Rediscovering Sacramento's Local Hits
SacTV.com "Video of the Day" review by
Alex Cosper on April 10, 2012
Has Sacramento ever had any local hits? It's hard to remember local songs because so many of them never
got enough airplay to reach a critical mass. My interview with David Watts Barton, former Bee music critic,
earlier this year opened my mind about a few things. He mentioned that there were times when a scene got
going in town but it has never transformed into widespread local support to the point the public demanded radio
stations dominate their playlists with local music. Part of the reason there hasn't been crowds like
Occupy Wall Street picked radio stations demanding most local music is because not many local songs
have been played a lot for a big audience.
"Carry Me Back" by Crayon was a rare exception to the rule you couldn't play local music on top 40 radio
in 1980. It didn't matter where that rule came from since it was finally broken. "Carry Me Back" is one
of the few local songs in Sacramento history that got played around the clock on a station otherwise
dedicated to national hits. Singer Caron Vikre
continues to record music. She was already known locally as an actress who performed
in musicals. Together with Wayne Hueners they recorded as Crayon and were produced by David Houston,
who has established himself as a familiar singer-songwriter at Luna's Cafe.
Not many other local radio hits can be dug up from the 80s except the obvious ones that turned into
national hits such as "You Don't Want Me Anymore" by Steel Breeze and tracks by Timothy B. Schmit, Club Nouveau, Bourgeois Tagg
and Tesla. The economics of local bands making records back then didn't make sense since the only way to
sell a lot of records was to get played on the radio, or be like The Features, who played a lot of shows
and developed a loyal following. But radio wasn't playing local music except on weekend specialty shows.
KZAP released its "Hometown Albums" in which one of them featured the original version of the Steel Breeze
hit. Johnny Pride of The Features turned down a spot on the album because the station had become too
known for corporate rock.
Aside from a few other tracks by Harrison Price, not much local music made it on the radio in a regular
rotation. Price was the leader of two alternative acts in the 1980s: the new wave party band Numonix
and the more industrial Gotham Chorus. As a solo artist his song "Spiritual Zoo" became a familiar dance
track during live braadcasts on KWOD in the late eighties. Price also produced a song I wrote and recorded
with him along with Stephanie Lords called "Waves On The West Coast." It was an experiment to see if
an electronic summer surf song would work and it did. The requests kept it on the air throughout
the summer of 1989.
The question ultimately must be raised: why doesn't radio play more local music? The answer is radio
became nationalized and mostly controlled by corporations across the nation, particularly in Sacramento.
Corporate radio conforms to national standards, although certain stations still allow weekend specialty
shows that play local music. 98 Rock still does "Local Licks," which is now the longest running local music
show in history. The show is devoted completely to rock, whereas the local show on KWOD 106.5 in 1992 that I started
with Morris Knight called The Sound of Sacramento did open
the door to all kinds of other genres. We even played the Crayon song on the first show as a time marker.
When KWOD started playing modern rock in 1991 the station played Cause and Effect a lot. The group were signed to
Zoo Entertainment and had a few local hits in the early 90s. But it was Cake that drew attention from the
music business when the band started showing up on KWOD's playlist more than some of the biggest acts of
the time. After "Rock and Roll Lifestyle" became a huge success on KWOD in 1995, as Program Director, I decided
to start playing several of their tracks off the album. It was KWOD's relentless airplay of "The Distance"
in 1996 that helped the band finally break nationally with a big hit. The station then started playing
local unsigned bands such as Tattooed Love Dogs around the clock.
These days the local scene doesn't have the same local buzz it did in the 90s. During the period when
KWOD was playing one local song every hour it was one of the top rated alternative stations in the nation.
After ownership of KWOD changed from indie to corporate, the playlist tightened, the sound became more
homogenized and ratings well. Ultimately, the station disappeared, even though it put more of a spotlight
on the local scene with hourly features. I think it worked for me at KWOD because I chose songs
carefully that I think could stand up through lots of airplay whereas the later KWOD put more of an
emphasis on the artist than the song. What I learned was that you can create a powerful playlist that
includes local music if the mix is presented creatively and the songs sound like they matter. Read more about Sacramento
Radio History at Playlist Research.
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