Beyond matchbox twenty
KWOD 106.5’s Sunday night show Sounds of Sacramento provides a launching pad for aspiring local rock stars
Ever get tired of hearing the same old thing on the radio? Train, matchbox twenty, Five for Fighting, Fuel—they all sound pretty much the same. And no matter what station you tune into, you’re likely to catch one of those acts at any time of the day. Like their counterparts around the country, most of the radio stations in Sacramento are owned by such large media conglomerates as Clear Channel, Entercom or Viacom subsidiary Infinity. And most of them have notoriously tight playlists.
But this isn’t the case on KWOD 106.5, at least not on Sunday nights at 11 p.m., when the station airs Sounds of Sacramento. The program showcases bands from the area that normally wouldn’t get airplay on other stations.
KWOD is a rarity, a station that’s owned by one man—in this case, Royce International Broadcasting President/CEO Edward Stolz. “Ed is so old school, he started in radio when he was 5,” says Autumn (Macias), the current host of Sounds. “This station is like his home project; it’s his baby. If something needs fixing, Ed comes in and fixes it.”
Sounds was launched in 1992; originally, it was hosted by Alex Cosper. Local-music radio shows are hardly an original idea; 98 Rock’s Local Licks has been on the air since 1988, and that station’s program director, Pat Martin, dates the phenomenon back to 1975 at KGB in San Diego.
Over the years, Sounds has changed hosts several times. This past April, when then-host Dave Carmichael called in sick, Autumn was tapped to fill in. She was Carmichael’s assistant at the time, and had been waiting for a chance to do her own show. However, that night, she was sick and sleep deprived, at home waiting for her cold medicine to kick in and hoping the shot of vodka she had just guzzled would do the trick.
Nevertheless, with producer Rogue on the phone and bear-claw slippers on her feet, Autumn decided to give it a shot. A friend drove her to the station, where she dunked her head in a sink full of cold water. Then she was ready to go. However, the show’s producers weren’t sure they should let her anywhere near the booth—but they didn’t have much choice. “I wasn’t sure she would be able to do the show,” Rogue recalls. “[But] as soon as she stepped into the booth, she really came to life, and she was so funny.”
“I did the whole show with wet hair and a wet T-shirt,” Autumn adds. “But [local music promoter] Jerry Perry really saved me that night, because he got me the interview with Kepi from the Groovie Ghoulies, an interview I had wanted to do for two years. It was great. I mean if there’s something you’ve waited to do your whole life … There was no way I wasn’t going to do the show, it was my only chance.”
The show came off so well that Autumn was offered the host position. “It was really weird,” she remembers. “The next day when I woke up, I thought I had dreamt the whole thing. I actually had to slap myself at one point.”
Since April, Sounds has expanded its listening audience, partly because the show is on late at night, so the host and guests can get away with a lot more than they could if it was pre-recorded and later edited. “All the Entercom stations are hard-line; they’re run by computer,” Autumn explains. “So if you call in to 98 Rock during a late-night show, there’s no one there—the office is empty. But we do everything live.”
Autumn has never been to broadcasting school. At age 15, she started doing stand-up comedy, performing at such places as the Punch Line, Laughs Unlimited and Old Ironsides on open-mic nights, which eventually led her into radio, where she got on-the-job training. “Rogue taught me how to work the boards,” she says. “The other DJs showed me how everything works and gave me tips on how to improve.”
As a 27-year-old single mother of two, Autumn knows what it is like to work hard and sacrifice for something you really love to do. “I feel a bond with the bands because of my experience in comedy,” she says. “I know what it’s like to go broke doing what you love, and I know every penny they get goes towards a P.A. or whatever they need.”
But the bands aren’t the only ones working for love. The people behind the scenes at Sounds of Sacramento are there purely for the love of the show. Co-producers Nick Birondo, Danielle Dauenhauer and Rogue give up their Sunday nights to give the people of Sacramento a little something different to listen to, and they don’t get paid a dime. “It’s almost like a charity or a donation,” Autumn says. Another such charitable soul is Jessica Larrick, who takes all the incoming calls during the show. “Handling the phone calls is a job in itself,” Autumn says. “We went from four to five calls a day, to now like 50.”
They work as a team, meeting regularly to go over the previous week’s show and troubleshooting for the following week. With all the bands coming in and out of the booth, things can get a bit insane. “Some guys get on air and just go off with the language and we’re live so we can’t cover it up,” Autumn says.
“I try to go back and forth with the stuff we play, because not everybody listens to just one kind of music,” she adds. “I try to go heavy, then pop, then punk and find things that are radio-friendly, or somewhat repetitive with a catchy chorus, like that song ‘Crankslut’ by Daycare. I can’t stop singing it in my head.”
“Crankslut” is infamous at Sounds, because of the night Autumn dedicated it to someone who had been fired from the show for numerous reasons. The response was ideal. “She threw a fit,” the host recalls, “but it was so great because I got more calls and e-mails with requests to dedicate that song to a mom or a teacher or an ex. It was so crazy.”
However, merely playing local bands’ songs isn’t enough. Getting them to show up and participate is the cornerstone of Sounds of Sacramento. Members of the local band Plate are veterans to the show and gladly lend themselves to the mic whenever they can. “KWOD is a great radio station—Sac doesn’t know how good,” says Plate’s lead singer, Mike Jones. “They give us a chance to advertise to the community and get more connected with the town.”
Not only can local bands connect with the community on Sounds, but they also can network with one another through the show. “It’s like one big party out there on Sunday nights,” says Dauenhauer.
Autumn brings in at least two bands every week for the opportunity to sell themselves to the listening audience, and it gives them a chance to get to know other bands and make an impression. “Lately, there have been a lot of people meeting here, and that makes me happy,” she says. “If these guys are smart, they will get to know the other bands that can help them get booked to do more shows.”
She’s also quite involved with getting bands booked into such venues as Scratch 8 and the Boardwalk. “We go to a lot of local shows,” she explains, “and if I like the band, sometimes I will make a call to Mark at the Boardwalk and tell him about it. Or I’ll bring them on the show.”
The show host gets bombarded with calls every day and gets music sent to her from all over the valley. “I will listen to everything I can,” she says, “but it’s when a band follows up and is persistent, like End Ever—they harassed me forever, and tonight they’re coming in to do the show. The problem, lately, is that so many bands want to come on the show that I don’t get to go as deep with them as I’d like, because the show is only an hour long.”
Eventually the Sounds team would like to make the show a couple hours long or grab a morning spot, but mainly they would just like to hear more local songs on KWOD’s regular rotation that were heard first on the show.
“I love what I do,” Autumn concludes. “It’s like I’m the Wishmaster … without all the blood.”