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Please Stand By

[whitespace] Please Stand By
Strung Up: Teachers-turned-musicmakers, the members of the Banana Slug String Band crowd themselves into KPIG's tiny Watsonville studio for a rollicking performance on 'Please Stand By.'

A little bit corny, a little bit country and real down home--KPIG's live radio show brings back memories of KFAT's halcyon days

By Kelly Luker

SLEEPY JOHN SANDIDGE speechifies away in the corner with his earphones on. Producer Dave Nielsen is shifting dials and levers on the sound board, and Arden is planted firmly in front of a bank of computers, shuffling email in and out from listeners around the world. Then there's the main course: musicians streaming in and out of the middle of the studio, trying to set up their instruments in front of microphones on a 4-by-4 piece of worn carpet.

The scene unfolding in the KPIG radio station today is an anachronistic stew of state-of-the-art technology steeped in a good old-fashioned hoedown. And that's just the dish Sleepy John was looking for when he whipped up KPIG's live radio show Please Stand By.

Sandidge has been doing radio and producing concerts for at least 20 years around Santa Cruz County. Combining the two is a natural fit for Sandidge. Sunday morning was a perfect time slot, he figures, since most out-of-towner musical acts have their gigs on Saturday night.

Getting folks to shake off the covers and head on down the next morning after playing way into the night isn't that difficult, though. It's not just the exposure the show provides that lures them down, it's the pull of the radio station itself--KPIG. Spawn of beloved KFAT, one of the most original, brilliant and joyfully dysfunctional radio stations of the 1970s, KPIG still keeps the airwaves humming with country, folk, roots music and weirdness.

The turntables spin for the musicians who haven't yet traded in their souls for a Nashville contract and dry-cleaned Levi's. Locals like Larry Hosford and Mary McCaslin share the airwaves with Dar Williams and Guy Clark, and blessedly, one will never, ever be subjected to Garth Brooks or Shania Twain.

From 10am until noon each Sunday, musicians ebb and flow through the Watsonville radio station's tiny studio located upstairs behind the Chinese restaurant on Main Street. The menu usually features singers and songwriters both homegrown and imported. Sometimes, as with today's opening act, the Banana Slug String Band, it's a little of both. Made up from a herd of science teachers, the String Band sings ditties about beavers, bugs and, of course, slugs for the 3-to-11-year-old audience. While a few teachers/band members traveled down from Northern California to be here this morning, the Slugs' "Airy" Larry just drove from Santa Cruz.

The show gets particularly interesting when it's time for the Banana Slugs to slither out of the studio and the next act, Sidesaddle, to trot on in. Negotiating five musicians out and another five in to the vacant little patch in the middle of the room, all within a three-minute commercial break, seems impossible. Shuffling and laughing, they manage to make the switch, and when Arden cues Sleepy John, fiddles and guitars are in place and the feet start stomping.

THE SHOW is a lot like everybody's favorite mutt--sloppy and loose-limbed and impossible not to love. Sandidge owes the program's success to practice. Although Please Stand By started just last June, it had a predecessor, The General Feed and Seed Live Music Show.

Broadcast from 1984 to 1988 from the feed store of its namesake located on the Eastside, the show featured a slew of musicians strumming and humming between the chicken feed and saddle tack. It also allowed for a live audience, something that the cramped confines on Watsonville's Main Street pretty much forbid. But not so much that it keeps a few hardy souls from crouching down in the narrow passageway outside the studio door.

Thanks to the wide world of the Web, however, Sandidge's show has a bigger audience than its feed-store forebearers could have ever imagined. There's a camcorder trained on the acts, which is relayed onto KPIG's top-rated Web site, www.kpig.com.

Freeze frames of the action change every 30 seconds over the Internet, while the music is simulcast on the Web site. Although kpig.com's log-in hits don't quite number in the millions yet during Please Stand By, Arden reports that they have grateful listeners tuning in from Big Sur to Japan. And unlike a regular concert that's pretty much a one-way street, Please Stand By gets ongoing feedback emailed to its staff during the show. Arden stays busy sending messages right back.

Producer Nielsen hands over the earphones to demonstrate how the show sounds coming over the airwaves and, presumably, the Net. Given the small, cramped room cluttered with a couple of decades of memorabilia, the transmission is surprisingly good.

"We have good microphones," Nielsen explains. "But it's really challenging because it's a real bad room [for acoustics]."

Performers also get another little incentive for showing up--Nielsen is able to burn a CD of the musicians' performance and hand it to them before they leave.

Please Stand By
Back in the Saddle: Sidesaddle sidewinds onto KPIG's 'Please Stand By,' which returns Sunday after a brief hiatus.

THE SUNDAY morning show manages to keep another connection with the General Feed and Seed days, since the feed store sponsors the first hour of the show. GF&S's manager Bill Van Dusen shows up with a pitch for doggie treats on sale or, in today's case, little piggies ready for market. Those who hanker for the golden days of the GF&S show can catch reruns on Friday night at 5:30pm on Channel 71.

After Sidesaddle gallops off into the sunset--or late sunrise--it's time for a couple of old favorites who have been riding the airwaves since the KFAT days--Norton Buffalo and Roy Rogers. Both appeared at Kuumbwa Jazz Center the evening before, looking none the worse for wear. Clad in a big shirt appliquéed with--what else--buffaloes, Norton ambles into the tiny space with a big tool kit. It's filled with variations of the one instrument he is immediately identified with, the harmonica.

The Buf can make those mouth harps whine like a lonesome train whistle or chug-a chug-a like a full steam engine. But mostly they play backup to his unusual voice, which sings about cowboys, sad women, 18-wheelers and his beloved home, Sonoma County's Valley of the Moon.

Asked why he came to play today, Norton has a simple answer--"'Cuz (Sleepy) John asked me to come by."

It's the harmonica man's second appearance on Please Stand By, and he admits he does these radio gigs around the country. "There's not a lot of KPIGs out there," Buffalo notes of the station's unusual niche. "But I love radio--it's what keeps us alive."

Especially radio stations like KPIG that are a magnet for performers who live off the beaten track. However, Sandidge is considering bringing in guests whose music--classical, for example--would normally not be found on KPIG's wavelength.

"There's a strong interest from all kinds of artists," Sandidge says.

Part of it is KPIG's reputation, part of it is international exposure on the Internet. A big part of it might be the atmosphere that Sleepy John and his crew create. Asked what makes the show work, Sandidge modestly replies, "It's me!"

He adds, "We've been doing this so many years that we know how the mood is in the room and how to work it."

With talent like Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo providing the background music, the mood doesn't need a whole lot of help.

Please Stand By returns on Sunday at 10am on KPIG 107.5FM with Tony Trischka, Chris Cain, Dizzy Burnett and Bill and Bonnie Hern.

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From the January 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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