So- this is considerably sadder than I thought it would be. And it's ironic. On the day that KRZQ is to be laid to rest, I am attending a conference in San Francisco where one of the primary topics of discussion is the rapid migration of listeners from old radio- stations like KRZQ- to new radio- personalized radio services like the company that I currently work for. In that sense, it's not surprising that the crazy circus known as KRZQ has run it's course- but it is still tremendously sad.
I've been working on this post since last Thursday, hoping to do justice to what KRZQ actually meant. My good friend Stephen Kallao wrote a piece about the recent demise of Chicago's long-standing Alternative radio station, Q101. You can read it here. If you read it, you will see the profound effect that one radio station, and one group of individuals can have on the lives of their listeners. KRZQ was my Q101.
At noon today, KRZQ-FM in Reno, NV will cease to broadcast it's "Alternative" format in favor of a "CHR" "Hot AC" radio format.
I worked at KRZQ from 1998-1999ish and again from 2002ish-2006. During that time, I held a variety of positions- starting as overnight DJ and ending as Program Director. I've been lucky- I've had a tremendously rewarding career in this business of music, and it is all due to KRZQ. I mean that in the holistic sense- if not for it's mere existence, I wouldn't have connected with and identified the culture and music that has informed my life up until this point. If I hadn't worked at KRZQ, there's nowhere else that I could have received the experience, education, and perspective that allowed me to proceed and succeed in this business of music. And if it weren't for the people- the family of KRZQ, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I would just be an awkward, unhappy, music-obsessed kid from Gardnerville, NV. I would have never found my calling and my community. I owe everything that I have today to KRZQ.
And that's what's so goddamn sad about this whole thing- the idea that kids that really need it- as I did- will not be given the opportunities that were presented to me just by virtue of KRZQ's existence.. Whether it's the culture that they are exposed to as a listener, or the guidance that they would be given as a part of the family- it's gone.
KRZQ really should have never existed in Reno. But the fact that it did had a tremendous impact on the entire culture of the Reno/Tahoe area. It signed on in March of 1992 and announced itself by playing "High" by The Cure. At the time, there were only a handful of radio stations in the entire country doing what they did. It was, at it's inception, an Alternative station in the the truest sense of the word. Not Disturbed, but The Smiths. Not Linkin Park, but Catherine Wheel. Not Godsmack, but The Cranberries. And like I said- there was no indication that Reno was the kind of city that needed or would accept this sort of progressive contemporary cultural outlet. But KRZQ changed all that. It fundamentally changed the entire make-up of Reno and the surrounding area for the better. By bringing concerts that otherwise would have never stopped in that sleepy town, by identifying emerging movements like the snow/skate culture and providing a place for those fans to congregate around. By showing awkward kids that it was OK to be different. Those kids are all adults now, and I shudder to think where they would be without KRZQ's influence and legacy. It's impossible that the mere existence of KRZQ did not have a profound effect on the entire cultural make up of the Reno-Tahoe area.
My personal story is a familiar one- I was raised in a rural area, devoid of the kind of culture and activity that would appeal to a music and literature obsessed 12 year old kid. I was profoundly unhappy, but I had no idea what to do about it. KRZQ represented a beacon of sorts- a connection to a world of culture, music, and art that I desperately wanted to be a part of. More accurately, it represented a community of like-minded people. Prior to the advent of KRZQ, there was no such cultural aggregator in the area- no hub from which that community could rally around.
The best thing about it all- I get the sense that the folks involved didn't really know what they were building or what a profound effect it was having on the entire community. Most of these people have since become friends, and I suspect that they were just working really hard to build...something, and they were having the times of their lives doing it. KRZQ had that intangible "it". It's impossible to articulate, but it was clearly reflected in the product.
If you were part of the KRZQ family, there was no concept of "leaving your work at the office". No concept of the "9-5" job. We lived together, slept with each other, fought over stupid shit like siblings, and bled for...a radio station. We fought and bled for the cause that this radio station represented. Great music, a place where it was OK to be a freak, and a way out of an otherwise mundane and alienated existence. And what an incredible work ethic we all developed as a result?
We were allowed to fail- in some cases fail spectacularly. That made us all better.
Life will go on- the ignorant knuckledraggers over at the buttrock radio station will continue to perpetuate and reinforce an unfair stereotype of the Reno-Tahoe area, only now they will do it unchallenged by the people that think that the Biggest Little City can be more, and is more.
It's clear to me that music-based terrestrial radio is in the middle of a long decline, with plenty of important questions being raised about it's relevance and long-term viability. Music discovery and content via traditional radio is quickly being supplanted by a myriad of web-based options, including the company that I work for. And that presents people like me with an exciting challenge- how do we recreate that vibe, that sense of community, that music discovery, on a new platform, for a new generation?
Because I don't know what replaces KRZQ for the next round of unhappy and disenfranchised 12 year old kids.
I couldn't possibly call out and thank everyone that was involved with the magic that was KRZQ from my personal perspective. But I do want to thank a few people-
Jayn Said, Ollie, Big Leo (and Vic "The Brick" Brickhouse), Strange Advance Lance, etc.- Thanks for giving me something to aspire to and for being the window in to a cooler world than the one I knew. Most importantly, thanks for facilitating my earliest music discovery. Thanks for playing Adorable, thanks for interviewing Frank Black at a record store, thanks for bringing the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Reno 500 times. Bonus points go to Leo for later on breaking my heart by revealing himself to be a Neo-Con.
Smiling Marty taught me what it was to be an entertainer.
Marc Young taught me how to be disciplined in a chaotic environment.
Rip taught me to be a great radio programmer and tolerated my considerable shortcomings.
Heather- we all wanted to be you.
Valerie- you made this insane idea financially viable by believing in it.
Homie- the visionary.
Jeremy- became a brother and made me smarter.
Mel- tolerated more crap than anyone reasonably should have to in a professional setting- most of it from me. She took her accumulated experience and became the best human being that many of us will ever know.
El Muchacho, Johnny Karate, Sims- the best partners in crime any PD could ask for.
Blaze- Even though he is more commonly known as Rob Brooks these days, I can't call him anything but "Blaze" any more than I can call my father anything but "Dad". He is responsible for everything that KRZQ is and was more so than anyone else. He's the one that built the thing, stuck it out, went down with the ship multiple times, and fell on his sword for all of us, multiple times. And he is the only one that should be putting KRZQ down, as miserable as that must be for him. He is still one of my closest friends and greatest mentor- and that transcends the existence of any radio station.
Last night, Blaze sent out a text message at 10p or so that made me get into the shower and cry. And c'mon- that's a hilarious image, right? Feel free to make fun of that in a few weeks. After all- one of the greatest lessons that I learned at KRZQ still holds true: Time plus Tragedy equals Comedy.
After KRZQ goes away today, I'm still left with more questions than answers. Like- does anyone know where that fucking blimp is? And what ever happened to Strange Advance Lance? And what will become of the dudes from Barbequed Salad that hosted the original "It Hurts When I Pee"? And where will the Joey Vegas Band go now?
I love you, KRZQ. Thanks for giving me an opportunity that literally changed my life.