By O’Hara Shipe
While most of Alaska coalesced against life in Marga-veto-ville, one of Anchorage’s only sources of local music on the radio quietly died off to the tune of ‘I’ll Be Fine’ by the Saturday Sleepers. A Sunday night staple on the now-defunct 94.7 KZND The End, the HomeGrown Show existed to exclusively promote Alaskan bands. Although it was only one hour of programming a week, to those who supported it, it was the Holy Grail of Anchorage radio.
As is the case with any legend, the facts surrounding not only the beginning but the unceremonious ending of the HomeGrown Show, are somewhat shrouded in mystery.
“We know that it started sometime in 2008, maybe 2009, or at least somewhere thereabouts,” explains the show’s final host, Andy Ball. “At the time, KZND had a program director named Jon Marte—but everyone just called him ‘Fat Guy’. Anyways, he had come up from the Lower 48 and he just loved local music and the local scene, so he founded the show.”
Over the next four years, the program would change hands like a game of hot potato until it was finally caught by an oven-mitt-wearing, albeit reluctant, Andy Ball.
A former punk rocker with enough street cred to be proudly labeled a ‘has-been,’ Ball was already active in the Alaskan music scene as a Facebook group junkie. Granted, he had commandeered a few groups to steer them into what he believed was a more constructive direction, but the fact was, Ball was ensconced in local music.
“Music was a big part of my formidable years and an outlet for me,” says Ball. “Yeah, I wasn’t in my band anymore because life happened, but as musicians, we have to create. Like you can’t just shut that desire off.”
So, when he was approached by KZND to take over for CJ Brunke, Ball figured he could take up the mantle and maybe do something worthwhile with it. But first, he needed to become a champion of radio—or at least a guy who listened to it occasionally.
“To be honest, I didn’t care about radio—I didn’t listen to it. I was a strictly a CD and iPod kind of guy,” recalls Ball with a smirk. “When KZND approached me they basically said, ‘we have ‘x’ amount of dollars and the job is already in the vein of things you’ve been doing.’ All I had to do was book local bands to play gigs on Sunday nights at Koot’s and we’d live broadcast the shows.”
Everything continued to roll along without a hitch until an unknown spat between Koot’s and KZND’s owners arose one year into Ball’s reign. It could have spelled disaster for the HomeGrown Show, but it had become too popular to completely nix. Instead of a weekly live show, it pivoted to become a weekly specialty show that spun records by Alaskan bands. The benefit of the new format was that rather than featuring only two or three bands a night, the program could easily accommodate songs from over twenty acts.
“Yeah, I’ve been accused of playing the same twenty bands over and over again, but I always tried to be fair and equitable in the music I played,” Ball explains. “For me, it was always about inspiring others to [play music]. When I’d play music by the Part-Time Superheroes, or Divide, or the Hoons, it wasn’t necessarily all about the Hoons getting airtime, it was about some 13-year-old kid listening to the radio and hearing me say that the band was from Anchorage or Wasilla. It was about getting that kid to want to pick up a guitar and play.”
Ball says that when choosing what to play he did his best to encompass as many genres as possible, with one noted stipulation.
“I mean I would play some singer-songwriters, but I would say 95 percent of the time I wanted to at least hear some drums and a guitar,” says Ball with a grin. “I know this is going to sound douchey but I took the job with KZND because I wanted to be in control of things and I felt like the best way I could support the [Alaskan music] scene was to have some control over what got played. People may disagree with how I did it—I never really asked—but I tried to be fair.”
The question of whether or not Ball’s weekly playlists were the perfect mix of different artists has now been replaced by the question of what comes next?
Shortly after Ball signed off for the final time in mid-June, KZND was sold by Alaska Integrated Media for $1.25 million to Robert and Tor Ingstad’s Last Frontier Mediactive, a Fairbanks-based radio company. In theory, keeping the station in the hands of local owners could have meant maintaining the status quo. But as fans of the last iteration of KZND will tell you, what used to be an alt-rock music station has been replaced by indie-pop music.
“It’s like the new owners just decided that everyone should like the same indie shit they play in Portland,” says Ball. “Honestly, no one up here is going to hear a song from a Coachella act [on the radio] and think to themselves, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go spend a ton a money to go to Coachella.’ If they can afford to go there, they probably have Spotify premium and aren’t even listening to the radio. It sucks to lose the music a lot of us loved to mainstream pop.”
In one fell swoop, Anchorage lost not only its access to Alaskan music but also the only station playing rock alternative music.
“What the hell is on right now? Please remove my top fan [badge]. It’s embarrassing now. We miss the good music. We wouldn’t be crybabies if the station wasn’t good before,” lamented one listener on KZND’s newly branded Facebook page earlier this month.
The once-beloved station took another hit two weeks ago as radio personality Kellen Brent--also known as Kellen Degenerate--was fired for undisclosed reasons. Known for his lively on-air presence and passion for Anchorage, Pierce was a mix of disheartened and relieved to move on from the station.
“When new management comes in, there’s always going to be changeover, so that was expected. I just don’t think any of us expected the station to go in an entirely new direction. It honestly felt like they killed my baby and made me puppeteer with its corpse,” says Pierce.
Although Ball was able to jump ship when he discovered the station’s format was no longer going to support local music in the same way it had, Pierce stuck around for six weeks in an effort to hold on to the ghost of KZND.
Neither Brent nor Ball say they harbor ill-will toward the new owners; they just saw what a lot of the Alaskan community saw—the slow death of a once-thriving arts scene. The vetoes that closed the Alaska State Council on the Arts came on the heels of the loss of the HomeGrown Show making the cuts feel that much deeper.
“Losing the HomeGrown Show, in particular, sucks because the only advantage that terrestrial radio will ever have against the internet is providing a live, local connection,” explains an impassioned Brent. “The Internet can provide you a lot of entertainment, but it is in no way connected to your local part of the community and it can’t be a cultural expression of the community. So, it’s really a bummer to see somebody and something that had an extreme passion for the local scene disappear.”