It's impossible to talk about Valley music for long without the subject turning to the sad state of local radio. Even natives frequently shake their heads in disgust, unable to comprehend that a market of this size could be stuck with so few credible music options.
The most glaring omission has long been punk rock. Arbitron-minded radio conglomerates just have too much to lose by unleashing the real stuff during drive time. In other markets this size, college radio would fill the void; but we all know what a sad nonentity ASU's radio station is. Right under our noses, however, three recent entries in the Valley's radio sweepstakes have begun to gather some momentum. These specialty shows--the Punk Rock Radio Show on KFNX-AM 1100, Ska-Punk on KEDJ-FM 106.3, and Red Radio Underground on KUPD-FM 98--certainly don't cure the disease, but at least they intermittently relieve the symptoms.
Upon entering the studios of KFNX, it's hard not to notice that the man in charge, Johnny Ductape, is getting progressively more annoyed because the station is loaded with people who invited themselves in. The scene could hardly be more punk rock. "Man, we got to do something about this," Ductape says. "Next time there's going to be more control." More often than not, though, chaos is the order of the day at the Punk Rock Radio Show.
Ductape is a man of average stature, blessed with a surprisingly deep voice. His on-air cohort, Bob Noxious, is a large fellow with a devilish beard. At the moment, he is surveying the anarchy that seems to be brewing around him.
Beer cans are strewn about the studio. People are chatting loudly. One girl is noticeably drunk, but trying to maintain coherence.
Ductape and Noxious launched their show two-and-a-half months ago as a midnight-to-2 a.m. combination of punk music and freeform discourse, three nights a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). On January 29, they began working under a new schedule: Fridays and Saturdays, 10 p.m. to midnight.
The idea of an uncompromising punk-rock radio show broadcasting in the Valley on a weeknight is startling enough, but what makes this show truly bizarre is the fact that it's the only music program on a station loaded with talk shows, many of them of the sappy, Chicken Soup for the Soul variety. Ductape had been doing weather and traffic reports at the station for about five months, and he decided it was worth a shot to see if he could get a music show on the air.
"The station is fairly new, it's about seven months old," he says. "It was elevator music; now it's talk, alternative talk, that kinda crap. It's just my nature to find out what's what, so I started asking the big boss. He gave me a good deal on airtime. Here we go off at midnight, but they'd like to go 24-7. Well, because it's a new station, he liked the idea of music."
As a result, Ductape can now boast, "We're the most popular show on the station."
The two radio renegades pay the station $125 an hour for the airtime, and work on selling advertising themselves. "Everything is done by us, advertising, promotions," Noxious says. "If we could get more advertisers, we could stay on more days or later at night. We'd like people congruent to the scene, like tattoo shops and record stores. Our goal is five days a week."
Early installments of the show found the twosome getting people to call in late so the show could stay on after 2 a.m., or giving away a 12-pack of beer to loyal listeners. "We can give away anything we want," Ductape says. "We're not selling it. We can give away a woman. As long as you're over 21, we can give it as a gift. We have a waiver form.
"I got the idea as a gimmick to get people to listen to us after 1 a.m., especially the working dads who still have the Black Flag stripes tattooed on [them]. I checked it out with the FCC and stuff."
Unorthodox as their broadcasting style may be, these guys aren't without DJ experience. Noxious hosted a ska show on the now-defunct KUKQ, not too big a stretch considering that he also played guitar for the similarly defunct ska band Kongo Shock.
"Larry Mac gave me my first break into radio," Noxious says. "He started the ska show, and I took it over. Johnny was a friend of mine, so I asked him to co-host. Johnny got bit by the radio bug."
"I was deciding whether to be a fireman or a DJ," Ductape says. "So I flipped a coin. So I went to radio school and into my first show."
Both DJs say it wasn't very hard to get the Punk Rock Radio Show on the air at KFNX. "As soon as I drew it up, I took it to Francis Battaglia, the owner, and his little brother Matt, who's the station manager, and they got me decent prices for airtime.
"Since they shut off at midnight, it took a slight twisting of the arm to let us on, and make a few bucks they weren't making in the first place," Noxious says.
So what would possess someone to sink their own limited income into a project like this? For Ductape, the answers are as obvious as the nose on his face: "Reviving the soul of punk rock in the state of Arizona! Love of music. This is my profession.
"I am going to do everything in my power to keep this show going. Phoenix needs it. Phoenix loves it. We're getting overwhelming response from callers who love what we're doing, and every broadcast it grows. If one person calls, then it's worth giving up my paychecks to keep it going."
