Rick Galusha Keeps Rhythm, Dishes Blues on 89.7 The RiverDec 30, 2021 11:51AM ● By Dwain Hebda
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Rick Galusha has packed a lot into 61 years—myriad ventures and passions that include college professor, radio show host, businessman, would-be Douglas County Register of Deeds, newspaper columnist, and general, genial community rabble-rouser.
He has done so much in so many fields, that at first glance it’s hard to spot the thread that binds them all. Music comes closest.
Galusha has known music as art, livelihood, and community, defining as it does our social, political, and generational story. These themes and more he has debated and discussed both in the college classroom and, most notably, as host of Pacific Street Blues & Americana, a fixture on KIWR 89.7 FM, The River, for three decades.
“I began dabbling in radio when I went to the University of Wyoming very briefly in the late ’70s and then came back to UNO and got into jazz and classical music,” he said. “[Jazz] was not really my thing at the time, but I wanted to be in radio, and that was the doorway to get in.”
He continued, “Then, probably in the late ’80s, there was a new radio station, KKVU, which was soft jazz. I went in and talked to the music director and he had a bunch of tapes on his desk of nationally syndicated blues programs. I’m like, ‘I can do that for you.’ He said ‘OK.’”
Galusha’s pitch, low-key though it was, was not mere bravado. His musical knowledge was honed and curated during nearly a quarter-century working at Homer’s, the legendary Omaha record store at which he would rise from college-student clerk to CEO.
“As a kid in the ’60s and really, the early ’70s, my sister would take us down to the Old Market and the original Homer’s Music store. It was just a land of enchantment,” he said. “Homer’s had a store in Westroads Mall that I would go and work in…for free, because I wanted to work there so bad.”
Working Homer’s counter in college was Galusha’s bliss, and when he rejoined the company in the late 1980s after a brief period away, he thought it would be more of the same. It wasn’t, but it taught him other sides of the music business that would inform his later endeavors.
“At that time, the guy that was running the organization was stepping out,” Galusha said. “He’d been there since the founding and he was going to move on to do other things. Eventually that gave me the opportunity to step into the lead role.”
“Things were pretty loose,” he continued. “It wasn’t a corporate environment by any stretch of the imagination. It was kind of a mom-and-pop operation and we were developing some guidelines to be a better-run organization. There were growing moments and there were painful moments, and I loved it. But running the organization was not as much fun as running the counter.”
With Pacific Street Blues, Galusha got the chance to return to his favorite part of the music business, which is educating others on various genres, turning people on to new artists, and connecting the dots.
“I can play straight blues for three hours and I’d be quite happy, and the eight people that listened I’m sure would really enjoy it,” he said with a laugh. “The challenge is, how do I weave together a show that brings in a larger audience?”
That’s where Galusha’s knowledge of music comes in. “I’ll focus on the blues roots of Aerosmith, for instance. We’ll play an Aerosmith track everybody knows, but not the hits. They cover Bull Moose Jackson’s “Ten Inch Record”; they cover Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.” They cover Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind.”
“He’s got such an intense background in the blues music, going back to Muddy Waters and some of the originators of the blues,” said Bill Bone, a longtime listener and friend. “He then incorporates that into the more modern music and how the old ones influenced the new ones. He’s introduced me to some things, Johnny Winter for one.”
Galusha counterbalances his expertise in classic rock and roots music with today’s influences, something he’s exposed to through his teaching gig at Bellevue University. His musical sphere seeps into his lectures and their tracks reverberate back to him. In many instances, he likes what he hears.
“I think modern music is much more overt than it was for a very long time,” he said. “When we look at the political messaging in popular music, there was a significant lull in the ’80s and ’90s. But when I hear music the students are listening to, it’s highly politicized. I would describe it as very socially aware, very socially engaged while they’re getting that beat into their head.”
Galusha uses the same tactics with students as he does with listeners to drive home the point that the messages of today were written yesterday in the hopes of a better tomorrow. And if there’s a running theme for his radio show—which, with the addition of a podcast, shows no signs of slowing down—he wants that to be it.
“Someone once told me, ‘You’re a teacher. That’s all you do,’” he said. “I enjoy building that bridge of using classic rock, tying it back to the blues, and helping people begin to build those connections. And I love doing that. That’s the art of what I’m trying to accomplish, to make it entertaining and yet informative and challenging.”
Visit 897theriver.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.