Almost happening in waves, local music finding its way onto commercial radio tends to come and go with every station that makes an effort. Talent come up with the idea, musicians submit, they go a few months and then things go awry and the show is done before it ever reached the one-year marker. Very few finding an audience to sustain and making it difficult and in some cases impossible to get any Utah-based musicians on the air who haven't gone to a major label. But for a pair of hard rock DJ's, the latest effort to put new localized music on the air isn't just a quick idea to garner fans, its something they're hoping can become a mainstay. Much like the station it calls home.
The Salt Lake Soundcheck got its start on KBER back in 2004, headed up by the long-standing weekender Helmut VonSchmidt as an opportunity to put local metal and heavy rockers on the air, as other stations passed over their catalogs due to format. After adding newcomer Metalhead Murphy to the mix and expanding the programming, its become one the longest sustaining Utah music program on commercial radio to date, surpassing Live & Local's run this year. I got a chance to chat with both men about the show and their careers, plus a few thoughts on the Utah music scene and radio.
Helmut Von Schmidt & Metalhead Murphy
Gavin: Hey Helmut and Murphy! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Helmut: Well I'm a 34 year old Disc Jockey on a rock and roll station, married with a little daughter on the way. Working at KBER was my first job, I started in July of 1992. I am also the On Premise Manager at M & M Distributing, proud purveyors of Coors, Squatters and Wasatch beers. And I like puppies.
Murphy: Well I was born in 1984, was just your run of the mill kid I guess until I got to Jr. High and found rock n roll and metal. Then I started listening to all the bands I should have grew up with like Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax, Dio etc. I grew up in a household with Elvis and Tommy Overstreet playing. I got my nickname "Metalhead" in high school.
Gavin: How did you each take an interest in radio and broadcasting, and what influenced you to go into it professionally?
Murphy: When I was in high school, Darby who is now on 94.9 Z-Rock was doing nights at KBER. So at 16, 17 years old we'd get drunk and call into his show. I always called up as "Metalhead Murphy" and I guess he took a liking to my drunk calling in three times a week and would always air the call, bleeps added of course. Then when I was 22, I got hired on as a remote tech for KBER, and since he and I had known of each other for so long, he and Helmut helped get me on the air.
Helmut: When I was 12 or 13 I went with my sisters boyfriend to see the morning show at KBER and immediately knew what I wanted to do. I hung out at the station over a summer and got to know the morning show. The following year their producer went to New York for the summer, so I called and asked if I could intern. To my shock they said yes and at the age of 15 I was an intern at a radio station. Somehow nearly two decades later I'm still here.
Gavin: Did either of you seek out any college prior to formally becoming employed, or did you jump right in at a lower level without any degree?
Helmut: I did not, I was given the advise early on that if I wanted to be on the music side of radio that schooling was unnecessary. For the time it was probably good advice.
Murphy: As I said earlier, I just applied for the lowest position and worked my way up.
Gavin: Helmut we'll start with you. You joined KBER around the mid-90's. What was that like for you being a part of the station during that time?
Helmut: That was an interesting time, just before deregulation hit the industry, a lot of stations were still run by mom and pop organizations, very little corporate structure. It was a really fun time, no computers, just you, your CD's and the listeners.
Gavin: Over the years you've changed shifts and have become a staple personality of the station. How has it been for you growing into that role and reaching that pinnacle with the fans?
Helmut: It's been an amazing experience, I have literally spent my entire adult life on the air at KBER, I learned to run the board before I learned to drive. It really hit's me when people get excited when they find out I'm the radio guy. Knowing you made some sort of impact on people is great feeling.
Gavin: Murphy, you joined KBER in late 2006. What was it like for you joining the station, especially at a point where on-air talent was on the wain with few other on-air jobs were around?
Murphy: I contribute it to having been a fan of the station and Darby knowing of me. He took me under his wing when I got hired on in June of '06. He had me on his show a handful of times and then come November, Helmut asked if I'd like to co-host our one hour local music show on Saturday nights, The Salt Lake Soundcheck. Which I jumped at the chance.
Gavin: How has it been for you establishing yourself with the listeners and becoming a recognized talent in your own right?
Murphy: Surprisingly I think they took to me pretty well. As I was co-hosting the Soundcheck I was also with Mick and Allen when they were on live remotes. They would always include me in their show, so when an under-the-bus question could be asked it was always, "Murphy, what do you think about it?" or "Murphy, what would you do in that situation?" The most embarrassing I remember was they asked how long I lasted in the sack while my dear old mother was listening. Mick and Allen's fans took to me quickly, and I suppose most the other listeners did as well.
Gavin: When did the two of you meet each other and eventually become friends?
Murphy: November of 2006 is when we began hosting the show together and, I'd say it took about six months to a year before we had our chemistry down. But as friends, I think we hit it off immediately.
Helmut: It was a few years back, Metalhead was a remote tech, setting up or live broadcast's. I kept seeing him around and he reminded me of me when I first started, willing to do anything to work for the station. I decided to bring him on as the co-host of the Salt Lake Soundcheck. In this day and age it can be very hard to get on the air as a rookie. To his credit he took his one hour a week on the air and got his full time shift.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up Salt Lake Soundcheck? And was management on board right away or was there some hesitation on their part?
Helmut: It was 2003 I believe and I was looking to do a special show on the weekends and threw around a few ideas and settled on a local music show. I saw an opening for that as, at the time, only X96 was doing anything local. Management was indeed hesitant at first. We had done a few things with some local bands that had been a nightmare. I was able to convince them that I would handle everything, from play-lists to complaints. For some reason they bought it and here we still are today.
