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For Houston's modern rock community, 2003 opened with some great news. At long last, after years of slamming the door on local acts, Clear Channel station the Buzz announced that it will let them on the airwaves. Their new show The Texas Buzz debuted on January 5. Finally, Houston rock bands have a home on the mainstream dial.
Hosted by Pam Kelly, the one-hour show airs every Sunday at 11 p.m. Only Texans need apply, says Kelly, and Houstonians will be highlighted. "We're playing bands from everywhere in Texas, and a lot of them will be the big guns, but I'm trying to make at least half of the show be unsigned local bands." (Submitted CDs or MP3s should be professionally recorded -- no demos, folks -- and sent to Kelly's attention at KTBZ, 3050 Post Oak, suite 1200, 77056. More detailed info regarding submissions is available at www.thebuzz.com.)
Already, Kelly has been deluged with CDs from airplay-starved bands. "We have so much material right now that we've barely gotten through a quarter of it," she says. And the task has not been made any easier by the mailbags full of CDs from bands who apparently don't know what the Buzz is all about. "I'm getting light pop and country records," she says. "Remember, we're the Buzz -- we're modern rock, not too hard, not too soft."
Kelly's method of determining the playlist harks back to radio's old days. "We're real scientific about what we play," she jokes. "I have a group of friends -- Buzz listeners of different age ranges -- and I say, 'Okay, I like this track. What do y'all think is the best track on this CD?' And that's basically how we come up with the playlist."
On the show's debut, Kelly spun songs by non-Houstonians Drowning Pool, Vallejo, Bowling for Soup, Spoon, Baboon, the Burden Brothers, Ben Kweller and Canvas, but also locals Simpleton, Faceplant, Secret Agent 8 and the Hunger.
The last two bands on that list send two clear messages. The inclusion of ska band SA8 shows that as long as a band rocks, it can make it on the air, no matter its subgenre. "We want to mix it up a little," says Kelly. "A little ska, a little punk, a little emo."
And Kelly selected the Hunger as the first local band to air on the show in a salute to their professionalism and drive. Sadly, the Hunger's hunger is a rare quality among Houston bands. It often seems that too many of them are more interested in acting like rock stars offstage than on. "We've had local bands on in the past, and they have these ridiculous demands on their riders," Kelly says, referring to the backstage goodies musicians get before and after shows. "They want the full rock star treatment more than the big guns want it. That's why the first local band we played was the Hunger. They're a great example of local success. They're always professional, and they always give their all on stage. I've seen so many local bands that will just kick ass one show, and you'll go see them a couple of weeks later and they're just totally slacking. Their manager's not there or something like that or they just don't care, and you're like, 'That's not the band I saw two weeks ago.' "
Though at times she's been discouraged, Kelly has never given up on the local scene. In fact, she wanted this show to be even more H-town-oriented than it is. "When I started it, I wanted it to be all local," she says. "I wanted to call it Local Motives, but that got nixed, and this is the compromise. But still they're being pretty cool at the Buzz. They're behind it and they want it to grow, so they're letting me run with it, and hopefully it willgrow. They're not promising anything yet, but down the line, if I do my end of it well, they're promising some good support."
Anyone who has more than a passing interest in the local rock scene is familiar with the catch-22 that has dogged Houston bands for years. Kelly has heard it ad nauseam. "I've been floating around Houston radio for about 11 years. One of the things I always hear from local bands is that there's no [radio support] for local bands, and if they want to make it they have to go to Dallas or Austin. And that's true. And from the radio and industry side of it, I hear people say, 'Oh, there's not enough good music out there.' I don't think that's true -- I just think the support hasn't been there."
It's amazing how music that was perceived as not good enough for radio suddenly sounds much better when it actually makes it on the airwaves. The industry suits are full of it -- there has always been more than enough great music in this town for a show like this, and there still is. While The Texas Buzz is a huge step in the right direction, it badly needs both an extra hour and a better time slot. If enough of us tune in, it might get just that.
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