The Musical Soul of Billings Ron Schuster's musical imprint lingers

^Ron Schuster, accepting the Freeman Lacy Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2012 Magic City Music Awards.

Ron Schuster could tell a thousand stories through vinyl. At one time he owned more than 5,000 records but has since paired his collection down to an essential 2,500 albums. Armloads at a time, Ron’s records overtook the house and slowly migrated to the garage. During a garage sale someone offered Ron $500 for the collection, lined alphabetically on handmade shelves.

“That’s not even a $1 per record!” Ron exclaimed. “Add another zero to that and maybe I’ll consider it.” The buyer left empty-handed.

Ron’s records may have been quarantined to the garage, but as I run my finger along the clear plastic sleeves, feeling the spines of the records, it’s obvious that this man’s record collection is invaluable. Ron has invited me to his home, nestled against Billings’ northern rimrocks, to eyeball his music collection, which includes thousands of CDs and bunches of cassettes recorded in the 70s and 80s. Ron’s music collection continues in a den-like area where he’s got two walls of CDs flanking a TV playing a live stream from a European music festival. Winn Butler of the Arcade Fire swings his head, throwing a sweaty Mohawk out of his face. I’m impressed—Ron knows the band, even has a favorite song: “Leave the Car Running.” These Canadian indie rockers aren‘t unknown, but they aren’t well known, either, especially to the baby boom generation.

I suppose I imagined Ron in his man-den spinning hit records from the 60s and 70s, not flipping music channels between Fatboy Slim and Arcade Fire. Ron was one of the first on-air programmers in the early 1970s at the fledgling Billings public radio station, KEMC, and he maintained a program on public radio for 30 years, which he recorded from his home. In the corner of Ron’s den, he still has an area set up for recording radio shows, though he’s been off the air for more than a year now. Hosting the program forced Ron to seek out new music on a weekly basis, from roots to rock to reggae music. In the heyday of radio, Ron received boxes of new music in the mail to sort through. He’d pick out the oddball artists that never made it big and give them some airtime.
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