REVEREND DAN: TEENAGE RADIO GEEK

September 23rd, 2010 | Interviews

For fourteen years, Reverend Dan Bueler’s “Music for Nimrods” has been bridging the gap between the freeform FM radio shows of the Sixties and Seventies and the anything-goes looseness of college radio. An old anti-drug PSA might be followed by a radio spot for a Fifties sci-fi movie, followed by a skit from a vintage comedy record, followed by an interview with the Mau Maus or your friend’s power pop band, culminating in a half-hour set of uninterrupted music, and yet somehow, he’s still allowed to do it–even if he did get fired from KPFK ten years ago and had to move to the sanctuary of Loyola Marymount’s KXLU. He speaks now, belligerently, to Janet Housden.

How long have you been doing Music for Nimrods?
Fourteen years. I got the first show January of ’96 at KPFK, and I was there during the most problematic years. There was a lot of political infighting going on with the station, people trying to turn it this direction, that direction, and here I’ve got this goofy Rock and Roll show at three in the morning…I realized I’d been on the air for four years because they’d never heard the show. The day they finally heard it was the day they cancelled me. I had five transsexual porn stars on…I found out how far left you could go on KPFK.
So how’d you end up on KXLU?
Stella, who just celebrated 30 years at KXLU, was the one who championed me over there. I’ve been there since 2000.
You’ve described yourself as a “teenage radio geek.” Why did you want to be on the radio so bad
The Real Don Steele. He used to do that dance party show on Saturday afternoons, and he was a maniac. He’d smash things and crash things, he looked cool, he had the New York Dolls on…I just thought, “this is the job for me.” And ever since probably eleven or twelve years old, Dr. Demento was a big influence on me, as soon as Rodney hit in ’75 or ’76 I was listening to all that, just trying to find the music that didn’t suck.
Are you a real Reverend? Can you marry people and stuff?
I can marry people. I am ordained with the Universal Life Church like any other crackpot. I’ve done several renewals, but I’ve not yet done an actual ceremony. Stella wanted to marry an Oster percolator from the ‘60’s that she was in love with, so I did do a ceremony for Stella and the percolator. It was a very, very touching ceremony.
Who’s this Ronald X. Sensor guy?
I don’t know Ronald X. Sensor. Here’s the deal: When I had the show on KPFK, I used to let everybody get on the air. One day, this Nixon-voiced person came on and said (does Nixon impression), “Dan, this is Ronald X. Sensor from the Federal Communications Commission. You played a song with the lyric ‘I’ve got a Wiggle Stick Mama.’ This is not going to look good in my report.” And ever since then, if I played an offensive song, with a dirty word or something, he would call in. I’ve made him a
part of the show but I’ve still never met the fellow. We’ve never talked outside the show, he’s always in character. He has many characters – he’s got Hadji the 7-11 owner, he’s got the Vampire Gardener…sometimes it’s rambling, sometimes it goes nowhere, but it’s still fun for me.
Do you think Rock and Roll has lost something now that it’s no longer the music of choice for juvenile delinquents?
I don’t think Rock and Roll is the music of degenerates. Bad pop music is the music of degenerates.
But don’t you think it’s kind of sad that modern delinquents don’t listen to Rock and Roll?
They never liked Rock and Roll.
Oh, come on! All those movies I used to see on late-night TV were lies? You know, the Cool and the Crazy, High School Confidential, Blackboard Jungle? Rock and Roll was hoodlum music! I thought that’s why people were so up in arms about it when it first got popular…
No, I think that was just racism. “Ugh, it’s that jungle music, it’s infecting our kids.”
That’s what my dad called it. I could never tell if he was joking…but even when we were teenagers, being really into Rock and Roll, people thought you were a freak.
When my younger sister started dating her now-husband, I would come back from my job at Tower Records wearing my boots and my punk shirts, and I would scare him. I did have that effect at one time.
We all did, and I kind of miss it in a way. I mean, I don’t miss being harassed by the police, I don’t miss having people try to beat me up on the street, no one’s throwing bottles out of cars…
“Hey Devo!”
Yeah, this was a daily occurrence. “Devo fag!” I don’t really miss that, but it’s kind of like something’s missing. Rock and Roll is totally the music for the good kids now. You see little kids with their rock shirts and they’re going to their lessons at the Silverlake Conservatory with their moms…
Yeah, there shouldn’t be Ramones onesies, should there?
I’ve actually seen entire families decked out in Ramones-wear.
But do they listen? I think they just shop at Hot Topic…’cuz I think we’d be hearing the Ramones a lot more often…
