Tuning into the South Louisiana radio scene in Lafayette or Eunice either takes a little word of mouth or else a lot of trial and error. Not a lot is really advertised in either town, but both towns offer excellent Cajun and Creole radio programs that are hardly found anywhere else in the world.
By far, the most outstanding radio show in all of Acadiana is the Cajun Music Show, broadcast live each Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. from a renovated theater in Eunice. The two-year-old program is sponsored by the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and the city of Eunice and is designed as a cross between the Louisiana Hayride, the Grand Ole Opry and “Prairie Home Companion.” It is aired weekly on Eunice’s radio KJJB and radio KEUN. And in the near future, it will also be broadcast on Lafayette’s public radio station, KRVS/FM. The town’s mayor, Curtis Joubert, who was instrumental in the show’s planning, hopes that the Cajun Music Show is what will put Eunice on the map.
The two-hour-long program features a variety of southern Louisiana music, a laid-back but loquacious emcee, and little old ladies who recite their favorite pie recipes over the air. But what makes this live radio show unique in Acadiana, or for that matter in America, is that 90 percent of the show is in French.
Coinciding with the birth of the Cajun Music Show is the rebirth of the Liberty Theatre, a downtown Eunice landmark where the show is held. The theater originally opened in 1924 as a vaudeville and silent movie theater. But as the years went by, the once grand Liberty turned into a regular movie house, and then about six years ago finally closed down and began to deteriorate.
The pathetic sight of the empty theater prompted the city to purchase it and the town of Eunice to begin a massive, all-volunteer renovation project. Eventually the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park got involved in a cooperative agreement and has funded many of the programs that preserve the Prairie Cajun folklore and culture.
Besides just preserving Cajun culture, organizers of the radio show hope to see it someday broadcast nationally as a weekly program similar in format to the former national radio program, “Prairie Home Companion.” This past year a new sound system has been added to the theater making it “almost album quality,” says Mayor Joubert. Due to the higher quality sound, this fall the theater has started sending regular taped weekly programs to the University of Maine’s public radio and also to the public radio station in Atlanta.
But the organizers are bent on maintaining Eunice Liberty Theatre’s Cajun Music Show authenticity. “We want to keep the flavor of the program human,” said Eunice musician and writer Ann Savoy, the show’s program director, the year the show started. “We don’t want to get real sophisticated…but at the same time, we want to keep it tasteful. We don’t want anything too cute. I think cuteness is getting to be an epidemic in the Cajun culture.”
The Liberty hardly appears to be a gimmick. It is located on Park Avenue in downtown Eunice, a town so small you don’t need directions, just drive around in any direction long enough and you’ll find what you’re looking for. The admission charge for Saturday night performances often featuring top quality Cajun and zydeco bands is an honorary buck to help the city defray expenses of maintaining the building (the park service pays the musicians). And while the French spoken in the program may appear to be a contrived tourist trap, it’s not. About half the audience is made up of Eunice residents whose first language is French.
Though the Cajun Music Show is a family entertainment program—only popcorn and Cokes are sold and jokes are clean—it is a prime opportunity to sneak in Cajun education. Besides Cajun French being spoken, conversations with performers and guests and the emcee’s commentary reveal bits and pieces of Cajun character, history and culture. In that sense, the radio show really is a national park as such. It’s like Yellowstone Park, only here it’s the language and customs that are preserved instead of land. Other radio programs well worth tuning into for a South Louisiana fix are:
KRVS/FM 88.7 (National Public Radio)—ZYDECO—The hottest local music show is Herbert Wiltz’ Saturday morning zydeco program, “Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales,” an indigenous creole expression meaning “The snapbeans aren’t salty,” from where the word “zydeco” derived. The show is on from 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday, except when Wiltz is out-of-town or sick, and then the show just doesn’t go on. As much as possible Wiltz conducts “Les Haricots” in Creole French to promote and preserve the Creole culture. He often interviews zydeco musicians and he always tells the listening audience during the course of the show where the best zydeco to be heard is being played. Tune into this zydeco show and you’ve got your finger on the local zydeco beat.
CAJUN-KRVS also features regular Cajun music. On weekdays, tune in from 6 to 7:30 a.m. for Cajun music. And on Sundays the station features Cajun music—or a derivative of it, like Johnnie Allan’s 4 p.m. Swamp Pop show—all day until 5 p.m.
KFXZ/FM 106.3—ZYDECO—The Cravin brothers put on a mean zydeco show each Sunday morning from 11 a.m. til 2 p.m. Don and Charles Cravin also sponsor an annual indoor zydeco festival each spring at Blackham Coliseum in Lafayette that is rivaled only by the now-famous Zydeco Festival held each Labor Day weekend in Plaisance, LA.
KJCB/AM 77O—GOSPEL—This black-formatted station plays early-morning gospel music Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. And also on Sunday from 5 a.m. til noon. They play local and national groups.
RHYTHM ‘N’ BLUES/ZYDECO-KJCB has got to be one of the funkiest radio stations in the whole world. You’ll hear local funk like you’ve never heard it anywhere else. And this is the place to call (318-233-4262) for the best authentic, out-of-the-way, real-stuff zydeco and blues joints to be found in Acadiana. If you call late Thursday evenings, Lisa usually has the list of nightclub schedules ready for the weekend.
During the day you can tune into a regular mix of rap, Top 40 R&B hits and a few jazz cuts (unfortunately jazz isn’t a music priority in Lafayette). Their blues show is from 12 to 2 p.m. on Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Where to buy the jewels you hear on the radio in Lafayette? For Cajun music, you’re best bet is Raccoon Records, located at 2928 Johnston St. They’re the largest record store in town and specialize in Cajun music. They also have a decent selection of Creole artists. However, to really dig into the black record scene in Lafayette, you must hit House Rocker Records, which is as funky as its name.
House Rocker Records is not only the only black music store in Lafayette, it is also the hippest music store in Lafayette. House Rocker Records is located at 502 W. Simcoe. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The phone number is (318) 234-6231.
Paul Thibeaux, who was a deejay at KVOL for several years, opened House Rocker in 1968. When he died in 1983, his sister, Irene, took over its management. The living room-sized record shop has never expanded an inch, but business has grown steadily over the years. Most of the advertising is by word of mouth and Irene says the majority of her customers have been with her since 1968, a fact in which she takes lots of pride. House Rocker Records caters to the black market, but on occasion, when a white artist like George Michael crosses over, House Rocker will stock him.
“If it’s in the black line of music, you can find just about anything,” Irene attests. But the absolute best thing about House Rocker is how much it caters to local artists. Right in there with Terrence Trent D’Arby and Billy Ocean is Boo Zoo Chavis, Buckwheat Zydeco, Fernest Arceneaux and Rockin’ Dopsie. If you want the newest zydeco music—like Roy Carrier’s single, “I’m Coming Home To Stay,” or two of the hottest new zydeco LPs out now: Rockin’ Sidney’s “Squeeze That Thing,” and Nathan William’s “Steady Rock”—Irene will have it, know about it, or find out about it in a phone call.
House Rocker also stocks oldies. The shop has a catalog you can thumb through to select records like Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” or B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Also check out House Rocker’s bulletin board before you leave. You’ll find something worth remembering—like a big zydeco fest happening at St. Paul’s Hall with music by Gene Morris on Oct. 6, or where there’s another zydeco trail ride next week.