Hartman's Radio Mixes Bagpipes, The Boss and Banjos
Aigburth Manor resident hosts weekly show on WTMD.
Paul Hartman's detours come with alerts.
"Warning—bagpipes coming up," he says.
Hartman hosts "Detour," the long-running show of folk, roots and world music on WTMD. The first track of his show Sunday was "The Panda" by Wolfstone, which features the traditional Scottish instrument that people love, or love to hate.
"I like to warn of bagpipes or banjos because typically those are the instruments that people complain of being lazy or screechy," he says. "I think they're cool."
The 55-year-old Aigburth Manor resident and community leader has hosted the program since 1995. He also served as the editor of the folk music magazine Dirty Linen from 1987 until it folded in 2010.
Growing up, he listened to Pete Seeger and big band jazz, but also, thanks to a radio station near his grandparents' home in New York, he found bands like the British folk outfit Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull (before "Aqualung").
"Baltimore radio never played that stuff," he says. "Still doesn't except for me."
Some modern alternative artists have tried to channel that older, folk-roots style, but Hartman says it often feels more manufactured than the stuff he listens to.
"I like music that's kind of rough around the edges. Maybe it's got mistakes or a bum note somewhere. It's not perfect," he says. "You hear the pops and clicks."
Hartman didn't always fly solo on the radio. He first took over for his ailing predecessor, Tony Sica, in 1995. Later, Sica rejoined the program as co-host. Playlists would be a mix of each host's picks, and they'd often give each other ideas.
"It'd be a combination of two people's collections and expertise that not one person would have," Hartman said.
Sica retired in 2004 and passed away last February.
When WTMD, Towson University's public radio station, switched formats from smooth jazz to alternative in 2003, Hartman's show was one of the few blocks that survived.
Now, Hartman feels more at home than ever. Instead of being bookended by Kenny G, his show now sits between "Baltimore Unsigned" and "Reggae Rhythms."
"It's a favorite with so many of our listeners," the station's general manager, Steve Yasko, said in an email.
Hartman composes much of his playlist on the fly, from stacks of CDs and a tote bag of vinyls he brings with him. Sometimes, he'll bring packs of CDs wrapped in rubber bands if he wants to play a themed set. This week, he had one set of space-themed songs (in honor of the Space Shuttle program's end) and another of lawn songs. Some of his picks are in other languages.
"Something I've discovered is it doesn't matter if someone is singing in a language you can understand or not," he says. "I think we all ought to listen to other people's music and trade music."
Some songs don't strictly fit the definition of folk or roots music. "The Panda," for example, kicks into a guitar solo at one point. But it's his show, and he's given a wide latitude to experiment. He's even played Bruce Springsteen when he can tie The Boss in.
"That's the coolest thing about working here, is no one says what I can play," Hartman says. "That just doesn't happen at most stations, even non-commercial ones."
But the coolest part of Hartman's job, he says, is the chance to expose people to other music the same way he was exposed to different sounds when he was younger.
"It's sharing cool stuff that you just don't hear elsewhere," he says. "There's just so much much out there even with that narrow genre, that no person could hear it all or digest it all... It can open doors."
"Detour" airs Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. on WTMD (89.7 FM).