If you spend any time around Houston music, you'll come across people who give their time, efforts and energy back to the scene with little or no reward. Bayou City music circles are crowded with people whose day job may pay the bills but who spend their nights promoting what they really love — art, music, writing, etc. They don’t call us HustleTown for nothin’.
Look no further than Houston-based streaming station Punkstar Radio. Through its "Full Throttle" program, broadcast weekly from Scout Bar in Clear Lake, Punkstar has showcased literally hundreds of Houston acts over the past several years, a desperately needed platform in a town without a true hard-rock/heavy-metal FM radio station.
Many local bands can credit Punkstar's three-man crew for spotlighting them when few people even knew who they were. Producing from the sidelines, Roland Belamarez leads Full Throttle DJs Chris Calderas and Khris Harding as they emcee a show that features local talent week in and week out. From hip-hop showcases and insider interviews or School of Rock performances and the latest up-and-coming local band, Punkstar covers Houston far and wide.
They even find time to give to worthy causes within the community. Both participate annually in the Bridge Over Troubled Waters fashion show, a charity showcase that raises awareness of and money for battered women and children in the Houston area. Harding chuckles at the unlikelihood of his participation next to lawyers, doctors and executives.
“Look at me — I’m covered in tattoos, but every year, they [organizers] love it," he says. "They have so much fun with us. We’re not like the others.”
That’s exactly what makes Punkstar so refreshing. What started out as a sports-oriented clothing brand in 2008 soon expanded into Punkstar's current incarnation. (The clothing line is still around, billing itself as "not just a brand...a lifestyle.") After a difficult divorce, Calderas dedicated all his spare time to promoting the brand. With fellow co-founders Jason Dupis and Keith Kimble, they found themselves sometimes staying up all night printing merchandise to promote the brand at a festival or show the next day — while all had full-time professional careers.
Searching for acts to interview, Calderas came across Harding, a member of area body-suspension group AGRO Sideshow, and he eventually became a DJ on the show. The schedule was grueling, but help from friends always seemed to come at just the right time. “We’ve had people just show up and help out. Once, our server went down and a friend, Pete Garcia, just went and bought us a new one," recalls Harding. "He saved the show that day.”
Punkstar's history involves many such rescues, including finding the right spot from which to broadcast. Harding and Calderas have been at the helm since the early years, moving the show from Local Live Houston to Creative Art Ink and eventually to Scout Bar. The work has never been easy and both men have sacrificed much of their own money and time. But it’s paid off.
Listening to "Full Throttle" is not unlike listening to two brothers who have spent far too much time together in the back seat of a car on a cross-country family vacation. While the love abounds, so does the hilarity in the form of constant put-downs and crass jokes. Sounding more like an FM morning show with pranks and antics, Harding and Calderas are surprisingly self-taught DJs. Harding portrays the golden-voiced captain, while Calderas leads interviews with in-depth questions.
Using their ear for talent, the Punkstar DJs have made it their mission to give Bayou City bands worldwide exposure, including interviewing them at length. In what they laughingly call their "Therapy Session," every act gets an opportunity to tell its story.
“Think about it,” Harding offers. “How often do you get a backstory on a band? You used to be able to read about them in their cassette or CD. Those days are over. We want to know [that story], and we provide that opportunity for the band and the fans.”
For Punkstar Radio, the fans come first. At one recent broadcast, Calderas and Harding challenged fans to Star Wars-themed contests, took live questions and bought the winners a round of shots while actively engaging the live audience. “It’s very much a listening party atmosphere," notes Harding.
“It’s a stage for the city," adds Calderas. "It’s raw, real and in your face but also a small, intimate performance for bands, too.”
Even the sponsors who have endorsed Punkstar have become enormously successful. When Coldcock Whiskey began sponsoring the show two years ago, it was a local brand. Now, seeing Coldcock endorse a movie as large as Deadpool or a band like Slayer is common. Something similar happened when Harding approached Virus Vodka.
“I just liked the look," he says. "So, I started contacting them, sending them email after email until their representative was like, ‘What do you want?’”
Harding laughs at what was the beginning of a sponsorship that would result in Virus Vodka creating a drink in his honor: the Fang Banger, a mix of pineapple juice, grenadine and (of course) vodka. Shortly afterward, sponsorships became the norm.
Now, Miller Lite, Dan's Pizza Co., Reachdown Radio, dosomethingawesome.org, I.P. Ink Tattoo, Junker Designs and even RCP Plumbing are all on board. Pretty impressive, considering it's still a couple of guys shouldering the entire operation. While some would be content with this level of success, Harding and Calderas feel they’re just on the cusp of their next chapter. Their vision involves expanding the label and bringing Punkstar to a much larger listening format.
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“I’d love to see us on XM Satellite Radio. I think it’s something we could definitely do," Calderas says.
Going from Internet to satellite seems like the most logical step for Punkstar. However, Calderas admits they're not opposed to filling the heavy-metal needs of Houston FM listeners, either. Whatever the future holds for them, though, it sounds tremendous.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and expand the show, you know, gain more listeners, grow the audience,” Calderas explains.
Punkstar's next Full Throttle broadcast, featuring guests Space Pirates, Bad Astronauts, Almost Famous and Staff Infection, will be 8 p.m. tomorrow at Scout Bar (18307 Egret Bay Boulevard, Clear Lake) and on punkstarradio.com.