Fate brings people down many paths, and more than a few seem to converge in the multi-faceted world of professional sound. Mitchell Holman began his career as a musician, as did many of us in the audio industry.
But while many future engineers played cover songs in local bands, Holman became a bona fide rock star in 1968 with a gold record hanging on his wall for his work as the bassist in the band It’s a Beautiful Day, best remembered for the hit song “White Bird.” It’s a staple of classic rock radio stations today.
I recently caught up with him at “West Coast Live,” a weekly radio show that he serves as audio engineer. The show is live-on-the-air Saturday mornings from a variety of locations in (and around) the San Francisco Bay area, and it also occasional migrates around, traveling to gigs as far as Ireland.
One show was even run “live-to-DAT” on a steam train in Alaska. The content varies greatly from week to week, which is a big part of the attraction for Holman.
We slid into comfortable seats at the Goldman Theatre in the David Brower Center in Berkeley, CA just as the live broadcast started. This particular show included interviews with several provocative book authors (a major component of each week’s show), interspersed with performances of three bands – The Dufay Collective, Uncle Bonsai, and Arann Harris & The Farm Band.
The Goldman Theatre is a small, beautiful auditorium populated that day by a lively audience of about 150. While West Coast Live has been a long-running independent fixture in the Bay Area, the privately funded show is also picked up by National Public Radio affiliates, reaching a weekly audience of about 1 million, plus an Internet audience of several hundred thousand.
Following the show I talked with Holman, who has worked the show every Saturday for 16 consecutive years.
Ken DeLoria: What made you change from playing music to sound engineering?
Mitchell Holman: I didn’t change! Working as an audio engineer supports my singing and playing habit (laughs). I still write and play, but I’ve also been involved in audio since the early days of rock when you had to literally build everything yourself. In those times it was rare to find any solid advice on how to properly interface equipment, so I learned it on my own.
KD: You’ve been doing West Coast Live for a long time. How has content of the show varied over the years?
MH: Not by much, other than to stay contemporary and to focus on interesting and provocative guests that might otherwise slip under the radar. It’s always been a variety show – one of the very last that still thrives in the radio medium – and it probably will always remain as such.