“Right there.” Scott Register plants a fingertip on one faded concert flyer among many posted above his desk. “My mom took me to my first concert,” he says, “Alice Cooper and AC/DC—June 26, 1978, at the BJCC, $6.50—when I was 9 years old, along with my friend Greg and his mom.” Here in his office, he’s got the artifacts that go with a life built on music, friendship and family. “This is my time capsule,” he says of the cozily-cluttered space peppered with signed album covers, framed concert posters (the Replacements rate the most shrine-like display), a Simpsons lunchbox, an actual rolodex, and photos of his wife, two high-school-aged sons and seven-month-old daughter. “That first concert is probably why I’m sitting here today. It’s when I realized that music is so much more than just songs.”
Indeed, the tagline for Reg’s Coffee House, the 10 a.m.-2 p.m. music show he hosts and curates every Sunday morning on Birmingham Mountain Radio, is “Because a song can change everything.” In the show’s eclectic mix, including singer-songwriter, adult alternative, hip hop and R&B, sometimes listeners hear a new song that ends up helping them out in life. “When you hear from someone who’s going through a divorce or a kid who’s having trouble in school, and they were helped by a song, that’s the kind of stuff that really sticks with you.”
One of those early listeners was Michele Hug, who is now senior publicist for Nasty Little Man, a New York City-based public relations firm representing artists including Arcade Fire, Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Radiohead and U2. “My mom and I would listen to Reg every Sunday, excited to see what new artists and songs he would introduce us to,” says Hug. “His show was a beacon for me as kid growing up in Birmingham. It provided an essential guide for a young girl finding her early foothold in the music world.”
Register has likewise helped musicians find their foothold by being their early champion—with some going on to global fame. A listener phoned in one Sunday morning who liked an opening act she’d seen the night before in Atlanta. Register asked her to send him a CD of the artist. “I listened to it and kept saying, ‘This is really good.’” The then-unknown artist was John Mayer, who Register invited to play on his show. “He showed up in this Dodge Caravan. He started playing, and all I could pay attention to was how good a guitar player he was.”
Grammy-winning household name or not, what means most to Register are friendships he’s made along the way. “People bring up John Mayer and Train the most, but there’s a whole bunch of folks that maybe aren’t as big as other ones, that mean just as much to me.” Register says he was one of, if not the first, to play alternative artist Pete Yorn, whose debut album went gold in 2001. The good friends now both have young daughters and trade parenting tips. “We’re constantly bouncing things off each other,” he says.
The friendships he made growing up in Vestavia Hills run deepest of all. “I’m tighter with my high school friends than any other group of friends I’ve ever made,” he says. “Those years together made us thicker than blood.” It’s in part why he chooses to live in Vestavia today. “I want my kids to have fond memories that hopefully will make them want to come back, too,” he says.
Although listening to music was central to his friendships growing up, he never envisioned a career in the music industry. A journalism major at Auburn, Register had planned to go into sports writing, and then found himself in a public relations and advertising job that included promoting acts for the music festival City Stages. That’s how he met Dave Rossi, the man who ultimately put “Reg” on the air in 1997. As program director at WRAX-FM, Birmingham’s new adult alternative station, Rossi liked Register’s singer-songwriter taste in music and gave him a chance.
The idea behind it has always been that a friend comes over to your house with some music on a Sunday morning, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.” Register had no notion he’d be on the air more than a couple weeks, much less a couple decades. His playlists have evolved over the years: “I used to stick closer to singer-songwriter, but as I gained the trust of listeners I learned I could take chances,” he says. He never pre-plans. “I walk in with a blank slate and just go.”
That moment-to-moment method has carried Register successfully through multiple station changes, moving to Live 100.5 FM in 2008, and then when the station shifted to talk radio in 2010, landing at Birmingham Mountain Radio. Partner and General Manager Jeff Clanton says he was a bit starstruck when he first brought Register on at the station’s launch. “Over the course of 20 years, he has really gotten to know a lot of the musicians that he plays,” he says. “We knew he had so much credibility, that his name would help win listeners.”
For Register, it was the right opportunity that offered creative freedom. “They were nice enough to want me to be a part of the station’s beginning, and we’re still rockin’ along. This is the best situation that I’ve ever been in as far as freedom goes,” he says of the ground-breaking platform that began online and now also broadcasts at 107.3 FM and 97.3 HD2 in Birmingham, 97.5 FM and 105.1 HD2 in Tuscaloosa, and 92.3 FM Pelham.
True to his longtime show’s name, Register drinks coffee most of the morning—Red Diamond Max Caff, “the maximum amount of caffeine you can put in a cup of coffee, by law,” he says—and he needs the fuel. He also co-hosts the station’s morning drive show, The Morning Blend with Reg & Will, Monday-Friday 6-10 a.m., and then heads to his job handling A & R (Artist & Repertoire) for ThinkIndie Distribution, which distributes music to 800-plus independent record stores, distributors, Amazon and other companies. “I’m a night owl who somehow got a job as an early bird—it’s a lethal combination,” he says. While he loves all of his roles, Reg’s Coffee House is his “free form” escape.
“All my old friends have real jobs,” Register says, as lawyers, engineers, salespeople. “But I’m up before most of them in the morning.” It’s not something he takes for granted. “Every day that I get to turn the mike on and play music is a lucky day.”
Reg’s Greatest Hits
Best drink: “The Brad Green at The Atomic. I also love a good craft beer. I have a favorite at just about every craft brewery in town.”
Tastiest ribs: “I’m going to go where a certain sauce is. If I’m in the mood for Dreamland sauce, I’m going to Dreamland; if I’m in the mood for Saw’s sauce, I’m going to Saw’s; if I’m in the mood for Full Moon sauce, well, you get it. I’m lucky to have such a plethora of choices.”
Greatest view: “Right now it’s Vulcan. They cleared out the trees off the side of the hill, and they’re redoing the entrance. It’s pretty spectacular.”
Favorite Vestavia hangout: “Diplomat Deli. It has been for a long time. Nothing’s more Vestavia than the Diplomat. You go in and you’re going to see your friends’ parents, your friends, your friends’ kids. It’s a Vestavia institution.”
New song he can’t stop listening to: “’Something for your Mind’ by Superorganism. It’s just a totally infectious song, and it’s the farthest thing from singer-songwriter. It’s weird. I’m really into it.”
New song listeners are going crazy for: “’Glass House’ by Morgan Saint. I’m getting a crazy, huge reaction. I get phone calls and social media messages every time I play it.”
Top local cause: “The Greater Birmingham Humane Society, bar none. I was on the board for 12 years. Animal welfare has always been near and dear to my heart. I like being able to help give a voice to the voiceless.”
Ringtone of choice: “The loudest one. I keep my phone on vibrate, so the only time it rings is when the alarm goes off in the morning. It needs to be loud to wake me up at 4:30 a.m.”
On his bucket list: “To have a bucket list, you’d have to sit down and plan. I’m not a great planner. I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants guy.”