Jan 14, 2019

A Voice in the Night, Marfa Radio Host Broadcasts for Himself and the World

Reporting Texas

As the clock strikes 10 p.m. on Tuesday in West Texas, a towering man in orange-tinted glasses settles in for his three-hour radio show from an empty studio. Drivers tune in. Prisoners don headphones in their jail cells.

The man leans into the microphone at KRTS 93.5 and speaks. “David Beebe here until 1 in the morning,” he says.

The Night Train Express begins.

Beebe, 47, has been a radio disc jockey at the Marfa public radio station for 10 years. His weekly show curates soulful, so-called “grown-folk” artists such as The S.O.S. Band and GJS, which appeal to an audience of people 25 to 50 years old. It’s Motown-inspired music that Beebe appreciates for its liveliness and skill in telling stories.

His reach ranges from the desert of Texas to the world at large. Through streaming, his show reaches more than 100,000 listeners, including a father in Israel and inmates at the state prison in Fort Stockton, about 100 miles away. Prisoners with good behavior are given a pocket radio. They often write to Beebe with stories or song requests.

“My man, Mr. David Beebe.” wrote one inmate. “My hat goes off to you and the awesome songs. I want to thank you so much for playing my request. Much obliged.”

Marfa Public Radio is a non-profit National Public Radio affiliate, reaching as far as two hours into Mexico. With more than 25 volunteers and a hand-full of full-time employees, Marfa Public Radio is growing in reach and in listenership.

“I have a friend from high school that listens to this show quite often taking his kid to school in Tel Aviv in the morning,” Beebe shared.

Studies show that radio is losing its appeal, but Beebe remains hopeful. He’s rewarded by knowing that strangers love the music he loves, that they appreciate the liveliness and the stories. He thinks about the father in Israel. He wonders what the inmate who called him “Mr.” did to go to prison.

Beebe hopes they find his show authentic. That they come to Night Train Express because they know what they’re getting.

“People want something that they think is real,” he said.

As the three-hour show draws to a close, he’s already thinking about next week’s segment. What songs he’ll play, who will write in, who’s going to be listening. Until then, Beebe will just reach for the pen and notepad in his shirt pocket, scribble down the songs that make him smile and wait to share them with the listeners of the Night Train Express.