Ray Funk has been sharing his eclectic taste in music with KUAC FM listeners for 40 years. Since 1979, Ray has hosted music programs, and for the past three decades has offered up a delectable mix of tunes from the islands and from the early vaults of blues and gospel, modern jazz and acoustic artists in his “Funk Roots” program.
Raised in Illinois, Ray’s fascination with music began as a teen. He didn’t play any instruments or sing; he listened to everything from the Grateful Dead to Muddy Waters. He majored in English at the University of Notre Dame, spent a year in Ireland, got a master’s degree at the University of Chicago, then worked as a waiter in San Francisco before earning a law degree at UC-Berkeley.
It was law that brought Ray to Fairbanks, where he became a criminal trial judge. At that time, the late John Beckler hosted “Any Old Time” on KUAC FM. While listening to the program, Ray heard the host mispronounce Zydeco and called the radio station to note the proper way to say the word. John invited Ray to be on his show and the rest was history. John taught Ray the ropes and helped him get his FCC license.
Ray retired seven years ago as a judge but continues to work “on call” as a pro-tem judge, traveling all across Alaska, and he has no plans to stop hosting Funk Roots. “The show has evolved,” he said. “I used to play more folk, fiddle and western swing. Now it’s half jazz, some Caribbean stuff and some Irish/Scottish/British folk songs.”
Music is always on Ray’s mind and his travels are centered on musical opportunities. For years he has gone to Trinidad for Carnival, and recently has been researching Trinidad’s Calypso music on a Fulbright scholarship, and has published several books about music and co-produced a film.
“I’m captivated with music. There is nothing like live music. I don’t have to think about the state of the world or my work when I’m listening to music.” While his courtroom duties can be sad and difficult, music research gives him an entirely different perspective that he is passionate about.
Asked to name a favorite performer, he said, “That’s too hard, but maybe Duke Ellington.” For Ray, sharing music makes him happy. “I hope I’m playing music people may not have heard. Through radio, I can expose people to music just like the people who used to make mix tapes except it’s live.
“Writing about and celebrating music and culture keeps me entertained.”
Lori Neufeld, who coordinates KUAC volunteers, said Ray’s vast knowledge of music is truly amazing. “His shows feature music carefully curated for the KUAC listener, whether it’s a set from artists that are touring in our area soon or sunny Trinidadian steel pan selections on a cold Alaska night, Funk Roots is a must listen.
“It’s been such a privilege to have Ray on the airwaves for 40 years,” Lori said. In the 15 years I’ve been at KUAC, it’s been fun getting to know Ray and teach him a thing or two about tech while absorbing way more than a thing or two about the story behind the music. His enthusiasm has burned brighter with each decade of hosting Funk Roots.”