff and following it like crazy."
But his fascination with music-and radio-began long before his days as a record store clerk. "I've been a musichead for umpteen years," DeVille says. "I knew I wanted to be a radio announcer right out of high school. Somehow or other I managed to make it happen, so it's like a dream come true."
After graduation, he received a brochure from Brown Institute entitled You Too Can Be a Radio Announcer. "Once I saw that brochure," DeVille says, "I thought, 'That's what I want to do!'" After completing his vocational training, DeVille did some networking in his native Sioux Falls, S.D., to find a job. A neighbor's brother, program director of a country station, hired DeVille to work one on-air shift a week. When the station changed hands, DeVille came to the Twin Cities to try his luck in a larger market.
DeVille became a volunteer host for Minneapolis cable-television radio station KABL. He presented a local-music show that featured live bands such as the Jayhawks, the Gear Daddies, Soul Asylum, Run Westy Run and many more.
"It was just a blast," DeVille recalls. "It was all for fun and free beer, essentially."
He was later offered a paid overnight shift at Cities 97. It was there that DeVille expanded his knowledge of roots music. "I hosted a blues show for about 10 years," he says. "I was getting all these CDs of roots, blues, zydeco and New Orleans music."
Nowadays on The Current, DeVille's playlists feature a lot of New Orleans music-enough to make listeners curious if he has ties to the Delta region. While he certainly admires the music of New Orleans, he is quick to set the record straight. "I have no ties to Louisiana," DeVille says. "My name is French, but I'm 75 percent Finnish."
Sometimes it seems that Bill DeVille is always on the air. "Listeners say that to me all the time," he laughs. "I'm the fireman, I guess. If someone's ill or on vacation, I'm happy to fill in."
It's hard to believe that at one point in his career, this listener favorite thought his radio days were through. When The Current came along, however, everything changed. DeVille is now having the time of his life.
To get a sense of the fun DeVille has, pay attention to the song sets he plays. On a recent weekend, DeVille played Spearhead's song "Red Beans and Rice" right after the DJ Dolores remix of Clark Terry and Chico O'Farrill's jazz number "Spanish Rice."
"I love doing stuff like that," DeVille laughs. "Food sets, sunshine sets, cold-weather-day sets, love song sets. It's a blast putting that stuff together."
DeVille likes to pre-plan his show, but allows himself to make changes and improvements as he sees fit. "Maybe I'm the only one who notices it," DeVille says, "but if I'm having fun playing it, chances are someone's having fun listening. That's the way I like to look at it."
Beyond his duties as weekend host and frequent on-air substitute, DeVille hosts the podcast Musicheads™. Last September, he got to broadcast live from the Austin City Limits music festival in Texas.
"I've been doing radio now for 20 years," DeVille says, "and I've done more cool things in a year on The Current than I did in the previous 20 years combined. This is a great place to be."
Hear Bill DeVille weekends from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on The Current.
(This article also appeared in the May 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)