Steamboat Springs Rising before dawn and preparing for work does not come naturally to an old ’60s rocker. But Kip Strean and his Australian shepherd mix, Sox, usually are up by 5 a.m., sometimes not until 5:30 a.m., to rub the sleep out of their eyes and make the 10-minute walk to the studios of KQZR radio, The Reel 97.3. That’s the radio station where Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young feel like old friends.
How many days each week?
“It’s not a musician’s lifestyle at all,” Strean says wryly. “But I live right nearby, and the walk is the key” to waking up before air time. His shift begins at 6 a.m. unless he just feels like starting earlier and don’t be surprised if Strean is rocking out before 6 a.m.
At precisely 5:38 a.m. Wednesday, Strean cued up the Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger growled,
“Hey, hey, you got me rocking now,
Hey, hey, there ain’t no stoppin’ me.”
“We pay no attention to what time it is here,” Strean said between bursts of laughter.
But his sets are nothing if not eclectic, and he quickly lightened up with Paul McCartney and Wings doing “Band on the Run” and then went soft with Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine.”
Strean returned to jangling Telecaster guitars with Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and by 6:05 a.m., he was playing a mostly acoustic Who song, 1971’s “Love Ain’t for Keeping” off the record “Who’s Next.”
Strean, 62, and his colleagues at sibling stations KIDN and KFMU are carrying on the tradition of live disc jockeys in Steamboat Springs, at least part of the day, and Strean’s the ideal person to hold the 6 a.m. to noon shift with The Reel’s classic rock format.
He still evokes a late ’60s, early ’70s country rock star with his full mustache, and more so than some radio personalities, he lived the life. Strean, playing an electric Rickenbacker guitar, and his bandmates in Smoke Signal frequently opened for classic rock band REO Speedwagon.
They worked the college towns south of Chicago playing a string of clubs in different cities all known as The Red Lion. Their booking agent was none other than Irving Azoff, who later went on to fame as the manager of The Eagles, Journey and Van Halen.
The tour would begin all the way in the south in Carbondale and work its way north to Springfield, Charleston, Champaign and Peoria among other Illinois cities. Along the way, the four bandmates in Smoke Signal economized by booking motel rooms with one double bed. Intending all along to pull the mattress off the box spring, they would flip coins to see who got to sleep on the mattress and who got the box. Perhaps it was all those nights spent sleeping on a box spring that make it easier for Strean to wake up for his radio shift now.
Later, with the acoustic band Simply Vintage, he frequently warmed up the crowd before Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field, with home plate as his stage.
Traveling the rock ’n’ roll highway, he bumped into rock legends like Joe Walsh and The Byrds.
Strean has managed not to let his early mornings at the radio station cut short his performing career. He still plays with various ensembles locally, as long as the show starts early.
On the airwaves, Strean makes his song sets come alive, sprinkling in anecdotes about the bands, and he’s a master at weaving little-heard album cuts in with the hits.
A great example is the live version of the seminal ’60s country rock band Buffalo Springfield in which David Crosby sings harmony with Stephen Stills and Neil Young.
“Crosby was still under contract to Capitol Records, so he got credit for ‘inspiration’ on the album notes,” Strean explains.
He plans out his weekly song rotation but remains open to suggestions, and Strean compares fielding requests on the radio to working with a live audience.
“It’s the people out in the audience that tip me off to the best songs to play,” Strean says.
And thanks to the fact that his show streams on the Internet, his audience is bigger than one might think.
“We have people checking in from places like Florida and Oregon,” he said.
Although his radio show is more public, Strean said a majority of his income is realized as a wedding DJ in high demand in Steamboat’s destination wedding industry.
Strean always has been an active proponent of the live music scene in the Yampa Valley and will carry on this winter, performing biweekly tributes to Neil Young at the Chief Theater. Strean also encourages musicians young and old to step out with his Thursday night all-ages open mic night.
“Some of these local teenagers come on stage and blow your mind with what they can do,” Strean says with sincere admiration.
He always kicks off open mic night promptly at 7 p.m. because 5 a.m. is just around the corner, and Strean needs to be in bed shortly after 10 p.m.
Kip Strean — still rockin’ in the free world.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1
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