Teletunes is one of the longest-running music-video programs in the country: It began appearing on PBS affiliate KBDI-TV/Channel 12 under the handle FM-TV in February 1981, a full six months before MTV debuted. But after more than eighteen years, it may--may--be headed to the scrap heap. Furthermore, transitions taking place at KBDI have the potential of severely decreasing--if not eliminating altogether--the presence of videos on the station.
According to Charles Russell, who's handled audio and camera duties for Teletunes for the past year or so, the show went out of production in May, when the decision was made to eliminate VJ segments; in fact, his guest VJ appearance, filling in for longtime host Heather Dalton, was the last to be aired. Reruns were used throughout June, but no more are scheduled to appear. "It's really frustrating," Russell says. "After all these years, the people who put the show together weren't even given a chance to say goodbye."
But is Teletunes truly dead? KBDI membership director Shari Bernson, who has executive-produced the show since last November, won't confirm that and goes so far as to encourage fans to call the station at 303-296-1212 and let their feelings be heard. She concedes, though, that there are no current plans to bring Teletunes back, in part because KBDI itself is in such flux. "We're really at a crossroads," she notes.
That's because gearing up for digital broadcast will require an investment estimated by a knowledgeable source at $800,000; the station also has a growing relationship with KRMA-TV/Channel 6, a far more conservative (and far more affluent) PBS affiliate. At one point, KBDI and KRMA were vigorous rivals, but this competition seems to be a thing of the past: Bernson says that Channel 12 will begin running its on-air operation from KRMA's Bannock Street facility sometime this fall, and implies that further "cooperation" could be in the offing. But the biggest change is the impending departure of KBDI president and general manager Ted Krichels, who's been the primary decision-maker at Channel 12 since its founding. Krichels has been hired as assistant vice president for outreach at Penn State University, a job that will put him in charge of WPSX-TV in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, and WPSU-FM in University Park, and when he leaves KBDI at the end of this month, no one knows what will happen. "We're doing a national search for a new general manager," Bernson says, "and what he or she believes will help determine which direction we wind up going."
Music videos have been part of KBDI for nearly as long as Krichels has. Mike Drumm, the creator of MusicLink and Waveform Rock Video, which was paired with FM-TV for a year or so, worked at Channel 12 in the early Eighties, where he recalls that early videos were used as filler following Have Gun, Will Travel, The Twilight Zone and other aging network fodder that the station once featured. Shortly thereafter, FM-TV was born, but the moniker disappeared when the production company in New York that produced Night Flight, a video program on the USA Network, purchased it from KBDI. (Bernson notes that the fee paid by the company was an important windfall for Channel 12 at the time.) A contest to come up with a new name resulted in the program being rechristened Teletunes, and when Bernson became involved with it in 1986, she successfully repositioned it as what she calls "a progressive-alternative show, which set a lot of precedents nationally." She adds, "We had a lot of success in the late Eighties and early Nineties, working with local clubs and doing artist interviews."
After leaving KBDI, Bernson did work for MTV and VH1 and worked for two years in France as an organizer of SOS Racisme, an annual human-rights concert that attracts performers such as Bruce Springsteen and Ziggy Marley. Her decision to return to KBDI was motivated in part by her love of Teletunes, but by last year, she says, "Ted wasn't sure if any of the music stuff was fulfilling the mission of the station anymore." Krichels was also dissatisfied with the unprofessional look of the show, so one of Bernson's first goals when she took over the program's helm last November was to improve its production values. She felt that she was making strides in that direction, but after the assault at Columbine High School in late April--and the myriad attempts by the mainstream media to link aggressive music with violent acts--Krichels decided that Teletunes had become too controversial for its own good--hence the decision to cease production.
Krichels also asked Drumm to stop airing a MusicLink spinoff, Punk TV, in the wake of Columbine, but MusicLink itself continues to appear, as does another Drumm-produced program, B.P.M. Drumm isn't certain why these shows have escaped the guillotine thus far, but he speculates that they've been treated differently because he actually pays for airtime on Channel 12 via underwriting, while Teletunes, a KBDI production, did not. "Even though Teletunes is put together by volunteers, it costs them money to produce it--and it's not really generating much money in return," Drumm says. "Whereas we don't cost them anything." Still, Drumm is uncertain whether dollars and cents alone will save MusicLink in the long run. "We're going on a month-by-month basis, and after July, we don't know what's going to happen. There are a lot of philosophical questions about the possible mainstreaming of the station that are still up in the air, and with Ted leaving, the continuity between station management and the tradition of airing music videos has been broken. It's a new day."
Even if the worst happens, Drumm is confident he'll survive. He's a regular freelancer for numerous national labels, and lately he's been doing better than ever: Hot on the heels of a video shoot in San Francisco for the alterna-band Eve 6, he was contracted by Atlantic Records to document a July 6 concert in Chicago starring singer/sitcom star Brandy. "The budget is twice what we've ever had to work with before," Drumm says. Meanwhile, Bernson says that Teletunes producer Justin Kennedy and Rich Italiano, who's served as music director for the show since 1986, "have every intention of regrouping and having the show back on the air before long--and I hope they do it. I'd like to see Teletunes come back and be more eclectic and tied more into the local music scene."
