By Tanner Kent
---- — MANKATO -- Mark Halverson is more than a blues aficionado.
The man who produces seven hours of blues programming every week on the KMSU airwaves on a strictly volunteer basis and has spent more than two decades promoting, encouraging and stewarding blues music to listeners in southern Minnesota may soon be a blues hall-of-famer.
The Mankato attorney is a nominee for the 2013 class of the Minnesota Blues Society Hall of Fame in the non-performer category. Society members have until June 30 to cast their ballots.
But for a man who has labored in relative obscurity -- even today, he said, people recognize him more from a public access, Grateful Dead-themed talkshow with former Free Press writer Joe Tougas than any of his radio exploits -- just to be recognized is a reward of its own.
"Especially by that group," said Halverson of the society that inducted its inaugural hall of fame class in 2007. "I know all the nominees in all the categories. There are some pretty impressive names. It's flattering."
Despite the anonymity, Halverson has become an impressive name in its own right.
Synonymous with "liberal ethos, a wry wit and mastery of Blues vernacular" -- or, so says his nomination biography -- Halverson's name has become inextricably linked with blues music in Mankato and beyond.
He began 22 years ago when a spot opened up at KMSU, then a much larger station with about 10 full-time staff members. Halverson and a college buddy who had a large collection of blues records auditioned for the station manager and were given a slot on Sunday nights.
Halverson continues in that slot still today with "Blues Before Monday" from 7-10 p.m. on Sundays. Over the years, he's added Blues Break (11:30 a.m. to noon on weekdays) and Blue Monday (6-7 p.m. on Mondays).
He's on the service lists for just about every blues label in the country, giving him exhaustive access to blues material. His playlists have become valuable statistical references for the few organizations that still track earnestly the radio play of blues music.
"Blues music is mostly relegated to non-commercial operations," he said. "This is a labor of love, but I certainly have a focus and goal of getting this music out to people."
For a boy growing up in St. Peter who had to drive to a hilltop out of the river valley to tune in a shaky AM signal from KQRS in the Twin Cities to satisfy his blues hankerings, there is a sense of responsibility for the music.
Like a lot of youths in the 1960s and 1970s, Halverson's first exposure to blues music came from the British Invasion. As his understanding grew, so did his appreciation. While living for a time in Minneapolis after graduating from then-Mankato State College, he was around for the halcyon days of the West Bank music scene. When disco took over live music in the 1970s, Halverson said he sought further refuge in blues, bluegrass and roots music.
Though the local blues influence has ebbed and flowed, Halverson has made a point to support area blues acts and is said to own one of the largest collections of blues festival T-shirts in the Midwest.
"Blues is still a niche around here," he said. "But I'll keep doing it as long as I'm around town."