It’s been two decades since Scott Register stumbled his way into hosting his own radio show — “a right-place, right-time kind of thing,” he calls it — and in the intervening years, he’s established a reputation as a local music tastemaker. Reg’s Coffee House — which airs on Sunday mornings — originated on WRAX before moving to its current home on Birmingham Mountain Radio in 2010. (Register also hosts The Morning Blend, a slightly more news-oriented program, with co-host Will Lochamy on weekdays).
Just before his program’s January 22 anniversary, Register sat down in Birmingham Mountain Radio’s studios at WorkPlay to discuss how he started in radio and how his show has evolved over the past 20 years.
Weld: How did you get started as a radio personality?
Scott Register: Technically, my first radio job would have been back at college, at WGEL in Auburn. But I wasn’t DJing. I never wanted to DJ. I was reading the news. I was a journalism major, so I was going in and doing the news, some sports. But it was a news desk position and not a music position.
I was booking bands [for my] fraternity. I did that for a couple of years, and was going to shows and writing music features for the Auburn Plainsman. If somebody was coming through town, I’d do a feature story on them. … People like David Crosby would come through, and they’d ask, “Hey, you want to interview David Crosby?” Of course I was going to. But [DJing] was not of interest.
Weld: If that wasn’t on your radar then, how did Reg’s Coffee House eventually start?
Register: I got out of college and started working for the PR firm that [worked] for City Stages. I was handling the radio promotions, and I got to know Dave Rossi, who had just come to town from WAVF in Charleston, which was a big station. He’d come to Birmingham to take over this new alternative station [WRAX].
Just from having conversations about music and getting to know each other, he was like, “You have the kind of taste in music I need to balance the station. Do you want to do a singer-songwriter kind of show on Sundays?” I didn’t think he meant “be the on-air talent.” I thought he meant I was just going to come up with a playlist.
Then one day, 20 years ago last month, he called and said, “You’re starting the third weekend of January. … I’m giving you a producer for six weeks. He’ll teach you how to run the [sound] board. You’ve got six weeks to figure it out, and if you haven’t figured it out in six weeks, oh well, you’re done.”
Weld: Was it a difficult learning process?
Register: I think back, and I don’t know how it was listenable. One of the first things you find about being on the radio, if you’ve never been on before, everybody thinks the mic comes on and you start talking freely and it’s just second nature. Generally, that’s not the way it works out, especially when you stumble. You know that there’s silence [on air] and that makes it really tough.
Weld: How did that show grow into the format Reg’s Coffee House has today?
Register: It was a one-hour show at [first], from 10 to 11 on Sundays, and then it grew to two hours a few months later, and then a few years later, one of the general managers said, “I need you to be on a full shift — four hours.”
For the first several years, probably the first five-plus years, I did it for free. I didn’t want anybody to pay me. I didn’t want anybody to have any control over what I did. I just wanted to play the music that I wanted to share with people.
[Dave] sat me down early and asked me what I wanted the show to sound like. And I said, “I want it to sound like your buddy came over on Sunday morning with a stack of CDs and said, ‘I’ve got some stuff you’ll want to listen to,’ and you sat there for three hours just putting in CD after CD and playing songs that you dug.”
Weld: How would you describe the type of music that you play on the show?
Register: It’s always been called “Adult Album Alternative,” [which is] the worst moniker for any type of music ever invented. It’s because there’s not really a description for the kind of music we play. There’s alternative, there’s folk, there’s rock. Heck, I played Chance the Rapper on my show yesterday. Are you going to call that Adult Album Alternative? That’s hip-hop to me, man! But it fits.
I think triple-A is all-encompassing. If you hear “triple-A,” you can’t just think about one type of music. You’ve got to think broader than that. It’s still something that we educate the public on. People have trouble grasping exactly the format, but I think that’s what makes it fun. It’s unpredictable. You’re not pigeonholed. The fact that we played Childish Gambino on the show this morning [alongside] U2 and Adele and Chicano Batman — that’s what’s fun about this.
I had somebody come up to me over the weekend, and he said, “When I listen to your show … at first, I would tune out when I didn’t know the music you were playing. But after months of listening, I realized how much I appreciated that I tuned in, because I’m learning something. It’s almost like somebody’s speaking to me about something I don’t know.”
Weld: How has your relationship with your audience developed over the years?
Register: I knew there was a [demographic] for it. I knew from going to the shows and house concerts and seeing how connected these music fans were and how much they loved the fact that they were listening to this stuff before anybody else was listening to it.
Birmingham just likes to be an early adopter. This is a city that likes to be able to say, ‘We were there first. We knew that way before you knew it.’ It goes across the board, not just musically. This is a city with a big group of early adopters in it, and that’s a cool thing. There was a time when WRAX was so big that Birmingham was a tastemaker market nationally. We kind of are back to that when it comes to food and some of the arts. I think we’re always on the cusp of it. And the show really helped bring some of that out, I thought.
There’s no real science to it. It’s not work for me. On Sundays, it’s my therapy session. It’s the four hours of the week that I can come in and play what I want to play, no questions asked, no fear of retribution unless I violate some FCC law. For me, it’s just like rolling those tapes when I’d come home from school as a kid, and I’d have all my albums. And I’d be like, ‘This is for so-and-so’ and think about their personality and think about what motivates them and then put together a tape full of songs that I thought would move them and make them be fans of these artists. It’s the same way here. I walk in every Sunday, and this is my lab. I just start mixing stuff, and I don’t know what’s going to explode or what’s going to fizzle, and don’t care. That’s the fun of it, you know.
Reg’s Coffee House airs on Birmingham Mountain Radio (107.3 FM) on Sundays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Updated 1/30/17: A previous version of the story misidentified the station at which Reg’s Coffee House originated. The correct station is WRAX.