Gavin: What was the first broadcast like and what was the reaction from the staff and listeners?
Helmut: It was cool, a live broadcast at Club Halo. The first band I played (The Salt City Bandit's) also played at the club that night. The staff was very supportive of me and the show from the beginning.
Gavin: Do you have an idea of what you want to play each week, or is it all dependent on what comes your way?
Murphy: Helmut picks the songs we play every week, but if he's out then I handle the captains chair.
Helmut: I wait 'til the last minute to make the play-list, you never know what gem will get dropped in your lap at the last second.
Gavin: Was bringing bands in to play a part of the original plan, or something you fell into doing?
Helmut: It was something I wanted to do from the beginning but had to prove I could make the show go smoothly for a while. I have always felt that the best way to showcase a bands talent is to strip the music down to acoustic and throw some microphones in their face. That has proven to be a great philosophy as Utah has amazing talent. They make our show look good.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the show in time or add new material to it, or are sticking with the format you've got going for now?
Helmut: For now sticking with it as it goes. To extend it I would have to move it from Saturday to Sunday evenings, that is a change I am not willing to make. For me it's important to keep it on the more listened to day of the week.
Murphy: When it comes to new material, that is when it is sent to us, I go over it first. I'm the music director so to say of the show and Helmut is the program director. So I'll listen to it, if I like it I'll pass it on to him and he makes the final decisions of what airs during the hour.
Gavin: Going state-wide for a moment, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Murphy: There is, in my opinion, a LOT of great talent in this state. And there is quite a bit of really terrible bands. I don't know who keeps lying to the terrible bands and tells them their stuff is good. I have actually had to email some back saying "There is no way I'm putting this on the radio". So I may have some enemies out there, but I won't air shitty music. On the flip side, when good stuff comes in, we usually air it that week.
Helmut: The good is the level of talent across all genre's. From indie to rock and roll to blues to hip hop, talent everywhere. The bad is so many people don't realize how good the scene is and don't support it. Most of the public has no idea of the cultural goldmine that lies in their backyard.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Helmut: Exposure, I have a feeling that a Salt Lake band will hit nationally at the right time and you will then see several bands hit.
Murphy: In my opinion, I don't know what you could add to make SLC a better music scene. Now granted I rarely get out to shows due to my schedule so I don't know exactly how it is these days. But standing back and getting info from bands, I hear it's still pretty good.
Gavin: Who are your favorite bands and acts in the scene right now?
Murphy: Monarch is up there, they actually have played two of my birthday parties. Opal Hill Drive, Royal Bliss, AM Revelator, Ghetto Tea Party, Badgrass (when they were around) and Melodramus.
Helmut: Oh wow, a ton. AM Revelator out of Ogden is really cool, King Niko, Red Pete, Monarch, Downright Blue, Ayin, Sterotype (a really cool band mostly from the Ukraine), Codi Jordan Band, Super So Far, Spencer Nielsen, Ghetto Tea Party, The Street, Spork, Thurnderfist... That's just a few. There are so many it's ridiculous.
Gavin: Moving to broadcasting, what's your opinion of current local radio, both community and corporate?
Helmut: It's pretty good for the most part. I have seen a lot of community driven programs from the corporate side in recent years, as broken as radio can be, that's something it is getting right. And the community side is strong between KRCL and UtahFM, they do some pretty great things.
Murphy: Wow, um. Community wise I think local radio does a fantastic job. I mean that really. Mick and Allen along with everyone at KBER 101 have the Make A Wish kids come and we take them to see Santa and give them gifts, as well as a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad. It really makes their day and if you have a heart, your heart to melt. As well as other stations that do similar things, good on them. Corporate I can't speak a whole lot about, due to the fact that I'm the lowest on the on-air totem pole, but it's a cutthroat business and I've seen a lot of good, talented people go away in the last couple years.
Gavin: Where do you personally see things going in the next few years for radio?
Murphy: I don't know, but what I HOPE is only upward. Get the economy back on track in the next couple years, get me to days, cross my fingers, haha! I don't know, I just hope for the best.
Helmut: Over the next few years probably more of the same, more consolidation, more stations switching formats. It's a sad truth about radio now days. I do see something coming in the future, I think the radio industry will at some point implode and something cool and revolutionary will come of it. Many stations are still very healthy and successful but the business as a whole is sick and broken.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and the show over the next year?
Helmut: My daughter, Gretchen VonSchmidt, will be born any second now, so I would expect a lot of talk about diaper rash and hallucinations from lack of sleep. Also I might try to resurrect the Salt Lake Soundcheck Concert Series.
Murphy: Well my show is pretty cool cause I have a core of P1 listeners. They listen every night. Most are working over the road in trucks or in a warehouse somewhere and from what I have gathered they love it. So my show won't be changing much. But if you haven't heard it, it's quite informative. I'm proud of it. When it comes to the Salt Lake Soundcheck, I'd really like to get another Soundcheck Concert Series going, but that's over my head. So we shall see.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Murphy: If you're internet savvy head on over to my radio Facebook page and get all the news I do on the show there, since most people aren't nocturnal.
Helmut: Join me on the air at KBER Monday through Friday from 6PM-Midnight and Saturday's from 3-7PM. And of course enjoy an hour of Utah's best indigenous music Saturday nights at 6PM with myself and Metalhead Murphy. Also if you drink beer, drink one of my beers! Coors, Squatters, Wasatch, or Blue Moon. I would also Like to plug Gavin's Underground on CityWeekly.net But I guess if you're reading this you already get the genius of this fine human being!
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