Jewels on the Box
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 Awake is 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 Scream and Late Nite Snax alternate 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.
Friday: On Fridays, KTSU sets aside the jazz that is its primary stock-in-trade and trots out the R&B oldies from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Meanwhile, KPFT's Roark pans for unusual vintage rock nuggets on his Uncastrated Classic Rock show from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Friday nights are hip-hop hotbeds. In addition to live DJ mixes on the Party (104.9 FM), KTSU's Kidz Jamm -- Houston's longest-running rap show -- also finds record-wreckers in the house. (The Party's live mixes run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., while Kidz Jamm airs from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.)
Friday evenings are also a rare haven for electronica -- a rotating cast of KTRU kids spins everything from house to disco-punk from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday: Rise and shine with Pe-Te's Cajun Bandstand on KPFT, the only Houston-based outlet for chank-a-chank music, which airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Following that, KPFT offers six hours of alt-country, blues and singer-songwriter fare with Rick Heysquierdo's Lonestar Jukebox (9 a.m. to noon) and Larry Winters's Spare Change. (If all that's a little too much to take at one sitting, spin the dial over to KTRU for an hour of Greek music beginning at 10 a.m. on the Aegean Show, followed by the wonderful Kids Show.)
KPFT continues its most eclectic day with the blues-rock of Smokin' Joe's Roadhouse at 3 p.m., followed by music of the Emerald Isle on the Irish Aires show at 6 p.m., which is followed in turn, an hour and a half later, by the Tejano oldies of Bailando en Tejas. Mixmeisters Sun, Suma, Lil Tiger and Melodic bring us into the here and now abruptly with Soular Grooves at 9 p.m. Spinning the latest in soul, jazz and groove, Sun and company offer up tracks for the first two hours and wrap up with a one-hour DJ mix beginning at 11. Rasta Vibrations, which begins at 4 a.m. and runs for two hours, presents reggae and other Caribbean music, including the music of the north coast of South America.
Meanwhile, Jazz Latino dusts the KTSU airwaves with a little cayenne from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Radio Orbita (100.7 FM) offers a rock en español show at 6 p.m. with Orbita Rock.
Sunday: Sabbath morns here have long belonged to the devil's music. Beginning at 4 a.m., KPFT broadcasts 11 and a half straight hours of the blues. If blues ain't your bag, check out the Cajun Jamboree, on KLVI (560 AM) out of Beaumont, which airs from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and is hosted by legendary DJ Tee Bruce.
Sunday afternoons are as good a time as any to dial up American standards, and you can do so in style from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Ronnie Renfrow's Swingin' Sundays on KRTS (92.1 FM). Renfrow spins a mix of big band, jazz, blues, vintage rock and soul/funk/R&B, and he does it all with skill and erudition.
Sunday nights are the most eclectic night on the commercial dial. The A Tu Ritmo show finds Radio Orbita spinning another hour of rock en español from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., while Little Steven Van Zandt revs up the garage rock of today and yesterday in his inimitable style and oft-impenetrable Joizy accent from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the Arrow (93.7 FM). The Buzz dishes out local and regional alt-rock on the Texas Buzz from 11 p.m. to midnight, and DJs Cool Aid and Ovadose keep the legacy of DJ Screw alive on the Party on the Screwed Down Party Mix from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Two KPFT shows -- Zydeco Sont Pas Salé, which runs from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Pat and Rosie's Nightsounds, a local music show heavy on hippie sounds that runs from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. -- round out the week.
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