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Morning Becomes Eclectic 30th Anniversary Interviews: Nic Harcourt

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While public television has a reputation of stuffiness with TV classics like "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Nova" documentaries, public radio, especially here in Los Angeles, is on the cutting edge of music and news reporting. Keeping that edge sharp on the music side is KCRW's (89.9 FM and KCRW.com) morning music show "Morning Becomes Eclectic."

MBE celebrates is 30th anniversary this week. To celebrate, the station is offering special programming today. The three DJs, Tom Schnabel, Chris Douridas and Nic Harcourt, who've hosted the show over the years will offer three hour blocks of music, including live performances and master recordings that look back on their time at the helm of the flagship program. The programs run 9am-6pm, repeating 6pm-3am.

While MBE, along with most all of KCRW's programming is available around the world via the internet these days, it started out as our own little treasure here in Los Angeles (okay, Santa Monica to be specific).

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LAist will be passing along our best anniversary wishes to MBE this week by featuring daily interviews with KCRW's DJs Jason Bentley, Gary Calamar, Chris Douridas, Nic Harcourt, Anne Litt and Liza Richardson.

We kick off the series today with KCRW's Music Director and current host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic" Nic Harcourt.

LAist: By definition, MBE gives a DJ wide latitude as to what they can play. Did you ever find it to be too wide or too narrow?

Harcourt: Not at all, I play whatever I feel like playing from day to day. I usually have an idea of what the first few songs are going to be, but I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants. There is always the possibility of a train wreck, but I am lucky enough to have a position where I can take chances on air.

LAist: The New York Times referred to KCRW and MBE in particular as a "purveyor of semipopular music." How do you fit (or not fit) this description?

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Harcourt: I thought that article was great, but the headline is wrong. “KCRW Rules” would have been much better. But seriously, I think it’s misleading to say we champion “semipopular” music. All of the hosts here just play what they love, some of that music happens to connect with the musical mainstream and some of it doesn’t. We never know. We make our choices based on what we like personally.

LAist: KCRW and MBE in particular are well known for giving new and unsigned artists their first airplay. Of those who you've debuted, which was your favorite (whether or not they were everyone else's fave)?

Harcourt: Damien Rice and Jesca Hoop are two of my favorites. Jesca has her first full length a new album coming out soon and we started playing her years ago after I got her demo via Tom Waits. I discovered Damien in a totally different way. I used to do most of my music listening on Sundays at my house in Topanga. I’d throw a bunch of CDs in the disc changer and cruise through them while I was reading online at the same time. One day I looked up and realized I was three tracks into a CD and it was Damien’s. It really caught my ear and that’s how I knew it was something special. The first shows he played in LA sold out and he didn’t even have a CD out in America yet, but we had been playing him for months.

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LAist: MBE started out as a local show on a terrestrial radio station in Los Angeles. Would it have been as important or influential in any other city, small or large? Is the listening audience as important or influential as the show?

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Harcourt: It probably wouldn’t have been as influential, but it would have been just as important to the people in the market where it was heard. The show is definitely as much about the audience as what we play – they buy the music and go to the shows. Our audience is smart, adventurous and open minded and we are very thankful for that.

LAist: How has the change from being a local radio show to being an international broadcast (via the internet) changed MBE?

Harcourt: The show hasn’t changed at all, I still approach MBE the same way I did when I first started the show. The influence has changed, definitely, but the growth of our audience has not changed the program itself.

LAist: Does it help being both show host and music director?

Harcourt: Yes, because I get access to all the music coming into the station first.

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LAist: Talk a little about that thing you guys do where you're playing song, you pot it down for a few seconds and talk over the track, you bring it back up and then back down and talk over it a bit more. I think Chris Douridas is the first guy I heard do that, but I know that you do it a bit too. I don't know that I've heard that on any other station, but I've heard it a lot on KCRW. It simultaneously bugs and delights me. Is that a public radio thing? A Chris Douridas thing?

Harcourt: I come from a commercial radio background where they talk over the music all the time. We only talk over instrumental tracks and I think it helps with the continuity of the show.

LAist: There's been a lot of talk about the upgrades to the KCRW music library. What effect, if any, will the digitization of the music library change your show?

Harcourt: For me, the biggest improvement will be having access to all the live sessions I’ve hosted over the last nine years. I’m excited to be able to revisit those tracks.

LAist: Speaking of new technology, how has the internet changed the way you source new music? Do you use sites like MySpace, iTunes or PodShow's music network to find new music and/or do bands find you via those same sites?

Harcourt: Yes, of course. I get a lot more unsolicited MP3s. I do use MySpace and iTunes, mainly following the recommendations of people I trust and stumbling across things.

Photos via KCRW

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Tune in to LAist tomorrow for a chat with the previous host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic" and current host of Saturday's "New Ground," Chris Douridas.

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Damien Rice with Nic Harcourt on Morning Becomes Eclectic