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Jewels on the Box

Getting past the radio gaga on Houston's airwaves

I was talking to an English acquaintance of mine recently, an Oxford-educated geologist, and he said that Houston radio was "bloody awful," or words to that effect. We've all heard that one before, and in general, it's true. There are huge swaths of the local dial where little of interest occurs. But then, if you look hard enough, you'll be richly rewarded by all the nooks and crannies there to be found.

I was thinking about what the Englishman said, and then it hit me: Houston radio is like Houston life. The deeper you dig, the more you find. Whether your bag is trad Cajun or screwed-down rap, Greek folk or German electronica, rock en español or Asian massive, it's all on there somewhere. But until now, there's never been a guide to the multitude of sounds scattered hither and yon across the week and the dial. So without further ado, here it is: a guidebook to the back streets of Houston radio. Click it, print it and stick it on your fridge.

Every weekday:If you think morning zoo high jinks are as cretinous as I do, you'll want to tune into KPFT's (90.1 FM) Morning Mix. Hosted by KPFT music director Phil Edwards, the show features eclectic music ranging from smart pop to world beat and all points in between, presented intelligently. The shows runs daily from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and has a different co-host every day. It's quite similar to KPFT's World Cafe, which runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and is also a recommended daily listen. Another interesting daily show to try out is Nocturnal Emissions on the Buzz (94.5 FM), which features two hours of brand-new rock tunes from young bands daily beginning at 10 p.m.

If you want to a hear a master of the dying art of radio disc jockeying, you'll tune in at 10:30 a.m. to Paul Berlin on KBME (790 AM). Berlin has been behind the mike for more than 50 years, and he presents American standards as well as anyone alive.

There are two radio moments I try to catch each weekday, one at noon and the other at midnight. The former is the Old School Mix hour on the Box (97.9 FM), an all-too-rare chance to wallow in the hip-hop of yesteryear. The latter is the first five minutes of Paris "The Prophet" Eley's overnight show on KCOH (1430 AM), wherein he plays a recording of a gifted preacher philosophizing about the eerie nature of the midnight hour.

Monday: Ceeplus's Reprogram Radio on KPFT highlights the day -- an exciting pastiche of nü-wave, retro soul, garage rock, hip-hop, cheese pop and electro, among other things, all dished out live from the wheels of steel at 3:30 p.m.

KTRU (91.7 FM) chimes in with the city's only world music show from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (luckily, it's a good one), which is followed by an excellent one-hour roots music show.

Outside of what KLOL (101.1 FM) sees fit to play, KPFT's 3 a.m.-5 a.m. show Ejacula is the only metal on Houston's airwaves. Ejacula is followed by Dawnstarz, an eclectic hour of emo, goth, indie rock and electronica.

Tuesday: KPFT's 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. slot is co-held by two shows that run on alternating weeks. Sound Awakeis Jeffrey "King of Grief" Thames's paean to ambient rock, Britpop and vintage electronica, while 6 Degrees of Separation is home to cutting-edge alt-country and other Americana. At midnight, you can get strafed by the freewheeling Messerschmitt World Domination Happy Hour, a music/variety show hosted by "Ann Arcky" that strongly calls to mind the KPFT of the 1980s in form, if not necessarily in content.

KTRU offers up -- what else? -- local music on the Local Show, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by three hours of backpacker rap.

Wednesday:Damage Control, co-hosted by former Press listings editor Matt Sonzala and DJ Chill, rules hump day with H-town underground hip-hop. The midnight-3 a.m. show on KPFT features interviews with both superstars and young guns and music you won't hear anywhere else. Alternative Screamand Late Nite Snaxalternate every other week in the 3 a.m. slot; the former is a rock en español show, while the latter finds DJ Witnes continuing the hip-hop groove until dawn.

Over on KTRU, Clint Broussard hosts an excellent blues show from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Billy Gibbons has been known to drop by with a sack of records from time to time.)

Thursday: Generasian Radio is perhaps the most unusual and exciting of the KPFT afternoon shows. From 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the hosts spin Asian underground, Hindi, bhangra, Arabic, house and hip-hop, and there are also musician interviews and live mixes courtesy of Maha Beatz.

Later on KPFT, Rad Rich and friends unleash a rockabilly/garage rock barrage from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., and that show is followed by the vastly underappreciated alternative soul show The Groove.

KTSU (90.9 FM) serves up reggae from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., while KTRU drops da funk from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., followed by Chickenskin Music's two hours of Americana, and then hardcore from 10 p.m. to midnight.

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