By Victor Skinner
Muskegon – Since 2001, Bill Marshall has served as the voice of the Michigan Irish Music Festival, and his deep baritone is now reverberating across Lake Michigan and the world after nearly two decades in the Irish music scene.
Marshall, a longtime on-air personality in west Michigan, took on the emcee role for the Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon 18 years ago, and the experience evolved into a passion for Irish music that has kept him coming back every year since.
In recent years, Marshall has taken that passion to another level through his work at Muskegon’s 100.9 FM with a prime time radio show “Sounds Like Ireland” that’s elevating the genre and making a name for both its host and the station across the globe.
“It’s about the closeness of community. The Irish music scene has this sense of community and camaraderie,” Marshall said of what drew him in. “Through the emceeing I’ve gotten to know the artists and they’re internationally renowned artists.”
After 14 years hosting the Festival, Marshall helped Muskegon’s 100.9 FM launch “Sounds Like Ireland,” which currently airs every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., both through local broadcast and the station’s online streaming channel at www.muskegonradio.com
With streaming capable of reaching across the globe, the program has grown organically over the last four years to become one of the top Irish music channels online, enabled by the radio station’s non-profit status and flexible management that allowed Marshall to produce the show at a time people will actually tune in.
“It’s got a really nice niche audience because of streaming,” Marshall said.
“People are listening in as many as 20 to 25 states and three countries at any given time,” he added. “We’ve seen people listening in Germany, Austria and Ireland. I’ve actually had call-ins from Ireland on the show.”
Improved technology also offered better access to artists, who can now send in new music with a click of the mouse, unlike in years past when radio hosts relied on physical tapes or CDs, Marshall added.
“We’ve done it slowly but surely and it’s grown slowly but surely,” he said of Sounds Like Ireland.
Marshall said the social media expertise of Lashelle Mikesell, who also runs the social media accounts for Michigan Irish Music Festival, has played a pivotal role in that growth.
“She’s awesome. She’s taught me the importance of social media,” Marshall said. “It’s been a tremendous way to communicate and just a wonderful way to help build the show.”
Both Mikesell and Marshall post videos of performances to the show’s Facebook page, where they also interact with artists and fans in Michigan and beyond.
The show’s success, coupled with Marshall’s work and connections with the Michigan Irish Music Festival, also led to new opportunities for the veteran radio host, who was invited in July to emcee Saline Celtic Festival’s 24th annual celebration.
Marshall is also emceed the Miller Light Stage at the Milwaukee Irish Fest in August.
“It’s kind of an honor to be asked to emcee the largest Irish festival in the world,” he said.
“It’s larger than anything in Ireland, anywhere,” Marshall said. “A hundred and fifty thousand people (attend), and there’s often dignitaries from Ireland. The president of Ireland has shown up in past years.”
The new gig will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities for Sounds Like Ireland, he added.
“It’s great exposure for me, but it’s also just a great networking place to see new acts and do things for the radio show,” Marshall said ahead of the gig. “I’ll take video of those acts … and that’s the stuff we put on our social media.”
The Muskegon resident credits his success in the Irish community to a combination of factors, from his long relationship with Michigan Irish Festival to the growing popularity of online streaming to 100.9 FM’s support for his passion.
“The show hits at some pretty good times for people. That’s been huge for me here,” Marshall said, though he admits his authentic love of Irish music is another important contributing factor.
“I have sort of a weird deep voice that people seem to appreciate, and I have enthusiasm for the music and the culture,” he said.