Listeners to KS-104 (aka KQKS-FM/104.3) can be forgiven for wondering if the station has been abandoned. Earlier this year, the entire KS-104 air staff was raided by KJMN-FM/92.1 (Jam'n), the station that rose from the ashes of the late, lamented 92X format. Rather than recruiting new jocks, however, the folks at KS-104 have learned to live without them. For months now, it's been almost impossible to hear a live human being between the R&B and hip-hop cuts that continue to form the foundation of KS-104's sound. Fans are instead subjected to recordings of a single, robot-voiced fellow hyping "loooooong" music sets over and over again. It's as if the outlet has been taken over by the Borg.
In some ways, this tack isn't all that bad; at least you don't have to hear chuckleheaded twerps insult your intelligence every three or four minutes. But at the same time, it leaves the station seeming bereft of life. Even satellite services do a better job of fooling their audiences into believing that somebody's home. Hence, the rampant speculation in the local radio industry this fall that KS-104 was on the block--and that the new owners would almost certainly change the format as soon as possible.
The first of those speculations came true several weeks ago, when Jefferson Pilot, a nationally known media giant that already controls country provider KYGO-FM/98.5 (frequently the top-rated broadcaster in the marketplace), classic country KYGO-AM/1600, sports-talk KKFN-AM/950 and K-Hits, at 107.5 on the FM dial, formally purchased KS-104. The Federal Communications Commission must give its okay before the sale becomes final--and until recently, such permission was not considered a sure thing. A number of complaints filed with the FCC against KS-104 impeded the deal, and while neither Bob Call, senior vice president and general manager of Jefferson Pilot, nor Mark Stevens, general manager of Western Cities (KS-104's previous owner), will go into specifics about these matters, they confirm that they have been resolved. (A reliable source suggests that the disputes were smoothed over thanks to generous cash payments.)
So what does the future hold for KS-104? Although Jefferson Pilot is operating the station under a local marketing agreement that would allow it to make changes immediately, no DJs have been hired, and the format remains in limbo. (According to Western Cities' Stevens, the reason that KS-104 is currently without voice talent is because of "our cramped studio conditions while they're building a new studio at Jefferson Pilot," but this claim sounds like only a small part of the story.) These clues lend credence to speculation that the contemporary-hits stylings in which KS-104 traffics are going the way of the dodo bird. After all, Jam'n is offering much the same sonic menu. And even though the ratings earned by Jam'n continue to lag behind KS-104's, few observers believe that a city like Denver can support two urban FMs for much longer.
If Call agrees with these observations, he's not saying. A radio pro, he responds to questions about KS-104 with industry jargon and chipper generalities. He refers to the station's sound as "primarily music-intensive" and says that Jefferson Pilot hasn't altered the format because "we're test-driving things and getting reactions from listeners and clients in terms of what we might or might not do down the line." When pressed, though, he admits that new moves are likely once the FCC gives its blessing to the sale, perhaps by the end of the year. "We didn't purchase KS-104 to have it operate in a sleepy fashion," he notes. "We're excited to make it part of our family, and we hope to improve the station as the market dictates. As far as live talent and contesting and so forth, it's probably best to leave that to speculation at this point. But we will consider the station to be just as important to us as any of our other properties."
In other words, say goodbye to KS-104 as we know it, and say hello to...something else.
The Bug Theater, at 3654 Navajo Street, began life as a bold experiment--a space in which underground performances could be presented in an over-ground manner. But making the operation cost-effective has not been easy. In late August, Michael Thornton, president of the Bug's board of directors, mailed a letter to theater members and mailing-list subscribers noting that the Bug had built up a considerable debt to its landlords, local art-scene figures Reed Weimer and Chandler Romeo. To pay off this bill, Thornton announced that the board had raised the theater's rental rates, changed its booking policy to include more regular series, and was staging various benefits and fundraisers. In addition, he revealed that the Bug was in the midst of jumping through governmental hoops in an effort to be designated a nonprofit organization.
For now, at least, these various plans seem to be working: The Bug remains open, and Thornton is optimistic about the future. "We couldn't have done it if Reed and Chandler hadn't been so patient," he remarks. "They allowed us to miss the rent so that we could apply for some grants and for nonprofit status. We've stayed current with our other bills, so now what we'd like to maintain is the ability to pay each month's rent plus pay off some of what we owe them."
