Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Defunct or Rebranded Radio and Television Stations I Miss
Since this week’s episode featured a fine trip down memory lane with Susie Wargin and lots of talk about radio, I figured it time to dredge up some of the ghosts of yesteryear and exhume the memories of stations that no longer exist. Nothing lasts forever, and it’s almost always best not to know how good you have it, because as soon as you have that realization, you’re fucked.
Granted, what we’re talking about here is extremely low stakes, but sometimes it’s the smallest pleasures that trigger the biggest memories, and not everything in life gets its proper tribute. I think about when I blew out my back how much I appreciated the work of that physical therapist who worked me over creating all that cracking and popping on me and gave me excruciating exercises to do that ultimately resulted in me avoiding surgery and feeling loads better. One day I just sort of stopped showing up because I didn’t need to, and I never properly thanked her. I should do that.
That was four years ago now. I have no doubt she’s moved on and likely doesn’t think about me, but it’s got to be weird in the immediate aftermath for someone who you see regularly to just vanish all of a sudden. That happened to me with a restaurant that used to be across the street from my office that I went to all the time, and it happened (sort of) with the networks I list below. So let’s pay proper tribute for a change, shall we?
96.5 The Peak
I alluded to this in my chat with Susie, but my other all-time favorite DJ in Denver was Graeme in the afternoons. Dude had an unreal give-no-fucks style that I haven’t heard before or since. I remember one time driving home from swim practice and he was just lackadaisically yammering on about how hungover he was and what kind of loser stays up drinking beer til 3 in the morning and how now he’s just drinking Red Bull (takes an audible slurping sip) and he’s like, “Ok, whatever. Here’s some music.” As an 18 year-old, this was the coolest man on earth.
Another time I remember him coming in during the off-ramp of a song and RANTING about Fred Durst. He closed with this: “Everyone’s always like ooooooohhhhhhh wheeeeeee Fred Durst! (a short pause) I hope he gets cancer.” And then he immediately cut to whatever that dumb song was he did with Method Man. He had a segment called Graeme’s Smoke Break where he’d ostensibly go outside to smoke a cigarette and hand the reins over to a listener for three songs. The listener not only got to choose the songs, but do the intros, too. As someone who desperately wanted to do radio, this was fucking badass. And what I always appreciated was the listeners would choose the weirdest shit to play in succession. It’d be like “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem, “A Certain Shade of Green” by Incubus, and “Cowboys from Hell” by Pantera. Gave. No. Fucks.
And that was the whole station. Its format flip-flopped from 80s and other light adult alternative you picture as the soundtrack to minivans to aggressive, sort of weird hard rock and alternative that was way less old school than KBPI and edgier than KTCL. I remember always trying to win tickets from the Peak Ticket Donkey (“We’ve got tickets coming out of our ass!”), but never succeeding. And then one day it was gone. Replaced by Spanish language radio since 2002, literally half a lifetime ago for me personally, I haven’t tuned it to 96.5 since. I can still picture that donkey noise in my head when it was time to give away tickets.
Yes, I know this still exists and the logo is TRVL or something equally stupid. Modern branding abhors vowels, apparently. But now the network is dedicated entirely to haunted houses and steakhead dipshits wandering around in the dark with their microphones and infrared equipment looking for ghosts. These shows are literally the most boring fucking shows ever conceived. It’s like if you were to watch a horror movie, and then stop right before the good part in order to watch a dull documentary about how infrared cameras work.
Travel Channel used to be the ultimate lazy, weekend, comfort food TV channel. You could throw it on any old Saturday afternoon and enjoy the Top 10 fastest waterslides or whatever. It was the original home of Bourdain. Samantha Brown was just about the most adorable woman on earth gallivanting across the globe. Man V. Food, while ultimately pretty disgusting once it got to the challenges, did a superb job of curating interesting local spots in whatever city they happened to be in before focusing on the show’s ultimate reason for existence. They were maybe too good at it. I saw the Philadelphia episode a billion times and started thinking about Dinic’s roast pork sandwich for years before finally getting one in 2016. It was everything I wanted it to be and stands as my all-time favorite sandwich.
I love TV like this – low stakes, low intensity, and with a flair for travel. I want b-roll of tanned bodies on exotic beaches I’ll never visit with gentle voiceover; not some douche bro standing around in the dark with a bunch of equipment he pretends to know how to use also in a place I’ll never visit (for wildly different reasons). Bring back the old Travel Channel. Put the shit from this version on YouTube so middle-aged dweebs and goths can fingerblast themselves over the possibility of ghosts existing in front of their computers.
Faction on SiriusXM
I had an extremely love-hate relationship with this channel. The imaging on this station was god-awful filled with snotty interludes and lame off-color humor. It sounded the way a Spencer’s Gifts smells. The personalities were all pretty much sophomoric dickheads. It had Jason Ellis as its flagship personality whose show started out fairly novel considering he was an active skater, MMA practitioner and seemed to have an interesting perspective on things. As time wore on, like what happens with most people who are on the air too much, his shtick devolved into tedious shock jock banality and blatant controversy-baiting. It grew extremely tiresome.
