My editor didn’t want me to write this column. She warned me: “Don’t write that story about New Noize, or you’ll get the what-for!” Fortunately, she’s out of the office at the moment, so I’m going to sneak it into print. Only because I love you so much, Kansas City readers, would I take this risk.
Recognize the construction? Bands have been pulling this crap for decades. Despite what Ice Cube might tell his crowd at Kemper Arena, no irked cops are waiting to pull the plug if he injects an N.W.A. tune into the set list. And whenever some headlining act says, “They say we’ve gotta stop now,” then fires back at the unidentified antagonist with an encore that includes its biggest hit, it’s safe to assume there’s no panicked, watch-tapping time tyrant throwing a fit behind the scenes. Unless they see, say, Bobby Brown leave the stage with his pants around his ankles and handcuffs on his wrists, concertgoers have no reason to believe any “rebellious” acts they witness aren’t scripted.
DJs do a lot of this, too — especially the allegedly shocking ones. Their listeners eat it up, mysteriously believing that a station manager who hired someone primarily because of his outlandish antics would become outraged when he lived up to his reputation. Even radio personalities who actually play music get some use out of this line — only in their case, it’s not always a con. In the age of corporate-controlled playlists, spending precious minutes on unsigned local bands can be a punishable, even fireable offense.
KQRC 98.9’s Don Jantzen isn’t exactly known for raging against the machine. On his Web site, he rants about System of a Down‘s anti-war stance, refusing to review the group’s latest disc and opining: “Serg [sic] and the guys can kiss my fucking American ass…. What a bunch of anti-American assholes!” Yet when it comes to local music, he’s one of the voices of dissent at the station. (Jim Bone, on weekdays from 7 p.m. to midnight, is another leading proponent. During Club Wars season, he broadcasts live from America’s Pub, the event’s Wednesday-evening headquarters.)
Jantzen isn’t able to spin many area acts during his weekday 3 to 7 p.m. time slot, but he’s worked several into the rotation during his New Noize program, which airs Sunday evenings at 11. On May 3 — not coincidentally when Jantzen’s boss, Program Director Bob Edwards, was out of town — he devoted the entire program to local hard-rock outfits such as Boomstick, Everybody’s X, Dark Matter and the Sound and the Fury.
“When they got wind of it, I got a lot of resistance from management,” Jantzen says, recalling the initial meetings about the now-25-week-old program. “But Big Dude’s Music City stepped up to sponsor it.” Jantzen arranged for that midtown instrument emporium to become the drop point for local bands looking to get played on New Noize.
Musicians often diagnose corporate radio’s approach toward local acts as symptomatic of its slavish devotion to marketing data and major-label influence. There’s some truth to that argument, though Kansas City’s Entercom-controlled stations, such as 98.9 and KRBZ 96.5, offer more local flavor than their Clear Channel counterparts in other cities.
“This station spends tons on researching music in the market,” Jantzen says. “It’s a direct reflection of our listeners. I could do without playing Rush, but that’s what people want.”
However, there’s another reason for 98.9’s trepidation. A few years ago, the station devoted a program to unsigned bands and ended up with unexpected headaches.
“It was a political fiasco,” Jantzen recalls. “The local music audience is so finicky. If you didn’t play a certain band, there was a lot of backlash.”
Another problem is variety, not to be confused with musical diversity. Even during New Noize, Jantzen stays within the parameters of his station’s amusingly stated genre, “active rock.” As the 64-band Club Wars suggests, Kansas City has no shortage of active-rocking acts, but only a few have submitted radio-quality material.
“In an hour, I can play about twelve songs,” Jantzen says. “Out of all the discs I receive, about 25 to 30 have good enough production quality that I can put them on the air. So you’re playing a band every other week, and it turns into a jukebox for those groups.”
Local bands, you heard the DJ — drop your demos in the Big Dude’s box. It’ll provide proof that a weekly, local heavy-music show would be viable. Think of it this way: It’ll really stick it to the man.