Unfortunately, fewer music-oriented shows have been taking place at the Bug of late, in part because "the theater's not really set up for that," Thornton says. "There's not really a dance floor. It works best for sit-down performances." Still, gigs featuring touring artists Jeff Buckley and Three Fish were successful, and local musicians such as Ron Miles, who's appeared at the Bug on numerous occasions, are apt to return, thanks to their affection for the place. In the meantime, the room (which began life as a nickelodeon in 1912) is returning more and more often to its filmic roots. On Friday, December 6, a Colorado filmmaker's showcase takes place (CU avant-gardist Stan Brakhage is among the featured directors); a week later, on Saturday, December 14, the theater screens Frank Capra's holiday chestnut It's a Wonderful Life. "These kinds of events help us with some of our other goals--working with performers, nonprofits, school groups, filmmakers who need a space," Thornton points out. "The Bug is a wonderful place, and we want to keep it available for people."
Listen to the local music.
Smothered Deelux is another dose of wisdom from D-Town Brown, and it's tastier than ever. Lead voice Shatta Mejia hasn't lost any of his edge, and his words are on the nose: In "Duck & Cover," he declares, "I strive and live by what the ancestors taught/Giving mile-high props to conscious thought." The hip-hop beats are live and lively, and the flow on tracks such as "Superlyrical" and "Corrido de Zapatista" is as striking as the themes. You may think that there's nothing all that intriguing going on in Denver rap, but you'd be wrong: D-Town Brown is going on (available in area record stores). Wendy Woo may be seen as a folk singer, but on Wendy Woo, her six-song cassette, she shows that she's got far more sides than one. "Johnny's Hero" is an ambitious narrative sprinkled with Paul Armstrong's vivid keyboards, while "Spice," "Freeze Tag" and "Doctor Doctor" are memorable vamps. (Are there any other kind?) Woo is a genuine talent who's bound to get even better (Skytrail Productions, 360 Skytrail Road, Boulder 80302).
There's no denying it: A Walk in the Park, an EP by the Snatchers, is muddy; it sounds as if it's being played through a pillow. But underneath the goo is a band that plays straightforward rock at punk velocity. Singer Don Moss has a Pete Shelley voice that he can take into the upper registers when the fancy strikes him, and guitarists Eli Brown and Nick D. put a decent charge into "Drive U Blind," "It's Not Me" and the other four tracks. If I could have heard it better, I'll bet I would have been even more entertained (274-5432 or 458-8355). From the grave of Cynics Bane has risen Spiteboy, whose cassette Penelope's Marionette represents a journey into the gothic realm. "Angora Naif" (featuring the lines "Make you squeal like a pig being killed/Make you dead as wood being drilled") is distinguished by showy, chiming guitars; "Forgive" echoes with anguished wailing; and "Random" drips with the usual melodrama. It's all a bit silly and overweening, but it's also extremely well-played and filled with angst-ridden loopiness. Fans of the genre should approve (446-2865). Although Paddywack isn't what you'd call a Denver band (it's officially based in Alabama), it has a Denver connection: Bassist Dave Clark is a full-time member even though he lives here. On the unit's new self-titled CD, the instrumentalists mine the modern-rock mother lode, but what they dig up isn't always all that rare: "As the Tide Goes By," for one, goes nowhere that other bands haven't been many times before. Fortunately, these guys display good taste in covers: Paddywack includes nice renditions of the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and "This Crazy World of Drugs & Hippies," a 1968 Fifth Dimension artifact (Paddywack, P.O. Box 361454, Hoover, AL 35236).
Colorado Springs' Star 13 is represented by a self-titled CD that finds the act surveying pop-rock territory in a melodic, fresh-faced way. There's nothing outstanding here, and there are a few stiffs (most notably "Winter"), but when the players hook into a strong composition--like, for instance, "Motorbike"--they know how to make the most of what they can do. The blending of fuzz-tone guitar and acoustic chording is convincing, the singing of Jamey Keith is sweet, and the mood is sunny. Have a nice day (Big Ball Records, P.O. Box 1949, Colorado Springs 80901-1949). Recent Westword profile subject Stephen Scott is doing something new under the sun. On Vikings of the Sunrise (issued by New Albion Records), this Colorado Springs-based composer uses a team of helpers who pluck and bow the strings of a single piano. (The technique calls for the assistants to huddle around the inside of the instrument instead of using the keys.) It's a complicated way to make music, but the results are both gorgeous and astounding. The sounds heard on "Tangora" and the two-part title epic suggest that Scott has an entire orchestra at his command. His pieces are rich, lyrical and multifaceted, exuding an aura of darkness and brooding. Exceptional (available in area record stores).