Ductape and Noxious emphatically lean toward the harder, more aggressive side of punk. Possibly because both of their record collections are so large, no two installments of their show are remotely similar. Nonetheless, their affection for hard-core godfathers like The Mentors and Black Flag consistently shines through. When they slip in more recent punk records, the material generally tends to be slow grind-core. One hurdle they face is a populace that's confused and uncertain about what constitutes punk rock in 1999.
"Since I've started this, I've had chiropractors who do shows here say, 'Punk rock? That's still around?' They've heard of it, but people haven't grasped real punk rock. It's not 311. It's not Green Day. It's not the Offspring. All new music sucks," Ductape says.
In direct contrast to his partner's final assertion, Noxious says, "We try to turn our listeners on to new music."
Where they agree is on the dismal state of most commercial radio. The loosening of FCC standards in recent years regarding corporate ownership of multiple stations in a single market has only further entrenched the formulaic programming of modern radio.
Just as you can travel from town to town and always find a McDonald's or a Burger King, you can go from one metropolitan area to another and always find an Edge, or a Zone or a Froggy Country. Ductape and Noxious are determined not to let their playlists--or their frequently surreal on-air discussions with listeners--overlap with what's heard on the rest of the dial.
"This is our generation," Ductape says after hearing a male caller describe how he trashed a police car. "It needs a vocal point. We need to speak about our car wrecks and bad acid trips, because we've all done it. We're grown-up now, but I've trashed many a car for no good goddamned reason."
Craven Moorehead might sound like the ideal moniker for a well-endowed porn star, but it's actually the name of the Edge's Sunday night Ska-Punk host. The show was started by local radio veteran Larry Mac, and Moorehead, an Ohio native, took over the show seven months ago when Mac left the station.
"I never had any thoughts about being on the air," he says. "I've been working in Hollywood the last two years doing audio production, and I was doing that there. They saw what I had and said go for it. So I was lucky."
As with the Punk Rock Radio Show, some of this is coming out of the DJ's pocket. "I lose money doing the show," Moorehead says. "All the stuff I've collected on wax I have to convert to CD. You should ask Eastside [Records] how much I'm spending there."
The show airs on Sunday nights from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., with Moorehead recently getting the third hour by lobbying for more time. Moorehead has generally maintained Mac's patented mix of new and vintage ska-punk, but he suggests that an extra hour every week would make it much easier to incorporate all the young bands he likes. Though he understands local complaints about the dearth of quality radio, his perspective as the new kid in town makes him inclined to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
"The main problem with radio is too much of the same thing," he says. "It's hard to say if Valley radio needs an overhaul or not, because from Ohio, I think you guys got it good. You get the overspill from L.A. Back home, Third Eye Blind is everywhere, and thank God it's playing itself out here. Punk scenes are great where radio is bad."
Larry Mac, the man that Moorehead succeeded on the ska-punk show, has carved an unmatched swath of specialty shows across the local radio dial over the last decade. Once viewed as a protege of '80s Phoenix legend Jonathan L, Mac has become the unofficial godfather of local alternative-radio shows.
He worked at the late, lamented KUKQ with Jonathan L on the show Virgin Vinyl, and was promoted to program director at the station when Jonathan left. At that point, he launched a Sunday night specialty show called Red Radio, devoted to an array of obscurities geared toward what he calls "music heads."
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After KUKQ went off the air--which some locals tend to regard as the day the music died--Mac hosted specialty shows at KUPD and the Edge, before returning to KUPD a few months ago with Red Radio Underground, a Sunday night show that links the underground rock, industrial and ska that have long been his obsessions.
"[It's about] love of hearing something really cool and telling people, 'You've got to hear this.' So instead of irritating my friends, I get to irritate a whole city. I realize I have a red-rocking audience, so I know I have to guide them by the hand into my world."
The big frustration among local music devotees has long been that such examples of true music appreciation on the radio are relegated to specialty shows, buried late in the evening on nights when few people listen to the radio. It's not an argument that Mac contests, but his attitude seems to be that we should be thankful for small favors.
"Specialty shows in Phoenix are good," he says. "I've heard radio in other markets, and they're playing music that's going to end up on that station anyway. My show isn't a testing ground. Just because you hear it on my show doesn't mean it's going to end up on the KUPD playlist. I don't think Phoenix radio is all that bad. Better than some, worse than others.