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When Alf greets me at the rear entrance of the Deathstar and leads me up to KTCL's studio, where he hosts Locals Only, he looks different than I remember. The last time I saw him, he was considerably hairier, yucking it up with Terry Bradshaw on TV in that dude-I-swear-I'm-just-doing-this-because-they're-paying-me 10-10-220 commercial. On this unseasonably cool Sunday at the end of July, he looks a little worse for wear, but, hey, I've seen The Surreal Life: Reality is a harsh mistress when the TV gods turn their backs on you. Still, I can't help but wonder if he ended up getting Lucky. And what ever became of Willyand the crew? So many questions.
All of which will apparently continue to go unanswered. This guy is not that Alf. But who knew? I'd been listening to Locals Only on the way to the station, and in between nearly every segment were drops with the voice of everyone's favorite Alien Life Form from the Reagan era. So, naturally, I expected to meet the Alf. Can you blame me?
Okay. So I'm not really a dimwit (even if do resemble Family Guy patriarch Peter Griffin when he uttered, "Attention restaurant customers: Testicles. That is all"). Of course I know who this Alf is -- anyone who's followed local music knows that he was part of the team that helped K-Tickle break Love.45 and the Fray. Come to find out, though, Alf isn't even the guy's real name -- although he prefers to leave his birth handle a mystery. (If you Google him, he's not that hard to find: My research indicates he's either the Animal Liberation Front, the American Liver Foundation or the Association of Libertarian Feminists.) So where did he come up with Alf?
"Boy, I wish there was an interesting answer," he says, with a laugh. "The very short answer is somebody gave me that name in high school, based on the show before it came out."
Well, that's boring.
"'Yeah," he says. "I know."
Ultimately, Alf -- who was born in San Francisco and moved to Denver when he was eleven -- is just a guy who's passionate about local music and obsessed with radio, and has been since he volunteered for his first shifts at the college station at Pomona. Before that, he was a math major -- which makes total sense, because he has "mathlete" written all over him. After an on-air stint in New Mexico, he returned to Denver in 1996, when he received simultaneous job offers from KTCL's program director at the time, John Hayes, and the Peak's original PD, Doug Clifton. And like Initech's Milton, he's been flying beneath the radar ever since.
"I still have people calling me up saying, 'Are you new?'" says Alf. "I'm coming up on ten years now -- that's like 35 human years. There's a long-running joke: I'm only working here because people keep forgetting I work here. 'Didn't we fire him back in '99?' I just kind of tiptoe in at nine o'clock, do my stuff and tiptoe out and hope nobody notices."
Trust me, buddy, people have noticed. With the recent departures of music director Hill Jordan and program director Rick Rubin, Alf is one of the only cats left at KTCL from Mike O'Connor's regime. (Nick Cage and Nerf, Jordan's successor, are also survivors.) O'Connor and his team made headlines in 2004 when they added Love.45 and the Fray -- both unsigned bands at the time -- to regular rotation. While I gave them some shit last year for trying to take credit for getting those acts record deals, their contributions were invaluable. So their departure raises some obvious questions: Can the Channel do it again? And is that even the charter anymore?
"Basically, we're looking for an A-plus," says Alf. "We need something that's absolutely perfect, that's going to blow everybody away. I've gotten quite a few A-minuses, B-pluses."
And what, exactly, is an A-plus song?
"One, it's got to grab you immediately," he explains. "Two, it's gotta hold up over and over again. If there's anything wrong with that song, by the fiftieth time you hear it, you're going to notice it every time. And the third thing, basically, it's got to fit in. You know, if we put it between a Green Day, Bob Marley and Audioslave, is it going to sound okay? You might be the most kickass blues player in the world, but if it's blues, it's just really not going to fit."
So, have there been any recent skirt-blowers?
"I've brought several songs to the assistant program director and the music director," he says. "They've been intrigued several times, but it's been a while since they've decided to actually test anything. With new people in those positions, honestly, I think they're still trying to solidify their spots before they really go out on a limb with more local music. But they are interested. They do keep asking me if I have something."
The process to get considered for Locals Only, which could conceivably lead to a spot on the varsity squad (i.e., regular spins during prime-time hours), is simple. "It's so goddamned easy," he says. "You'd think that I'd be overrun with stuff, but I haven't been. They just have to send me something."
Then, by God, if he does happen to play your song -- or one by someone you know -- don't manufacture phone calls to his show. He'll know it's fake. In fact, someone tries it this night, after he plays a CD that I brought for him to spin. He won't tell me how he knows the difference; he just does.
"It's very apparent to me that they're a plant," says Alf. "And I don't really mind when somebody's doing it. I understand why they're doing it. I understand that they're trying to help, and I appreciate that. But it doesn't help any, really. If I know it's somebody who knows the band, they haven't gained a new fan by us playing their song. And I really think that's their job, to get new fans, not just keep their old fans happy."
That sentiment isn't likely to win Alf any popularity contests, but it's not about him, anyway. The day after he was spotted at the Westword Music Showcase Awards ceremony a few weeks ago, somebody on DenverMessageBoard asserted that he "looks like hell" for being in his mid-thirties.
"I don't mind people dissing me," he concludes. "I don't want this to be the Alf show."
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