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‘Ike’s America’ radio show a history lesson

All of Ted Holteen’s favorite musicians are dead.

Frank Sinatra died in 1998, Ella Fitzgerald in 1996. Vic Damone died in 2018, Bing Crosby in 1977 and Doris Day in 2019. But the KSUT DJ keeps these musicians and numerous other storied vocalists from that era alive with “Ike’s America Radio Program,” heard at 7 p.m. Thursdays on KSUT. The show has aired on the Ignacio-based public radio station since 2017, having been on for years before during the summer on KDUR.

Created when Four Corners Broadcasting pulled the plug on its “Music Of Your Life” show to make way for sports radio, it was suggested to KDUR management to host a show similar to fill the void. Staff members at the Fort Lewis College station knew Holteen had a love for this type of music, and he jumped at it.

“It was my mom’s music, she graduated high school in 1948, and she was a bobby-soxer,” Holteen said. “This is the music I had in my house growing up; I was born in 1968, and in the early ’70s, while everyone else was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters in their houses, I had Johnny Mercer, The Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby.”

More than a DJ, Holteen is a pop-culture aficionado as well as a historian, expressing a deep appreciation for this type of music and recognition for its significance when it was new, as well as its significance now. He carries a deep understanding and respect for its timelessness.

“They call these standards for a reason. For better or worse, from the Tin Pan Alley of the late 19-teens and ’20s, the way popular songs became created, these guys set the standards. Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, they got to go first. It is the great American songbook. They call jazz our American original music, and the great American songbook standards are an extension of jazz.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a central American figure at the time these songs were produced. Naming the show “Ike’s America” is a way to put a time stamp on the radio show, as well as honor the man who was behind some major American accomplishments, most notably stopping Hitler.

“It was a good way to encapsulate in a historical bracket that time. His life was remarkable as far as if you look at the 20th century being as formative as it was for the United States. He saw the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, World War I, the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression and he won D-Day,” Holteen said. “He was the first leader of NATO, he was the president of Columbia University and he was the president of the United States. He desegregated the armed forces and sent troops to Little Rock to help desegregate.”

It’s not just music for the aging generation who dug this music when it was new. While that audience is still there but decreasing in number daily, it remains music appealing to many, from hippies to hard-rockers to people who just like a perfectly crafted pop song.

“I’m always pleasantly surprised at the feedback I get from the multigenerational responses. And that’s not too surprising, especially musicians young or old, musicians appreciate music – the songwriting, the composition of these songs, is perfect. That’s how you write a song,” he said. “Every song ever written, whether it be rock and roll, R&B or blues, they base song structure on these standards.”

While Holteen is playing music that paints a picture of good times and youthful innocence, he’s also someone who recognizes the music he plays didn’t necessarily reflect reality. The late ’40s and ’50s remain a tumultuous time riddled with segregation, duck-and-cover drills and Cold War worry.

“I’m doing a historical show. I always want the listener to know that I’m aware of it,” he said. “I’m not just saying, ‘This is the good, don’t we wish it was all like this, the good old days.’ No, the good old days weren’t always good, but the music was.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.