If you think that the content of many Denver radio programs flies in the face of political correctness (see "Obscene and Heard," page 81), consider the roles assigned to female DJs, particularly during morning drive time. Women are not entirely absent from the airwaves from 5 to 9 a.m.: Corporate executives on the local scene apparently feel that "gals" are qualified to be news-readers or banterers in support of dominant male hosts (KOA-AM/850's April Zesbaugh and KBCO-FM/97.3's Robbyn Hart) or saucy scolds in a masculine, locker-room-like environment (Jamie White of KALC-FM/105.9 [Alice]). But even these employment opportunities seem to be shrinking in today's tight-money broadcast environment. KS-107.5 FM has gone without a female co-host on its morning broadcast for months (although the station is said to be looking for a new hire), and KTCL-FM/93.3 seems to have settled on Mike Makkay as the main man behind the microphone after experimenting briefly with Sabrina Saunders, a talented talker who's been relegated to middays--the period to which most female DJs are ghettoized. Likewise, KXPK-FM/96.5 (the Peak) recently broke up its the morning team of Chuck Woodford and Jackie Selby by disappearing Selby.
This last personnel shift is especially intriguing in light of the backgrounds of the personalities involved. Whereas Woodford had been a part-timer at the Peak prior to being elevated to the morning slot earlier this year, Selby was a veteran presence--the last original Peak DJ by virtue of having been a member of the staff when the outlet came to life in June 1994. Granted, the Woodford-Selby team had not caught on--and given the Peak's sale to Chancellor Broadcasting (a media conglomerate that also owns KALC-FM and KRRF-AM/1280 [Ralph], among other properties), pressure to jack up the station's anemic ratings has been building. But according to Peak program director Gary Schoenwetter, the morning-show shuffle was effected in order to make the show as music-intensive as it was when the station was the biggest news in Denver radio. In other words, the Peak is attempting to move forward into the past. But if that's the case, why sack Selby, a link to the Peak's glory days, in favor of a less experienced male? And could the fact that she's a woman have anything to do with the decision?
Selby may have an opinion about this question, but if she does, she's not in the mood to share it; she declined to comment for this column. However, Schoenwetter did not dodge the issue. He says that bidding farewell to Selby was "one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make at the Peak in quite some time. But it was something we felt we had to do in response to what people were saying via phone and e-mail and some research we'd done--which was 'Play more music.'" He adds, "For whatever reason, Jackie wasn't clicking in the position as much as we would have liked. And in the end, we're a customer-service business. Listeners kind of determine where the station goes."
By the same token, he concedes that making Selby the sole host of a music-heavy morning show would have been a radical decision simply by virtue of her gender. "I don't have any specific research that says that people want to hear women in the middle of the day but not in the mornings. But when I think of the cities where I've lived or worked, I can't think of an occasion in the past five years where there was a female as a solo host in morning drive--and in afternoon drive, it's almost as few and far between. Some stations have probably put women in those positions with the best of intentions, but the bottom line is ratings. And if they fall, then it doesn't work. I don't know if it's the wrong women being chosen by those stations or whether it's a comfort factor for listeners or exactly what it is. But we've never had a woman solely in the morning, and I don't know many stations that have."
The Denver scene bears out Schoenwetter's remarks. The only major commercial station in the market that has a woman in a starring role during morning drive right now is KKFN-AM/950 (The Fan), which runs a syndicated series featuring the Fabulous Sports Babe--and anyone who's ever heard the Babe in action knows that she's as ballsy as any dude. And although White's presence at Alice is largely responsible for the station's success, radio pros have not gone out of their way to try to clone her. For the most part, women in morning radio are reduced to serving as sidekicks, and that situation doesn't appear likely to turn around anytime soon.
As for the Peak, it's on something of a short leash. Schoenwetter insists that Chancellor, which should officially take the Peak's reins after the first of the year, has not given station management a deadline by which ratings must begin to rise, but he concedes that the firm has taken a very proactive stance in trying to increase audience share. "They looked at the radio station and said, 'You guys were at your best when you targeted adults and tried to become the first-choice station for people between 25 and 44. So we stopped trying to be like Alice or KBPI, as far as being extremely current with our music, and went back to our roots, which was using the music of the past two decades as the glue that holds the station together. We were a radio station on the fence for a year, but with Chancellor's direction, we decided to go where the station was when it was on top--to be as eclectic as possible while still feeling comfortable for adults." Schoenwetter knows that this won't be easy: "Anytime you go in a new direction at a radio station, there's a transition period of losing some listeners. It takes a lot of energy and effort to get people who button-push or may have left the Peak when we became a younger-leaning station to realize that we're the station for them again. But we're in this for the long haul."
