Because of various negative comments I made in print about the state of Denver radio late last year, I spent the month of December being excoriated by jocks at four radio stations--a personal record for me. These enjoyably vituperative attacks were offset somewhat by a couple of nods I received from the folks at KTCL-FM/93.3, which I lauded in this space (Feedback, December 5, 1996). But approximately ten seconds after this flattering column hit the streets, the station's music mix, which had been improving dramatically, suddenly took a serious turn for the worse: The challenging material that had snuck onto the playlist prior to the arrival of station consultant Dennis Constantine was banished in favor of a lot more tunes from the back catalogue, a veritable avalanche of modern shlock from "soft" alternagroups such as the Wallflowers, and far too many ditties by folks like those in the Freddy Jones Band that were once the exclusive province of KBCO. Some of this sellout was amusing--like hearing a twenty-year-old Talking Heads song immediately following a link that dubbed KTCL "the adventure"--but I found nothing funny about hearing "Peace Train" by 10,000 Maniacs at 8:30 in the morning. To paraphrase Nas: If I ruled the world, spinning that song wouldn't simply be a bad idea. It would be a felony.
But even as KTCL embraced mediocrity, a number of other stations were doing something totally out of the ordinary--playing tracks by local, unsigned bands. So sit down, folks: These next few paragraphs will contain nice comments about three Denver-Boulder broadcasters.
Our first recipient is KBVI-AM/1490, a Boulder outlet that uses the frequency previously associated with KBKS-AM, which earned a Best of Denver award in 1995 because of its focus on area musicians. The approach at KBVI (which signed on in November 1995, seven months after KBKS went dark) is somewhat different than its predecessor's in that approximately a third of its airtime is filled with talk--a percentage that should increase over time. (KBVI's initials translate to "Boulder Valley Information.") But during the rest of the day, music rules--and the tunes that are played constitute a nicely varied mix. Sets are dominated by mainstream acts of the sort that appear on other rock signals in the region (Chris Isaak, the Bodeans), but the selections tend not to be the ones that are overplayed elsewhere. In addition, music director Tony Kindelspire doesn't see anything wrong with eclecticism: KBVI recently played some country (Steve Earle), some hip-hop (Fun Da Mental), some folk (Michelle Shocked), some R&B (Toni Braxton), some reggae (Maxi Priest) and some alternative (Liz Phair) over the course of just four hours. Moreover, each hour of music features a contribution from at least one local act; the period referred to above spotlighted pieces by area artists Blackdog, Howard Arthur, Martha's Wake and Timothy P. Irvin. And Kindelspire personally hosts a local-music showcase Fridays at 3:30 p.m. "We have the artists come right into the studio," he says. "We've had some really great acts, like Sponge Kingdom and Sweetwater Well. A lot of them are every bit as good as the national bands we play." Kindelspire encourages local performers to send more mate-rial his way: Address it to KBVI-AM, c/o Tony Kindelspire, 3085 Bluff Street, Boulder 80301, or call 444-1490.
Also deserving a pat on the back for her efforts on behalf of locals is talk-show host Erin Hart, who can be heard on KTLK-AM/760 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Given the constraints of her program, which deals with topical issues, she can't devote entire broadcasts to local music. But as a self-described fan of Colorado acts, she's found a way to boost them by using their music as links on what she's dubbed "local band Fridays." Among the artists she's included in her sessions thus far are the Garden Weasels and Durt, "who heard themselves being played when they were on the way to Grand Junction to do a gig," Hart says. "They were so excited. It was really cute." She adds, "I feel it's important to support local artists. To me, it's necessary for the lifeblood of any city." Hart, too, would be interested in receiving more CDs from Denver-Boulder performers: Send them to KTLK-AM, care of Erin Hart, 8975 East Kenyon, Denver 80237.
Finally, a salute to KXPK-FM/96.5--the Peak, which has lately been giving local artists an increasing presence in its programming. There's some self-interest in this item: Among the area platters on the Peak CD-player is Westword Music Awards Showcase '96, an eighteen-song sampler keyed to the event referenced in its title. But even so, jocks Jackie Selby and Sam Stock (himself a local musician) have gone out of their way to talk up Colorado recordings and artists, pushing the envelope of the Peak's format in the process. And that's a positive development for all concerned.
In other radio news, Jefferson Pilot, a national media giant that controls four Denver signals, has been doing some shuffling. KQKS-FM/104.3, a so-called rhythm station that has spent the better part of the year sans DJs (see Feedback, November 28, 1996), has been moved to another Jefferson Pilot spot on the dial, 107.5 FM. As a result of this shift, K-Hits, the format that had resided at 107.5, is no more, and Bob Call, Jefferson Pilot's senior vice-president and general manager, is unsentimental about its demise. "The format K-Hits was in, where they played heavy doses of alternative and pop Top 40, was shared by six or seven other stations," he says. "People had a lot of choices, and they exercised them in a number of ways that didn't benefit us." Hence, Call is putting his money on the urban sound--a decision that should lead to a head-to-head battle with KJMN-FM/92.1 (Jam'n), whose execs seemed to be betting on having the rhythm-and-blues market to themselves. An indication that Jefferson Pilot is serious about pushing KS-107.5: K-Hits jocks Rick Stacey, Leah Brandon, Larry Ulibarri and George McFly have been retained and are already on the air at the new station.
