In prepping for an article about radio stations that play local music, I did my due diligence and poked around the seven or eight million songs that have been written about the radio to suitable lyrics with which to pepper the lede. Ultimately, I arrived on Reel Big Fish’s second album, helpfully entitled Turn the Radio Off! Besides the title track’s exhortation, there’s “Everything Sucks,” which has a lyric about how there’s “nothin’ on the radio.” There’s also “Snoop Dogg, Baby,” a song about how a song on the radio makes the singer sad about an ex. It lazily reuses the lyric “turn the radio off,” and if one isn’t careful, one might be inclined to take the band’s anti-radio invective to heart. Luckily, I have the sense to ignore the influence of a cadre of bilious, Orange County ska-punk nerds, at least as much as the adage “garbage in, garbage out” goes. Good thing: Local radio stations offer a lot to like, and I’d otherwise miss out on a lot of good tunes.
When I speak of local radio, I’m thinking about three: KKXT/91.7-FM KXT, KTCU/88.7-FM The Choice, and KFTW/97.5-FM The Pirate. Of these, KXT is the biggest, with a broadcast reach you can hear almost to Waco. Full disclosure: I was once a vociferous critic of this station, griping about how, for all its claims, it didn’t play enough local music. But that wasn’t really fair. For one thing, the people who donate the money that keeps KXT on the air are probably more familiar with Tracy Chapman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and whatever other Boomer-courting artists get the most spins and less familiar with your friends’ band that played Lola’s every couple weeks. In recent years, KXT’s playlists have become more adventurous and edgier – if you’d told me War Party would be in regular rotation five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. That station supports the local scenes in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Denton by spinning current and legacy regional acts and also by promoting local artists’ shows on-air and via local music showcases. Its most recent was at Four Corners Brewery in Dallas, featuring War Party, Pearl Earl, and Luna Luna. That’s a pretty good lineup that would be equally at home in Fairmount.
Then there’s KTCU, Texas Christian University’s on-campus station. Fun fact: I pulled a couple shifts a week in KTCU’s DJ control booth back in the late ’90s, and that station has always been near and dear to my heart. But at some point, it seemed to lose its way, and I didn’t listen to it for at least a decade, despite long-running, quality programs like DJ Janice McCall’s Sputnik. But under the recent stewardship of station co-manager Geoffrey Craig, KTCU has experienced a revival. It offers rap shows, metal shows, and, my favorite, the Local Lunch, which plays “hits” by new locals and ones who have faded into the mists of time. In that regard, KTCU is a lot more daring than KXT, as the latter will probably never play a song by Jibe or Soviet Space, let alone before or after bigger locals like the Old 97’s or Leon Bridges.
Finally, there’s The Pirate, the hyper-local small-broadcast-radius station cofounded by legendary DJ and Texas Radio Hall of Famer John Rody and wife Sallie Rody. Its programming is 100 percent local. Of the three stations, it’s the easiest to get your band’s music played on, as the Rodys actively solicit music from local artists. And there’s also non-music programming, like broadcasts by Unity Church on Sunday nights and Wednesday mornings and A Little Off the Top, a talk show run by area hairstylist Mick Perrotti.
Each of these stations offers its own distinct brand of programming and presentation, and in the era of hyperkinetic podcast personalities, satellite radio, and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, you may wonder why you’d need a traditional radio station at all. I don’t know – support local? Choose playlists that have humans picking the songs rather than the cold calculations of an algorithm? I think those three channels’ inherent charms ultimately lie in their quirks. The dry, comforting voices of KXT’s on-air personalities, the meandering, land-the-plane enthusiasm of KTCU’s student DJs, and the in-and-out crackle that makes the Pirate’s shows sound like they’re coming from another decade all make for an endearing listening experience. Unless you’re in Reel Big Fish, there’s more than enough reason to turn the radio on.