Celtic Connections is a weekly radio program featuring contemporary and traditional music associated with the Celtic lands. SIU Associate Professor of Communication Studies Bryan Kelso Crow hosts the program, bringing listeners an enjoyable mix of new releases and Celtic classics, as well as occasional interviews, live performances, and themed programming.
Though he has Scotch-Irish heritage, Crow didn’t discover Celtic music while growing up in Tennessee. It was during his college years, while watching the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, that he first heard the music of the Dublin-based band The Chieftains, one of the most well-known Irish groups in the world. After hearing the band featured on the film’s soundtrack, Crow recalls, “It all grew from there. That music resonated with me.”
With his interest in Celtic music piqued, Crow took his first trip to Ireland in 1978, where he hiked around the country, meeting locals, attending live music festivals, and learning to play the tin whistle. As a result of this formative trip, Crow’s appreciation for the rich culture of Ireland grew even stronger, and lead him to spend a year as an exchange professor at the University of Ulster, just outside Belfast, during the 1985–1986 school year.
While teaching stateside at SIU in the 1980s, Crow guest-hosted a two-hour radio special featuring Celtic music for WSIU FM in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. WSIU invited him to host the unique event when they became aware of his extensive knowledge on the subject and his admirable record collection. A few years later, due to rising costs of syndication, WSIU stopped carrying the nationally syndicated Thistle and Shamrock Celtic music program hosted by Fiona Ritchie. Crow wrote a letter to the station requesting that they bring the program back, but instead he was asked if he’d like to host his own Celtic music program. He put together a pilot episode, and in February 1991, Celtic Connections was officially on the air.
Though Crow teaches public speaking, those speaking skills aren’t an exact transfer into the radio environment. Crow credits now-retired station operations manager Mike Zelten with helping him learn the ropes of radio broadcasting. Zelten gave “lots of tips on how to sound better on the radio,” including the very important tenet of “don’t make it sound like a lecture.” The tips worked well, and after five years, Celtic Connections was offered for syndication to other radio stations for free. Now the program airs on 46 stations in 16 states to a very positive reception. Bands and musicians from all over send in their CDs for consideration to be played on air, and Crow will also directly reach out to performers, who always appreciate the coverage. The show is a well-known institution in the Celtic music scene, and Crow is a highly regarded expert on the artform.
While he successfully avoids giving a lecture on air, Crow does contribute research and information about the artists, genres, and history of the music he spotlights. One recent show included music from the UK and US around the theme of WWI, aired in honor of the centennial anniversary of the war’s conclusion. Crow is “proud to be the host” of a show that contributes to public radio’s important wider mission of providing listeners cost-free access to music genres not always represented on popular radio.
Perhaps the biggest perk of hosting Celtic Connections for Crow is getting to meet and interview many of the talented artists he features on air. Crow’s study of Celtic music came full circle when he got to interview the founding member of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney, who was “fun and personal” and a delight to interview. Another highlight includes interviewing the hugely popular Irish band We Banjo 3, who even traveled to Carbondale to play live in the studio.
When he isn’t exploring new music to play on air, Crow himself plays in an Irish band called The Dorians. He also helps organize the Southern Illinois Irish Festival, occasional live performances by visiting Celtic musicians, and other events related to Irish and Scottish heritage. Carbondale has grown into a destination for Irish musicians, and many will reach out to Crow directly about opportunities for gigs in the area—Crow says he seems to be “the go-to person for Irish musicians” in the region. He also melds his passion for Celtic music with his academic pursuits, including presenting a paper titled “Music in the Poetry of Michael Coady” at the American Conference for Irish Studies, which explored intersections of life and music in the work of Irish poet Michael Coady. Coady also graciously agreed to be interviewed and read some of his poetry for an episode of Celtic Connections. Crow says he’s “always on the lookout for opportunities” to enrich the local area with Celtic culture.
You can listen to Celtic Connections on WSIU radio on Saturdays at 7 p.m. or Sundays at 6 p.m. To view past show playlists, see a preview of an upcoming show’s playlist, or request syndication, check out Celtic Connections’ online home here.