Well, that’s another question I had…the first time I heard “Blitzkrieg Bop”, my life was completely changed in two minutes, it was a really heavy moment, and yesterday I was in Von’s and they were playing “Blitzkrieg Bop” in the store. I ran into a friend of mine and we were like “does this mean we won? Or does this mean we’re so old and irrelevant that the music we liked as kids is now Muzak?” It’s gone from people literally wanting to kill you for liking this band, to background music for grocery shopping.
But you still don’t hear it on the radio…
You hear it in commercials.
You get great music on commercials, you get great music in supermarkets these days…across the way there’s a Superior Food Warehouse, and the music in there is never less than interesting. It’s shocking how hip it is in there.
What do you think that means? That Rock and Roll is totally safe now?
If it was it would be in more places. We find it in little niches. It hasn’t been mainstreamed yet, it’s just that the people who like it and are able to put in places are doing so. But usually when I hear music in public places it’s the worst music I’ve ever heard in my life.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid public places. Some of that so-called R&B stuff sounds like a bad day at the vivisection lab.
What kills me is that someone is getting paid to program that music and it’s not me. This guy is getting paid to select crap, just like every radio programmer in Los Angeles – they get good money to play what the record companies tell them to play. There’s no other reason for what they play.
Your show’s on in the middle of the night. You must get some random people calling in. What’s the weirdest call you ever got?
On KXLU the calls aren’t that weird.
You’d think there would at least be some random tweakers. You’ve never had a Play Misty For Me type of stalker?
I had a guy who wanted to find out everything about me, which was kind of creepy. He called himself Wormwood, and he’d want to get into these long discussions about the songs I’d play. He found my unlisted number, so I changed the number the next day.
You did have a Play Misty For Me kind of stalker! That’s awesome! He wanted to talk about the songs?
Yeah, “what does this mean? Why are you playing this?” ‘Cuz it’s got a good beat! Shut up! I don’t like to explain songs much when I’m on the air, normally I don’t even want to say what year a song was made, because I think all songs are viable. I’ll play an unknown band, someone famous, it doesn’t matter. The songs work, and that’s all I really care about.
That’s kind of unusual. It seems some of the kids on KXLU just try to top each other with the most obscure or unlistenable thing they can come up with.
Some of the noise fans on KXLU at very dedicated. And I don’t know why they’re on during the day, but…
Sometimes I just don’t tune in because I get really tired of just clicking and beeping and thumping sounds. I wonder if they really like the way it sounds, or what?
Well, kids who are in college right now, they’ve spent the last ten years listening to the worst music of all time. So the fact that they’ve been able to find anything is kind of impressive.
Some people can’t wrap their heads around why anyone would put so much time and effort into something that’s not going to make them rich or famous, and here you stay up all night playing obscure records for God knows who…explain to these people why you do it.
Stella and I had this talk…some people have jobs, some people are drawn to a vocation, and we are drawn to being radio people. We’ve always been the kind of people that want to go to radio transmitters just to feel the electromagnetic vibrations in the air. We were the people who actually spent time listening – “who’s a good DJ? Who’s picking good songs?” It’s what we do. We have to do it. That’s why we do it for so many years for no pay, because it just brings us joy. The cover of Donald Fagen’s album Nightfly captures radio for me. It’s a very romantic image of radio – just a guy, alone at night, with the turntable and the microphone…just a guy in a room playing great songs for people. That’s all it should be. It’s just a very pure thing. And when I heard people like Rodney just playing music…and you know Rodney has no radio skills whatsoever, but he does have absolute love for the music.
Yeah, and you can hear it. And that’s what’s different with you guys. It seems like a lot of people I hear on commercial radio, they’re there for their “Radio Careers,” not because they love music.
They don’t care what they play. It just saddens me. They’d better be well paid, because if I had to play the crap they play I would be in psychotherapy. I don’t even think they listen to what they’re playing. I’m very envious of people on commercial radio stations, because they get to eat, but…
If someone offered you a drivetime slot, and enough money to live on, but you had to play what they told you to, what would you do? Do you love the radio enough to do that?
No. I wouldn’t be able to do it for any real length of time. But if radio is willing to hire people with asshole opinions like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and all these people, why not hire someone for their musical opinion as well?