So I'm cruising down Apache Boulevard on November 29, taking the virgin listen to my bootleg of the Jim Rose Circus' sold-out performance at Electric Ballroom two nights prior. I'm thinking to myself, "Maybe tape-recording a freak show isn't the brightest brain flash I've ever had. What am I gonna do, mail copies to friends across the world with a note that says, 'Check out the guy fainting over the railing when Mr. Lifto swings the iron from the hooks in his nipples'?" Hopeless. The sound of the impact is barely audible over the screaming. Besides, watching some poor bastard faint and lie in a pool of his own blood while a thousand people chant "Lifto, Lifto" as the performer swings a concrete block on a chain looped through the tip of his penis is truly a had-to-be-there experience. It looked like he had a fettuccine noodle between his legs, for crying out loud.
Anyway, Side A of my tape rudely cut off eight seconds into "Ten Seconds of Death," and, in my enthralled disgust, I'd evidently forgotten to record anything on Side B. So I hit eject, the radio came on and, immediately, life got strange. Or, at least, stranger. I thought I had on the weekly "new music" show on The Edge (KEDJ-FM 106.3). What's it called? The Minister's Stash Pouch? The Minister's Doggie Bag? Something like that. Anyway--as soon as the signal snaked down my antenna and out my speakers, the Twilight Zone theme started bouncing around in my head.
"Hooked on crack just the other day, now he's down with the CIA."
"Hey," I thought, "I know that cut. It's called 'Ebin,' it's by Sublime, and it's about a guy turning into a skinhead. But this is the new music show! How could I have heard this? Am I a seer? Have I traveled in time? Oh, my God, am I a freak? Wait a minute, wait a minute, calm down. Breathe, think; breathe, think. Of course! Silly me. This is the Edge new music show. That explains it--I've been hearing that song on the Q for weeks."
Sorry, Edge. KUKQ (1060 AM) had "Ebin" first. Just like the Q had Rancid first. And Everclear. And KMFDM. And Korn. And the Toadies. And the Supersuckers. And CIV and Primus. I'm not trying to dis The Edge (well, maybe a little). Overall, it's a high-quality station--it's lively, slick, it employs the requisite prime-time deejay with a stylin' British accent, and it does a thorough job of staying atop mass-market modern rock.
A great station. But "The Edge"? Of what?
In terms of art and freedom, commercial radio took two fatal shots to the head in the disco era. The bullets were money and mechanization. In his book Hitmen, Frederic Dannen details the rise of a radio-formatting system so graft-ridden that any record lacking huge promotion has no chance of getting on the big rock stations, regardless of merit. Add to that the anal-retentive practice of autoprogramming, and the strict playlists that sucked the juice out of the fine art of disc jockeying, and you have your explanation for the state of contemporary rock radio programming: corrupt and constipated.
There are, of course, exceptions. You'll find them primarily in the arena of college radio--the stations that saved the soul of rock 'n' roll in the '80s. It's this simple: no college radio, no R.E.M., no Sex Pistols.
More rare are stations like KUKQ--"commercial underground" outfits that try to make a go of it in the real world while maintaining the individuality and ethics of a campus station. The concept is something of an ideological oxymoron, and most often such stations can't get enough advertising to survive. Q program director Larry Mac says his station is just breaking even.
Thank God for head shops. Judging by the volume of "Trails department store" advertising on the Q, the chain of, ahem, "supply stores" is practically the station's sole underwriter. Which is great. That ad about the cowboy who runs across the old mystic in the desert, drinks a potion and winds up talking to the little blue people gets a giggle from me every time, even if it is a Tom Robbins rip-off. And whenever I visit my local Trails outlet to pick up a new "herbal tobacco pipe," or maybe a "eucalyptus inhaler," I always make it a point to mention that I heard an ad on the Q.
Matter o' fact, whenever I throw dough at any of the Q's too-few advertisers, I mention the station, because I want to help keep the Q around. Even more important than the music the Q plays first is the music the Q plays that no other Valley station will touch: 311, Plastique, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Fear, to name a few.
And, in the absence of an ASU college station with a transmitter stronger than what your average 15-year-old science geek could lash together after a $50 trip to Best Buy, the Q is a crucial complement to The Edge.
If you check out nothing else, check out the Modern Morning Music Meeting (Mondays, 10 a.m. to noon). It's rock radio of the people, by the people and for the people: The station plays tracks for consideration as weekly playlist additions, and listeners call with input. (San Diego's 91X recently launched a similar program. Until then, the Q was the only commercial station in the country that gave its listeners such a voice in programming.)
Besides providing an eclectic sampler of garden-fresh releases, MMMM also lets you eavesdrop on Q fans going head-to-head with record promoters trying to pimp a song on the air. I swear, Larry Mac must put these guys on the air just so they can be devoured. On any given Monday, you hear conversations like this:
Larry Mac: Okay, that was the new cut from Trixter. Let's go to the phones. What's your name, and where are you from?
Caller: Jason, from Tempe.
Mac: Jason, what did you think?
Jason: I hated it. Glam metal makes me puke green goo.
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Record Pimp (interrupting via conference call): Wait a minute, what didn't you like?
Jason: Well, it was monotonous.
Pimp (getting huffy): What do you mean, it was monotonous?
Jason (long pause): I mean it sounded like the same thing over and over again.
Final thought: The Edge is good for a walk in the sunshine, but sometimes I like to see what lies in the shadows, and that's where the Q can take me.
And you.--David Holthouse