The Bomb Shelter helps bring underground music to the light
It’s Sunday evening, and Buddha and Dotkom are making their way into the studio to set up for The Bomb Shelter, their radio show that runs from 10 p.m. to 1 in the morning. With unshaven faces and lopsided hats, the pair might seem slightly intimidating if seen walking toward you on a dark street, but the image is destroyed as, with big goofy grins of excitement, they check the microphones and turntables at the Wild 102.9 studio.
For the past four-and-a-half years, Northern Nevada listeners have been able to find refuge from mainstream music by listening to The Bomb Shelter, a creation of the two brothers from Sacramento, Scott and Todd Lee—a.k.a. DJs Buddha and Dotkom. The Bomb Shelter is a unique forum for a style of music that’s still trying to find a place on the commercial airwaves—underground hip-hop.
The self-admitted “music nerds” started out as DJs for high school dances and continued in that vein upon arrival in Reno nine years ago, working in various clubs around town until they established connections with KWYL, and The Bomb Shelter was born.
The radio program faced rocky beginnings as Buddha, 29, and Dotkom, 32, worked out how to use the studio equipment, taught themselves to get over their microphone stage fright, and struggled to find a night that best suited their program, all the while managing not to strangle one another. “We always said that if it got too hot, we would walk,” Dotkom says between bantering with Buddha over the next album to play. Indeed, the constant communication and teamwork between the two brothers seems to provide the balance needed to keep the show running smoothly.
Allowed 100 percent creative freedom from the station’s managment (provided there is no cussing), the late-night radio show has consistently supplied music from across the nation for its listeners. Everyone from local musicians like Who Cares to larger name bands like Atmosphere or Living Legends get sent over the airwaves. Trying to pinpoint what attracted him to the music, Buddha says, “I started listening to hip-hop once it started to say something that I could identify with.”
The Bomb Shelter has become home to thousands of hip-hop artists that found expression through this use of rhythm and spoken word, encouraging what has become a huge, local underground scene. James Brown, the operations manager of Tower records, says that out of its 87 stores across the nation, Reno is the number-one distributor of indie hip-hop music.
“Independent hip-hop artists have finally got reliable distribution,” says Brown.
The difference between underground hip-hop and the mainstream music played on the radio is musical content. While most radio music is Top 40 format, The Bomb Shelter’s goal is to play music that makes you think. “It’s what we like,” says Dotkom.
“We are not trying to push any new album or focus on any one particular artist,” says Buddha as he warns Dotkom about the next commercial break. “We try to stay focused on the culture behind the music.”
The brothers do their best to have fun and keep the mood upbeat while locked in the small studio for three hours. Helping them do this is the turntable-spinning android—ETHIK 2000 (Electronic Turntable Humanoid Interface with Kinetic automation levels). The ETHIK 2000 is a 4-foot-high, sharpie-tattooed android made up of a conglomeration of wires and spare parts.
Buddha and Dotkom show enormous pride in the little robot as they set him up on top of crates in front of turntables, checking to make sure all the wires and joints are working properly. ETHIK’s synthesized voice calls out the music it downloads from the Internet or the record it selects with its scanner before placing it on the turntables. Dotkom scrawls down all the musicians and songs to recall to the audience at the end of the 20-minute set.
Aside from android entertainment, most of the time spent in the studio seems to consist of a constant dialog about music, video games and cult classic movies, which finds its way onto the air in sound bites. A notable discussion was about the fine line musicians have to walk as independent artists.
“They’re trying to make money for their own families while also not sacrificing what they have to say about the world,” Buddha says.
“There is a lot of music out there with a great message,” says Dotkom. “Our idea is to work as facilitators for music. We get to prime the pump.”
Dotkom says the listeners’ response has been gratifying. “We’ve had people call up and say, ‘Hey, thank you,’ and hang up. One night, there was a guy that called and said he’d just heard his friend had been shot in Iraq, and he didn’t know if he was dead or alive. He asked us to play anything to help. We put on ‘The Friends Blues’ by Living Legends for him, and he called us up after to say thanks for helping him get it off his chest.”
There is no way to tell which direction The Bomb Shelter will head. Offers for the show’s possible syndication have begun to emerge, yet the brothers haven’t agreed on which way to go. Dotkom thinks a syndicated show could provide a better opportunity to have more interviews, allowing a more targeted show. But Buddha believes their success can be attributed, at least in part, to the format they developed in their present studio.
Whether The Bomb Shelter remains strictly local radio on late Sunday nights or begins to supply its music to a larger audience by yielding to corporate sponsorship, the brothers agree that the focus should remain on the music and its message.