By Noah Hubbell
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Harlan Hendrickson has issued a challenge to all the closet lovers of '80s metal: It's time to step up -- fist held high, pinkie and index fingers extended -- and get ready to rock.
"There's no need to be embarrassed any- more for loving Mötley Crüe," he says proudly.
Grab a bandanna and pass the teasing comb: The hair-band era has found a champion, scholar and historian in Hendrickson, a Denver-based DJ who spreads his message via his show, Monsters of Rock Radio Network. Started last February, the Network has become a hit with headbangers along the Front Range who melt down to its weekly two-hour dose of heavy metal and hard-candy rock. The show (heard locally on 103.5/the Fox each Sunday from midnight to 2 a.m.) has become a guilty pleasure for those who hunger for the music of their youth.
"It's the classic rock of a new generation," Hendrickson says boldly. "Kids that are my age -- 30, 35 -- it was their Zeppelin and Stones of the day. But people aren't getting it when they turn on the radio. I quench their thirst."
Hendrickson's DJ efforts are familiar to many in the area, though they might not know it. For the past three years, he's served as director of marketing and promotions for the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, doubling as the music programmer for games at the Pepsi Center. This year he's also hand-ling music duties for the Broncos. All told, his local listening audience numbers in the millions; he reaches that audience, in large part, through his beloved metal. Hendrickson's sports playlist includes everything from tried-and-true cuts by Queen and Gary Glitter to Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart," Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel the Noize," Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and other less-known rock ballads. They are songs designed to motivate fans and players alike.
"When you go into 'For Those About to Rock, We Salute You,' people feel that," he says, referencing one of several AC/DC tunes in his arena arsenal. "The best jock-rock anthems are the ones with four or five chords, the big chorus and the big beat on the two and four. It's easy to understand; it's simple, but it's heavy."
Simple and heavy is a formula that seems to endure. Monsters of Rock has been picked up by stations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado Springs -- and Hendrickson says more stations are slated to sign on in the coming year. Monsters currently holds the number-one or number-two slot among males 18-34 at all of the stations that carry it.
Much of the show's appeal lies with Hendrickson himself. His on-air persona is much like his real personality: amped, fast-talking and friendly, with a palpable enthusiasm and intelligence. His voice bears a slight tough-guy tinge that recalls his Philadelphia upbringing, and his insight into his music of choice reflects his own professional credibility. Hendrickson, once the talent buyer for New York's famed Ritz nightclub, played bass in a number of rock bands through the '80s and '90s. His roots-rock trio, Hot Water, released its debut CD on Elektra in 1996 and toured with the Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors and other FM stars of the time before being dropped by the label. What led to the dumping?
"We spent a lot of money, didn't sell any records. No one came to see us, and no one liked the record," he says, laughing.
His love of pop metal might have also played a part in Hot Water's demise. During Elektra's push of its disc, Hot Water Music, the group was offered tours with the Wallflowers and Hootie & the Blowfish. The band passed on those offers in order to travel with boyhood idols Cheap Trick. "The label was like, 'Guys, you don't want to do that. It's a bad business move.' But we were like little kids. We wanted to meet Cheap Trick and hang out with them. That's one of the many reasons why we never did anything and I'm here talking to you about my radio gig."
But Hendrickson's background as a musician landed him a wealth of connections, with Cheap Trick and other acts that now make studio appearances on his show. Recent guests have included an A-list of bad-boy rockers such as AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, Slash, Ratt and many others. Quiet Riot debuted its latest recording on Hendrickson's show. Hendrickson and his guests engage in in-depth discussions of various metal minutiae, as well as light repartee about less musical things. (Def Leppard's drummer, Rex Allen, recently joked with Hendrickson about the troubles a film producer would have finding a one-armed drummer to play his role in a made-for-TV movie.)
The song selections on Monsters are its biggest draw, however. Hendrickson plays hits and deeper album cuts by such artists as Led Zeppelin, Sweet, Cheap Trick and T. Rex, along with the Me Decade stuff he loves. "The mainstay is definitely the mid-'80s -- the Mötleys, Van Halen, Kiss, L.A. Guns; that's the mainframe. Then we'll dip into the bands that watered it down a little bit -- the Wingers, Firehouse, that sort of stuff." He'll also play new tracks from people like Alice Cooper, Slash and others who fill arenas but can't get a minute on the radio. Newer acts such as Marvelous Three, Kid Rock and Buck Cherry make the show occasionally, too.