Radio show spreads the word about Fargo’s bustling country indie music scene
But there is a goal.
Hopkins invited singer-songwriter Dariann Leigh to come over from Karlstad, Minnesota to talk about his new song, “10,000 Miles,” written for her boyfriend just back from active duty. Hopkins also invited a pair from a local veterans group to sit down to talk about an upcoming fundraiser, and he asked Leigh to perform the song for them.
It’s a small but meaningful connection, and it reflects the community building and local talent spotlight that Hopkins puts in. “This side of the country”, a radio show dedicated to local and regional independent country music that airs 10 a.m. to noon weekdays on 95.9 FM KRFF Radio Free Fargo.
Hopkins, 46, started the show earlier this year after seeing an opportunity to connect local performers with audiences and with each other. He complements the shows with the music of a few country legends, such as Johnny Cash or Tanya Tucker, but he devotes as much airtime as possible to local country singers through their recordings and frequent studio performances.
And, he finds plenty to work with. Hopkins estimates that he averaged two or three musicians in the studio per week.
“It’s amazing how much talent there is in the Midwest and in country music, and I wanted to be a part of launching these artists,” says Hopkins.
The routine of a hungry musician trying to score that next gig or make that next connection is one he knows well.
Learn the basics
Born and raised in Jamestown, North Dakota, Hopkins attended the McNally-Smith School of Music in St. Paul to study drums and vocals.
“I wanted to be a drummer in a rock band for a long time,” he says.
Hopkins then set his sights on New York City, where he settled in the late 90s. He performed in bands and performed a bit, appearing on an episode of Comedy Central’s quirky show “Strangers With” Candy “alongside Will Ferrell. He also set foot in the commercial sector of show business, coordinating live music for New York’s Hard Rock Cafe.
After 9/11 took New York’s nightlife out of breath, Hopkins spent time networking in Las Vegas and studying the landscape of professional club owners, promoters, and performers. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s, doing a bit more acting and scoring a house band gig for former Skid Row drummer Phil Varone’s comedy show.
But in 2009, he was ready to return home to where his family needed him, he said.
Travis Hopkins chats with a guest on “This Side of Country” show at Radio Free Fargo studio on October 29, 2021. Chris Flynn / The Forum
“I was basically an only child, raised by my mother and grandmother,” Hopkins says. “Everyone was getting a little older and needed a little more help so I went back to Jamestown. It was a nice break from the fun, to help out with the family.
After working for a decade in major entertainment capitals and now seeking to stay closer to home, radio seemed a natural fit for Hopkins. In the fall of 2010, he joined classic rock station 107.9 FM The Fox and thanks them for bringing him to the local airwaves.
“I have learned so much working with this station and this group,” he says.
“A man of the renaissance”
After about 10 years on local commercial radio, Hopkins found a home on Radio Free Fargo. It’s a place that would give him a little more freedom, says Mark Borchert, director of Radio Free Fargo.
“We gave him a show and let him go,” Borchert says, adding that the station benefits from Hopkins’ vast skills, not only as a host but as a marketing and sales coordinator. “Travis is truly a Renaissance man. He’s always had his fingers in so many different projects.
Radio Free Fargo is a community radio station focused on local music, Borchert says, but they felt they weren’t doing enough to represent local country artists. Earlier this year, they decided to give a local country show a shot with Hopkins as host and producer.
The reaction was mixed at first, Borchert admits, as the same lack of representation likely clashed with audiences’ expectations. But that is changing, he adds, as listeners gain a new understanding of the many local country artists working in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Karlstad, Minn. Singer-songwriter Dariann Leigh performs live on Radio Free Fargo on October 29, 2021. Chris Flynn / The Forum
And these artists are just as excited.
“The returns from the artists have been phenomenal. Most of the local musicians are blown away that they can walk into our studio, play a few songs and be interviewed for a whole show, ”Borchert said.
Hopkins likes to extend that vibe even further, bringing in guests like Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and sharing the host chair when possible. It also places a high priority on equal time for musicians, another aspect that artists respect and appreciate.
While Hopkins may be the one on the mike, he is quick to say that the show’s success is a natural consequence of the strong community of artists around him.
“There is such a big market for artists here,” he says. “We speak up and say we support those who support us. “