As for the 104.3 frequency, it began emanating country music on January 19. The format is somewhat different from the hit country heard on KYGO-FM/98.5, a Jefferson Pilot station that's consistently among the highest rated in the city, and KYGO-AM/1600, a classic-country programmer celebrated in a recent Westword article ("Playing the Classics," December 12, 1996). According to on-air announcements, the imaginatively monikered Country 104.3 will concentrate on "a little bit from the Sixties, a little bit from the Nineties, and a whole lot from the Seventies and Eighties." During the outlet's first days in operation, this translated to a generally shlocky mix. The oldies were fairly well-chosen--I heard first-raters by Johnny Cash, plus two late Sixties Elvis masterworks ("Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain") within a few hours of each other. But I also suffered through a couple of cuts by Kenny Rogers and lots of offerings from the Bellamy Brothers and other Eighties acts who all but gutted C&W during that period. Of course, Eighties country wasn't all bad; new traditionalists like Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle produced some excellent work. But in the time I spent observing the 104.3 universe, these acts and others that traveled in the same territory were entirely absent. Also missing from the new station were DJs; if any are working there, I haven't heard them yet. Pre-recorded links boast that Country 104.3 provides country "without all that talk," but no talk at all is taking things a bit too far.
Jocks may eventually be part of the Country 104.3 plan. When asked last week why KYGO-AM personalities hadn't been appearing on many of their usual shifts, Jefferson Pilot's Call answered, "Some of them may be involved in other things down the road." Call couldn't be reached to comment on the strategy behind the countrification of 104.3, but to an outside observer, it seems a bit puzzling. The two KYGOs already dominate the Denver-Boulder country listenership; by adding another country signal, then, the company will be splitting the audience three ways instead of two. This approach doesn't sound like a recipe for huge profits to me. Then again, if I were a financial genius, I wouldn't drive a 1986 Toyota Camry, would I?
On January 19, a fire gutted a historic hotel next door to Evergreen's Little Bear and caused what David Stubbs, the club's manager, described as "minor damage. There was a little bit of damage to the adjoining wall between buildings and some water damage, since the fire department had to drag their hoses right through the front doors. But they did a great job keeping the fire away from the bar." At the time the hotel blaze started, Stubbs says, a blues band was playing to a crowd of approximately 300 people, but the evacuation of the nightspot went smoothly, and no one was injured. ("The band was hot," he adds.) The hotel was the property of the Little Bear's owners. According to Stubbs, "We were going to completely refurbish it--put in a coffee shop and a specialty bar and some retail stores." Obviously, those plans are on hold. Right now the focus is on reopening the Little Bear by Thursday, January 23. The venue's phone number is 674-9991; if it works (as it was not doing earlier in the week), there's a good chance the cleanup is on schedule.
In the meantime, another of the area's most venerable institutions, the Mercury Cafe, is kicking off a new feature: big-band Wednesdays. According to Ann Williams, programming and development administrator for KEXQ-AM/1430, which is sponsoring the series, "the Mercury has already been playing big-band music on Sundays, and it's gone so well that they're expanding. Big band is really hot right now." The first event takes place on Wednesday, January 29, with Swing Inc. the combo in the spotlight. Free dance lessons will be provided to novices starting at 5 p.m., with the music beginning at 7:30. Williams adds that a smoking jacket courtesy of Boss Unlimited is going to be auctioned off. Please extinguish it before you put it on; you'll be glad you did.
Lost amid the torrent of recently announced Grammy nominations was one secured by Denver-based Finer Arts Records for How Great Thou Art, a gospel recording by Willie Nelson and his sister Bobbie Nelson first acclaimed in these very pages ("Free Willie," August 15, 1996). I'd like to thank my manager, my agent, my accountant, my hair stylist, my aromatherapist and Jesus Christ.
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Speaking of the Grammys, I received a press packet touting Diet Coke's sponsorship of the awards program, set to take place in New York City on February 26. It seemed benign at first, but when I opened it, the damn thing began playing the Diet Coke jingle--and I couldn't make it stop. I was shell-shocked for a week or two, but I'm better now.
Although I guess you'd be a better judge of that than I. On Thursday, January 23, Dear Liza visits Nick's in Boulder; Gladhand gets happy at the Mercury Cafe; the Snatchers snatch, the Commerce City Rollers roll and Veronica does God knows what at the Bluebird Theater; and '76 Pinto explodes on impact at Market 41. On Friday, January 24, Adrian Romero and Love Supreme joins Durt and Sponge Kingdom at the Bluebird; Boss 302, Old Bull's Needle and the Foggy Mountain Fuckers clean up their language at the 15th Street Tavern; Geoff Cleveland's Emergency Broadcast Players take cover at Wells Music, 685 South Broadway; Gary Primich blows some harp at Brendan's; and Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass speak at the Fox Theatre. On Saturday, January 25, Mrs. Larvae (Sam Stock's band) and Spiteboy wreak their vengeance at Seven South; the 'Vengers and Judge Roughneck hold court at the Boulder Theater; the Hate Fuck Trio and Acrobat Down get up at the 15th Street Tavern; and Westword contributor Marty Jones (see "Striking Oil," page 76) brings the Pork Boilin' Po' Boys to the Lion's Lair. On Monday, January 27, Denver Joe holds down the fort at Cricket on the Hill. And on Wednesday, January 29, Seven South is the place to find the members of Furious Carbon. No, they're not dated.