Still, Bernson acknowledges, there are no guarantees. "We haven't ever had a strong sales force behind the show, ever, and stations like ours have to watch the bottom line. There's no free lunch anymore--not even for public broadcasting."
Local discs to discover, local tapes to tape.
Today's Nebula Nine is a one-man show: With Julian Bradley out of the picture, Jim Stout does it for himself on Live From My Sampler--and the disc demonstrates that he hasn't lost a step. The fourteen songs are blended into a seamless, nonstop barrage of dance mayhem that's on a level very few of his peers across the globe hit consistently. (Why he remains one of the dance world's best-kept secrets is totally beyond me.) Everything's impressive, but I most enjoyed the tempo-twisting "Flip the Track," the don't-stop-till-you-get-enough joy of "Get Down," the persuasive "Siren," which uses one, and an orgasmatron of a song called, suitably enough, "I Like It." Me, too (DaBoom Records, 214 East 13th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203). Denver's Mark Shumate formed Bohemia Beat Records several years ago mainly because he really, really likes Texas-based singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave, recently profiled in these pages ("A LaFave Rave," June 10). His latest demonstration of fandom is his release of Trail, a two-CD live offering back-loaded with covers, including a dozen Bob Dylan compositions. As a career move, it's a non-starter, but it shows off a fine concert performer: LaFave's balls-out heartland style is as effective on the mournful "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" as it is on "If You Want to See Me Rock," a party-timer he wrote himself. A lot of you will like this--although probably not as much as Mark Shumate does (available in area music stores).
Like Bradford Robinson's previous CD, It's Ironic...But So Is This, the new disc Enthusiastically Lost boasts sound quality that's far above the local-artist norm: Robinson's voice and the various instruments that surround it stand out as plainly as the chin on Jay Leno's face. But he falls somewhat short of accomplishing his apparent goal--to become the next Bruce Cockburn. The songs are solid but samey (one tempo pretty much fits all), and Robinson's lines often show some strain: I was particularly thunderstruck when he delivered the daffy couplet "She claimed she smelled like Elvis/It explained why she looked so scared" (from "Red Flag") without his tongue in his cheek. Then again, maybe I'm the only one who thinks that's more funny than profound. Back to the books again (firstname.lastname@example.org). In all likelihood, the members of Moore are convinced that the Scorpions and Iron Maiden remain the only bands that matter. How else to explain American Vampire, a disc on Nightwing Records that's aimed straight at the metal-forever crowd. Typical are "Dr. Jack," which tells the tale of a murderer who's half-Ripper/half-Kevorkian over ye olde chugging riffs, and "The Killing Zone," a supposedly disturbing rocker chock-a-block with images like "Evil lives behind my eyes" and "Blood is freedom's stain." I know of a good cleanser that can get that out (Nightwing Records, P.O. Box 470277, Aurora, CO 80047-0277).
KBCO's World Class Rockfest, July 10 and 11 at Winter Park, has a more intriguing lineup than usual. Participants on day one include the aforementioned Ziggy Marley, Jamiroquai, Galactic and Ozomatli; day two includes Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Los Lobos and Westword profile subject Susan Tedeschi ("Suddenly Susan," March 25).
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Kurt Ohlen left the Dalhart Imperials earlier this year because he wanted to tour, but his bandmates didn't. He's spent most of his time since then playing bass behind well-traveled Texas rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson. As a bonus, he's set to appear with Dawson on Tuesday, July 13, on The Conan O'Brien Show.
And you aren't. On Thursday, July 8, Karrin Allyson, hyped as "a blond Edith Piaf," plays the chanteuse at the Denver Botanic Gardens Outdoor Amphitheater, and Five Iron Frenzy joins Face to Face and No Motiv at the Snake Pit. On Friday, July 9, Cunning Linguist licks the competition at Cricket on the Hill, with Babafats and Product 626, and Westword contributor Marty Jones and his Pork Boilin' Po' Boys open for Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the 15th Street Tavern. On Saturday, July 10, the Melvins, mentioned in this space last week, play a free show at 1:30 p.m. at the Wax Trax vinyl store. On Sunday, July 11, Loudon Wainwright III ambles to an E-Town taping at the Boulder Theater co-starring blues duo Cephas and Wiggins. On Tuesday, July 13, Boy Sets Fire plays with matches at the Raven, with Still Left Standing, Knowital and Los Terribles, and Los Angeles-based Big Bang Theory makes sense of the universe at the Cricket. And on Wednesday, July 14, the Cadillac Angels, visiting the Mercury Cafe, play selections from the instrumental CD Nobody Sings or the Guitar Gets It! Shut up and dance.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com.