Nebraska music mainstay and historian Mike Kronschnabel passed away on January 19th with complications from congenital heart failure. He was 56. Mike — or “Kronch,” as almost everyone in the music scene called him — was a loving father, husband, a man of faith and a very good friend to many.
He also is one of Nebraska music’s biggest innovators and historians. Kronchscnabel went by the name Ryan O’Connor on Omaha radio stations, including Omaha alternative station KRCK 95.3 “Omaha’s Cutting Edge,” from 1991 through 1993.
During that same time, he ran a weekly television show called Trout Tunes that featured local, regional and national music on cable access. Kronch would go to various venues around the area and film performances for the show. At the time, Kronch gave bands around the area exposure through his program’s mixture of interview and live performance video. Bands and artists were able to tell their stories, get their personalities and their music out there.
The 90’s were a fertile and successful time period for the Omaha music scene, with bands like Blue Moon Ghetto, Man Down, Old Boy Network, Grasshopper Takeover and more filling rooms. He caught a lot of that on film. 311, St. Louis’ The Urge and other regional bands would move on to major label deals, but Kronch captured their early performances. He didn’t really prefer a certain style of music; he was one of the rare people in the music industry that was open and not judgmental.
This helped him capture hard rock bands around the scene, the beginnings of what would become Saddle Creek and the Omaha indie music sound. He filmed bands such as Slow Down Virginia, Cactus Nerve Thing, Guerilla Theater, Mercy Rule, Fifth Of May and so many more. It is because of his work we can revisit shows at bygone venues such as Jones Street Brewery, McFarland’s Bar, Sharky’s, The Capitol, The Hurricane, The Howard Street and The Ranch Bowl.
In recent years, Kronch had spent his creative time dabbling in music himself, playing the occasional open mic and enlisting other local musicians to jam with him. He ran some acoustic nights around the area including one with myself and fellow Omaha musician Matt Whipkey at The 49’r, which was a big success. He also started the Moose Lodge recording studio and continued to work with local and original bands in the area.
Mike Kronschnabel was a good friend of mine and was one of the people who supported, encouraged, and inspired me as I started to write about and work in the local music scene. Everyone will say the same thing about Kronch: that he truly was the embodiment of the word “nice.” He had a big personality and when he entered a room he filled it with his presence. Mike would walk up and talk to just with just about anyone, always with a smile on his face and a chuckle at the ready. He was a passionate supporter of our music scene as someone who enjoyed it and promoted it rather than one who critiqued it.
In recent years, Mike had begun digitally archiving Trout Tunes online (you can find this on the Trout Tunes You Tube page), but this is only a small sample of what he has in the vault. His passing is a big loss for our scene, and his friendship will be missed, but he left us with a lot of memories and music for all of us to continue to enjoy.
— Marq Manner
Here are some thoughts and memories from friends and musicians:
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Danieal Burns, Vago
I met Mike Kronschnabel sometime around 1992-’93 when I was a teenager just starting out playing bar gigs at Howard St, Capitol Bar, Sharkys, Ranch Bowl, etc. He was the first person I met in the music scene who was not in one of the bands, but was a major, vital part of that scene existing. [He was] probably the first person who ever interviewed me or a band I was in, and he was genuinely interested in what we had to say about our little local band. It felt like a big deal to get played on Trout Tunes, and to be the featured band. That was everything! I had always thought that when the show stopped, there was the first big lull I remember in the scene.
Later, I worked at an outbound telemarketing job with him. Nobody liked that job, it was a soul crushing place, but Kronch was always there with a booming, bass-filled “good morning” and a huge smile, like he had just been waiting for you to get there. That continued on every time I would see him over the years. When I got back into playing after a few years later, he was one of the first familiar faces I saw at the 49’r, and he greeted me the same as always, like I was the one person he’d love to see at that moment. The last time I saw him, we ran into him at the Durham Museum, and he was the exact same way.
He never treated anyone he knew as an acquaintance, always like a great friend he was thrilled to see. I may have only known him casually, but I can say without a doubt Kronch was about as kind and genuine of a man as a person can be. His presence in the room was always felt, like a big positive charge. I can’t imagine the void left for his family and those others who were close and knew him well.
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B.J. Huchtemann, Blues Society of Omaha/The Reader
Kronch was unquestionably one of the biggest supporters of local music I know of, recording local bands from at least the early ’90s for his Trout Tunes TV show that aired on Omaha public access.
You probably saw him recording at places like the old Howard Street Tavern (where I first met him), Sharky’s and I think even the Ranch Bowl.
He was a tireless supporter and documentarian of the local music scene. I imagine there are shelves full of more recordings! In the ‘80s he worked as Ryan O’Connor on Z-92 and, more recently, he ran The Moose Lodge Recording Studio, continuing to support the local scene by donating studio recording time to the Blues Society of Omaha’s top three local prize winners in the annual blues challenge since the second year of its operation.
I can’t think of a person who worked harder to support local artists over a lifetime or a kinder man.
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Marty Amsler, Tragic Jack
Mike had such a pure passion for music and the people who made it. He didn’t just document a vital era in Nebraska music history; he was an important part of it.
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Gary Lind, Bathtub Maria
I knew Kronch back in the day when I had the recording studio and the PA in The Capitol and he was doing Trout Tunes. One particular memory is when Blues Traveler came to play at The Ranch Bowl, where I was working running sound sometimes and Kronch wanted me to hang out with him behind the soundboard where we had a bank of video monitors from all of the cameras. Standing between him and Roger Armstrong from the Ranch Bowl, I experienced one of the best live music shows I had ever been to in Omaha with two of the guys who did more for the music scene than almost anyone.
Forward 20 years and my band Bathtub Maria decided to record a handful of songs with him at his house. We reconnected and we hung outside talking for an hour after one session. We were almost done mixing and I had a session booked with him the day after his episode. We were one of the last bands to record with him, a fact that I know we all deeply cherish now. Getting to reconnect with him has been one of the best things that have happened musically for me since I came back to Omaha.
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Kronch had boundless generosity. You had to be careful when you mentioned something to him because you might find yourself with more help than you knew what to do with! And damn, did that man have passion for local Omaha bands. I knew him for nearly 40 years and he was always rock steady, patient, kind, thoughtful, generous and passionate. And a damn fine audio engineer. He knew his craft. Very, very sad about this.
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Mike Fratt, Homer’s Music/Omaha musician
Mike was a champion of local music. Long before the internet, Mike had a cable-access show called Trout Tunes. Each week he and his film crew would go to the Howard Street, Capitol, Sharky’s and more to film local bands performing. He would interview band members and talk music. 311 appeared on his show. He did this for years. He was also a successful DJ at local rock stations using the name Ryan O’Connor. He always pushed the stations to include local music programming and in some cases he hosted those 1 or 2 hour shows. The last few years Mike ran a studio in his home and many local acts recorded there. He was well-liked and was always positive and kind. He will be missed.
[If you would like to share a memory or story about Kronch, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.]