Such conservatism makes sense from a business standpoint; unless Schoenwetter shores up the Peak, and fast, a format switch could be in the offing. But it's fascinating to discover that what seems on the surface to be the safest tack--putting Selby, a longtime Peak asset, in charge of mornings--is viewed as a risk because Selby's a woman. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Another shovelful of local reviews.
Fat Mama, a Boulder collective, jams, but on its CD Mamatus, it does so in a manner that's more interesting than that of most of its kin. The octet, led by tenor saxophonist Brett Joseph, isn't all that interested in words. Rather, these guys let their instruments do the talking, and they do so persuasively. The feel of "Pimp Slap," "Lurkin'," "The New Rock Thing" and the rest recalls Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. (In other words, it's good fusion, not the type that makes your brain cells die at twice the normal rate.) The Mamas are not yet at a Medeski, Martin & Wood level; they frequently sound derivative, because they haven't fully developed a personal style. But with musicians this good, you get the feeling that it's only a matter of time (available in area record stores). As if to accentuate their youth, the four lads in Petrol Apathy decorate the liner of their CD, Heartless Society, with photos of themselves as children. In fact, none of them are of drinking age, but that doesn't stop them from churning out uptempo skacore and barking out clunky but earnest couplets. (Check "Darker skin or lighter hair seems to pull us apart/While oppressive actions seen on the news still don't affect our hearts," from the title cut.) The social consciousness helps differentiate these guys from the frighteningly large ska mob, but not much else does; on "Nation in Distress," "Hoola-core" and the rest, they're clearly working within the genre rather than trying to push it into virgin territory. Competent it is; innovative it's not (available in area record stores).
Singer-songwriter Sam Creek is a two-trick pony. On "Heaven in His Hat," which gives this disc its title, he comes on as mushy as Bobby Goldsboro remembering his "Honey," but the next ditty, "Datin' Satan," is an overt novelty that wouldn't sound out of place in a set of music programmed by Dr. Demento. Throughout the album, a listener whips back and forth between these frequently incompatible extremes--and Creek's dreck-friendly early-Seventies sensibility doesn't help matters much. Talk about being born at the wrong time (contact Frederick LaMar Theatrical Agency, P.O. Box 1192, Aurora 80040-1192). In June 1996, I noted in this space that a demo by cHUCK dA fONK Fishman was so reminiscent of the P-Funk thang that it was hard to listen to it without images of George Clinton flashing through your head. Well, ditto that for his CD The Squishy Declaration. From the reference to the Brides of Funkenstein in the lead track, "I Am So Smart," to the multi-part finale, "Discreetion," a Clinton-esque mindframe predominates (and I'm not talking about Bill). That said, there are certainly worse people to ape than Big George (see the previous blurb), and Fishman and an all-star crew that includes Sherri Jackson, members of Pepperment and actual P-Funk vet Billy Bass do their bits with aplomb. Let's hope Fishman's associates are just as impressive when he gets his own thing together (FonkSquish Productions, 1266 Lafayette Street #2, Denver 80218).
If you've got some kind of irrational dislike of female singer-songwriters, Wendy Woo's CD Angels in the Crowd won't suddenly make you see the error of your ways. But those of you with an open mind about this artistic pigeonhole will likely be gladdened by her talents. The playing throughout Angels is impeccable--bassists Chris Wright and Edwin Hurwitz deserve special note--and the production is as warm and inviting as Woo's singing, which works as well on ballads like "Lies" as it does on the more sensual "Outta Mind." A little more variety in mood would have been welcome; after a while, the proceedings seem a little too smooth for their own good. But that's a small price to pay for a disc this accomplished (available in area record stores). Threshold, by Wen Boley and Rebecca Hilton, collectively known as Twinflame, suggests a collection of mellow Tori Amos compositions as rendered by Mr. and Mrs. Yanni. "Threshold," which is introduced by almost a minute and a half of wind-like synthesizer whooshing, is typical of what follows: flighty trilling by Hilton, el sensitivo keyboards by Boley, and oodles of Hallmark-quality poetry ("I will fly across the heavens/I'll roam the earth/I'll search the whole wide universe/I will find you"). Some folks will probably love this--and my bet is that all of them collect Precious Moments figurines (Cricket Records, P.O. Box 1133, Castle Rock 80104).
