Sonic Reducer on KEXP 90.3 FM

Saturdays, 9 pm

to midnight.

There's a glaring void in Seattle radio that's as much of a secret as a bloody shotgun wound in an albino's forehead. With all the "new stations," "new changes at old stations," and general buzz about "new music," right now there's no dedicated slot for punk music, new or otherwise. It's as if the genre just didn't exist in the "new" radio vocabulary. And by punk, I don't just mean bands re-envisioning the Ramones, I mean hardcore, metalcore, garage, hard rock, synthpunk, pop punk, noise, and anything else that can fit under that spiky umbrella. In an era when even Rolling Stone deems the occasional garage act worthy of review, this lapse in exposure has been inexcusable, especially in a city rich with a wealth of local and touring talent that definitely deserve increased exposure.

Although KEXP--our only real hope in Seattle for truly independent, eclectic radio programming-- has put a great deal of effort into breaking excellent indie-rock-oriented acts (bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Ponys, and Longwave have really been given a stronghold in Seattle thanks to the station's dedication to exposing new music), as well as shining a giant Maglite on world pop, hiphop, jazz, alt-country, electronic music, blues, gospel, and just about every other style of music, there's a severe lack of music that's loud, heavy, agitated, and/or over the top on this city's airwaves. And it's not just aggravating for the people who want to hear more of a riot on the radio--it creates a frustrating vacuum when it comes to promoting local shows and local bands, as well as local and national releases and the artists who've influenced a lot of what's happening in popular music right now. So when KEXP announced last week that it's adding a regular punk show to the mix--the first time the genre's been given its own slot on the station--I don't think I was alone in saying it's about time.

Sonic Reducer, the new Saturday-night 9:00 p.m.-to-midnight punk show, begins filling the void on May 1. The station's guides through punk past and present will be West Keller, who has worked in college radio in Eugene and Minneapolis, as well as volunteering at KEXP; Nick Turner, who works at the Vera Project and has been a staple at local indie record stores from Fallout to Singles Going Steady, as well as playing in punk/hardcore bands; and Brian Foss, who in addition to writing for zines and doing pirate radio over the years, was a booker at Gibson's and really helped cement the reputation of Zak's/the Fun House as viable, popular venues for exciting punk shows in Seattle. Says Turner of Sonic Reducer, "From my experience at Vera and local record stores, it is obvious that lots of people in Seattle are rabid fans of punk, hardcore, and garage music and I think they deserve some representation on the airwaves (which are a public resource, after all). And raging local bands like Iron Lung and Last Waltz aren't getting played anywhere else." Adds Foss, "When it comes to harder-edged music, there's been a complete void on Seattle airwaves for way too long. Thankfully we're being given a chance to create a solution instead of just sitting around complaining."

KEXP's John Richards says the idea for a punk show started years ago, but it wasn't until he was made associate program director six months ago that the ball was set into motion. "We have so much history and there's so much depth to [punk music]--it makes such an effect on our scene--that it just seemed like something we had to put on the air instead of just touching on it in our regular programming. I brought up the idea of a punk show and we all agreed we should do it and then it was a question of where should we put it and who should be the host. The process has been going on for six months at least and then we got this great demo from these three guys... and it just finally all came together."

Having a punk show on the air doesn't just benefit the people who tune in Saturday nights. It also helps the station overall, as the CDs and records Keller, Turner, and Foss bring in will be added to the KEXP library, making the chances greater for bands of that ilk to make it into regular rotation. "By having a punk show, more punk comes into the station and DJs like me will have the ability to play it," says Richards. "The theory is to have [Sonic Reducer DJs] bring to us what they're championing and there will be more chances it'll be played during regular hours." The added benefit of exposure on KEXP is that the station is making the biggest national impact of all the local choices on the radio dial, meaning underground and better-known punk bands (along with all the other bands on the station) will be receiving increased exposure beyond Seattle. According to the latest figures from Arbitron Internet Broadcast Ratings, KEXP is the sixth most popular station on the web, only ranking behind commercial stations such as AOL, Virgin, and Launch, and the noncommercial Musicmatch. Those figures, together with KEXP's push into national markets (they regularly sponsor shows in places like New York and are sponsoring their first Seattle-band tour with the Long Winters, giving away tickets to shows across the country), means more exposure for both the station and the music it champions.

As for what the Sonic Reducer DJs will champion, their spectrum seems pretty wide. Turner says he's interested in playing bands who work outside the "major-label/big-indie distribution system" and hopes to blur some of the subdivisions within the Seattle punk scene, while Foss says between the three of them, there will be a varied cross section of local, international, and classic punk bands. "We're gonna be playing a whole lot of different styles of punk--garage, hardcore, pop, grindcore, etc."

Punk's never needed a community's stamp of approval in order to thrive, but getting increased recognition and exposure in a city busting at the gut with good bands can only help make the scene stronger. And even if some of the bands the Sonic Reducer DJs play aren't your thing, there's a good chance your attention won't be tested too much anyway. "Remember, if you don't like one song we're playing, keep listening 'cause most of the songs we're gonna play are a minute or two long," jokes Foss, "and you might like what we play next."