But here’s the thing about all of this. These were my dickheads. I hung out around the skate park. I love all the dumb, douche bro hobbies (except ghost hunting, apparently). And there wasn’t anyone else playing real punk rock all day, every day. What was weirdest about the station was that probably 75% of it was punk rock, the other 25% was rap music. Some of it was old school gangsta rap like NWA and Tupac and stuff, but some of it was bizarre shit like “Poppin’ Off” by WATCH THE DUCK or “Here Comes the Lightning” by Big B. Sometimes they’d have Lars Fredericksen from Rancid in talking AT LENGTH about their new album, and despite the interviewer sounding like a character from that SNL sketch “The Californians,” he did a great job getting insights out of Lars!
Faction is now called Turbo, and it pretty much exclusively plays Disturbed, Papa Roach, Killswitch Engage, Seether, Finger Eleven and all those other crappy buttrock bands you sort of remember from 10-15 years ago. It eats hog.
Built from the remnants of the old G4 Network, Esquire Network has one of the greatest first sentence Wikipedia descriptions I’ve ever read: “In December 2012, NBCUniversal signed a brand licensing deal with the Hearst Corporation, owner of Esquire magazine, to relaunch G4 into Esquire Network, which would air shows aimed at a metrosexual audience about travel, cooking, fashion and other male-targeted programming that is not sports related…”
Haha, glorious. And for sure, all the metrosexuals I know are hanging around in deep cable watching (from Wikipedia, being hilarious again) original lifestyle focused shows that “ended up being low-rated… with its lineup being criticized for ‘copycat’ formats of better programming found on other networks or produced independently for streaming video providers such as YouTube and Vimeo.”
But what copycats they were! “The Getaway” was produced by the same company that produced Bourdain, and featured celebrities doing short trips to their favorite places, like Rashida Jones in London, or Aziz Ansari in Hong Kong. “Brew Dogs” was as good a show about beer that has ever existed. It was fun, accessible, creative, and insightful. “Uncorked” picked up the mantle from the documentary Somm and followed around a bunch of aspiring sommeliers as they approached their final tests. There were others that we watched, but sometimes it was nice knowing there was a network just showing reruns of MacGyver, Parks & Rec, and The A-Team all in one place. It made this metrosexual happy, and it’s too bad it’s gone.
Oh, and a month ago I complained about when people are agog that I’m not watching whatever dumb show they’re into. I had forgotten to mention until writing this post that one of the chief reasons for that is because I’m usually watching even dumber shit like the off-brand nonsense on deep cable like this. I have pop culture taste!
The absolute coolest fucking radio station of my entire life, and there’s exactly one thing of any substance I can find about it. Here’s a Westword article from 1998 written by Michael Roberts (who’s still at the Westword, and was on my show two years ago!):
Earlier this decade, KNRX-FM/92.1 (92X), a small station headquartered in Castle Rock, burst onto the scene with an aggressive sound that hit home with the snowboarding crowd. Within months, KBPI’s ratings began to slide, prompting Richards to alter his format in order to compete. Just as the competition was heating up, though, the owners of KNRX threw in the towel, claiming that the listeners 92X was attracting, most of whom fell between the ages of 18 and 24, weren’t of interest to advertisers. (KNRX replaced the 92X format with a dance sound that didn’t last long. The frequency is currently the home of syndicated Spanish-language programming dubbed Radio Romantica.) As soon as 92X was dead, KBPI brought back the older songs it had cut from its playlist in order to broaden its audience. “You can have all the 18-to-24 numbers you want and not make money from them,” Richards says. “That’s why it’s a laughable strategy. There’s no financial viability to it.”
Lot to unpack here. First, the linked Westword article is like 3,000 words about terrestrial rock radio in Denver. That’s about as 1998 as it gets. Second, the executive quoted in the piece about how worthless ratings among 18-24 year-olds are is one of the funniest things you could ever hope to read in 2021. That’s all anyone seems to chase anymore. And third, the format indeed kicked fucking ass.
As noted in the article, KBPI played a lot of old ass shit back then. As teenagers, none of us could care less about “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” by Brownsville Station (1973) or “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent (1977). Why would we? Those songs came out before we were born, and we wanted the new shit! That’s exactly what 92X gave us. It was edgy, it had a badass name, and it had a sensibility we all related to. It was too beautiful for this world and left us via unbelievably gorgeous troll job. For like a week straight, they played nothing but the sound of a heartbeat. All of us at least once tuned in and went, “Oh wait. I know this song. This intro rules.” It was never a song, just a long goodbye, and they hooked us all.
Writing this entry is a stark reminder of just how fucking old I am. I think about complaining about songs that were released eight and four years before I was born and how I resented their airplay. My oldest daughter becomes a teenager in like seven years. If tradition holds, that means she’ll be complaining about music that was released in 2006 and 2010.
Sure is fun thinking about Gnarls Barkley and Ke$ha as old time music! Now get me a bourbon and let’s skank to the oldies.