On the CD Inconceivable, Moot, profiled last year in these pages ("Moot's Point," May 2, 1996), reveals itself to be an extremely ambitious ensemble: On the cheekily named "Mannequin Tits," the lyrics crooned by Jessica Rubio are laden with images of priests, shamans and magicians, the tempo jerks around crazily, and the various musicians, including Tom Mestnik, Bob Gumbrecht, Evan Anderson and guest fiddler Kerry Beeder, crash together like waves against a cliff. The result is dark, sincere, ostentatious and not for everyone; even people sympathetic to art-folk and poli-sci rock are apt to regard some passages here as unbearably pretentious. Nonetheless, there's enough passion in the mix to hold your attention and make you appreciate the effort (Moot, 1374 Ogden Street #4, Denver 80218). Dakota Blonde, a folk trio built around singer/guitarist/flutist Mary Huckins, won't rock your world; 'Til They Fade, the act's CD, moves at a gentle gait even on the humorous change of pace "The Ballad of Mary's Car." Produced by Jim Ratts and featuring the picking of the Dirt Band's John McEuen, the disc features delicate originals and covers split evenly between good (Greg Brown's "Early," Steve Earle's "My Old Friend the Blues") and scary (James Taylor's "Close Your Eyes" and "Down Under," by--gulp--Men at Work). For the most part, it's an inoffensive listen, but it'll fade into the wallpaper if you're not careful (Dakota Blonde, P.O. Box 36215, Denver 80236).
Disclosure time: Sanford Kellogg of the Ism works as a salesman at Westword and stops by my office so often that it's become something of a running gag. So rather than actually reviewing the group's latest project, Sleep, allow me to state that tracks like "7:30" and "Molly" are quieter and more melodic than the group's previous synth-pop offerings, while "Disco Queen" and "Long and Winding Road" are virtually identical to them. That should get you up to speed (Sanford Kellogg, 296-7744). It's a compliment to say that Superstars of the Cricket on the Hill, a compilation devoted to what the CD jacket describes as "Denver's favorite club," is a lot like visiting the joint; just when you're ready to walk out the door, something pulls you back inside again. Given the presence of 22 songs by 22 acts, it's only natural that some items are better than others, but what's surprising is how much of what's on hand is thoroughly entertaining. My favorites were the Throttlemen's "Cowtown," Fox Force 5's "Tri-State Teen Love Spree," MK Ultra's "Lonely," Ruby Hue's "Nullified" and "House of Spooky Love," by the late Jeff Dahl ("Dahl Parts," January 31, 1996). But that's just me (Sixpence/Hip-O Records, 1406 East 14th Avenue, 2nd Floor, Denver 80218).
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If you had your interest piqued about 360 Twist! signee Frigg A-Go-Go by "Everything Around Me"/"Pre-Teen Love," a seven-inch reviewed in our October 30 issue, you'll probably enjoy The Penetrating Sounds of...Frigg A-Go-Go, a full-length CD spotlighting the Lafayette, Louisiana, combo. The single's A-side is here, supplemented by twelve other rockers epitomized by grinding guitars, purring organ and snot-nosed vocals. "I Don't Wanna Be Your Man," "Swivel Hips" and "Explosion" are so garagey that you can practically smell the fumes. Yummy (360 Twist! Records, P.O. Box 9367, Denver 80209). Another out-of-towner inked to a Colorado imprint is Melissa Ferrick, a singer-songwriter who has moved from a major label to Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint. Her new CD, Melissa Ferrick + 1, is a compendium of live solo performances that showcase her passionate vocals and awfully familiar approach to modern folk music. "Let Me Go," "Massive Blur" and the rest find her solidly in the Lilith Fair camp, and because there's little to differentiate her from the other competitors in this increasingly crowded field, she may be facing a rough road ahead of her. Despite its attributes, like the feverish "Willing to Wait," I found the platter to be fairly generic--but then again, I haven't worn out any Sarah McLachlan albums lately (available in area record stores).
Come out, come out, wherever you are. On Thursday, December 4, the Velveteen Monster, a new side project of the Czars, appears with, um, the Czars at the Bluebird Theater; the Lovemongers, featuring Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, kneel at the Church, with Elaine Summers; Dee Carstensen headlines at the Boulder Theater; and Men or Monsters offer you a choice at Cricket on the Hill. On Friday, December 5, Human Rights are maintained at the Bluebird, with Majek Fashek, and Fred Eaglesmith supports his new Razor & Tie disc Lipstick Lies & Gasoline at the Swallow Hill Music Hall, with Eric Andersen (Eaglesmith also appears the following night at Nick's in Boulder). On Saturday, December 6, Little Fyodor searches for his sanity at the Lion's Lair, with the Marvel Kind; Persian vocalist Narges visits the Metro Denver Baha'i Center, 99 South Grant (call 470-1057 for details); Westword contributor John Jesitus takes on all comers at the Blue Satellite; and Electric Summer celebrates the release of its new EP (issued by Boulder's Soda Jerk imprint) at the Bluebird. On Monday, December 8, the Boulder Theater hosts the 10th Annual Holiday Cabaret, a benefit for the Boulder County AIDS Project. And on Wednesday, December 10, the Boulder Theater is the place to see Love Generator, Fat Mama, Wojo and DJ Vitamin D; and the Galactix, Chris Daniels, Bad Rufus and many others put on a show at Herman's Hideaway in honor of the late Herman Roth. Life springs eternal.