Peter Tonks has probably had more hate letters published in this newspaper than any other single person over the past decade--a significant accomplishment. But over the years, he's also found time to issue a gaggle of recordings under the name Cowtown. His 21st, titled Memories R Us, finds him in the company of such area notables as Matt Bischoff, James Glower, Little Fyodor and Jinx Jones, who assist him in deconstructing pop smashes mainly penned during the Sixties. There's an inside-joke aspect to a lot of the versions present and more than a whiff of self-indulgence. But even the dopiest of these numbers ("You've Got a Friend," "Who Will Stop the Rain?") have their interesting moments, and a few (such as "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," a duet with Suzanne Lewis) actually bear repeated listens (Cowtown, P.O. Box 102335, Denver 80250). Coloring China, a CD from Martha's Wake, is certainly ambitious; the arrangements are knotty and the lyrics are loaded with messages that require serious decoding. (The players are Christians, but they don't bang listeners over the head with recruitment efforts.) Occasionally, as on "China Coloring China," things can get a little icky, but "War Within," "Stone From a Poet's Grave" and "Threshing Floor" are alterna-music offerings that keep you on your toes (available in area record stores).
So why, you're wondering, is Starbent but Superfreaked, the latest from Foreskin 500, the outfit's best album? Because Diggie Diamond and his compatriots have hit upon a formula that's perfect for them: disco/funk/techno sounds, lurid words and a general lack of decorum. Guest Erica Brown brings a Gloria Gaynor sensibility to "Deliver Me," "Bring It Down" and "Superfamily (How to Fuel a Family Fire)," while co-producer Mark the 3 Kord Scissor King gives fly beats an unmistakable attitude. There's a white-boys-who-want-to-be-darker aspect to the proceedings--especially on "Twister (Get It Up)," in which Diggie declares, "I am planet fuck"--but the phoniness soon becomes part of the fun. Groovy (available in area record stores). On the disc called Quest, X Lulu reveals itself to be a tidy, commercially minded rock trio. Singer Billy Bunting puts across the stereotypes inherent in "Time Will Tell," "Angels and Icicles" and "Close My Eyes" with enough earnestness to captivate the kind of folks who enjoy receiving Hallmark cards, and cohorts Dan Hall and Ben Hall back him ably. Whether their efforts will be enough to differentiate X Lulu from the millions of other musicians plowing this same field is open to question (Overture Records, P.O. Box 597, 1200 Madison, Denver 80206).
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And the winners are...MusicLink and Jazz Alley, two music programs produced in the Denver area. At the Billboard Music Video Awards held in San Francisco earlier this month, members of Barenaked Ladies announced that Punk TV, one of MusicLink's stable of shows, was deemed the Best Hard Rock Regional Video Show. At the same ceremony, Jazz Alley won in the Jazz/Adult Contemporary category for the second consecutive year. Jazz Alley's Ken Burgmaier adds that he's just opened up an office in Los Angeles as a result of his program's growing reputation in the music industry. Under the auspices of his Antiques Made Weekly Films company, Burgmaier has put together music videos for Joe Sample, Hiroshima and Ernestine Anderson and shot footage at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival that's set to air on Black Entertainment Television (BET) at 11 a.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving. So put down that bird's leg and change the channel, all right?
Other fixin's. On Thursday, November 28, Ralph Gean spends his holiday at the Lion's Lair. On Friday, November 29, Fatwater appears at the Bluebird Theater in what's advertised as its last show of 1996 alongside Kingpin and Bile Geyser, and Tom Tilton's "Tenor Tones" bows for the first of two nights at Vartan Jazz. On Saturday, November 30, Mean Uncle Mike gets mad at Cricket on the Hill; Hell's Half Acre burns at Seven South, with Mrs. Larvae; Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass studies Chaos Theory at the Bluebird; Matchbox 20 strikes at the Mercury Cafe; Fireside chats at the Boulder Theater; the Playpen is set up at Penny Lane; and the 'Vengers set off Monkey Siren at Herman's Hideaway. On Sunday, December 1, singer-songwriter Stewart Lewis celebrates the release of a new CD, Flip Side, at the Fox Theatre, with Sean Kelly of the Samples opening, and the Boulder Friends of Jazz stage a Dixieland jam session at Trios, 1155 Canyon Boulevard in Boulder. On Monday, December 2, Boy's Life, Jimmy Eat World, Why Planes Go Down and the Prole Art Three compare monikers at CU-Boulder's Club 156. On Tuesday, December 3, pianist Emanuel Ax displays his chops at Macky Auditorium, on the CU-Boulder campus. And on Wednesday, December 4, the Mavericks debate the merits of James Garner and Mel Gibson at the Fox. Please accept my apologies for the dopiness of this last reference.
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@. While you're online, don't forget to visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword. com