On the Air
Community radio DJ Slappy Pinchbottom opens up about his 'Odd Preoccupation'with KOOP
Slappy Pinchbottom's Odd Preoccupation airs Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. on the local airwaves at 91.7 FM. Described by its amiable host as an "excruciatingly pleasurable" collection of spoken word performances of all kinds, including but not limited to: hip hop, audio documentary, radio theater, poetry, comedy, storytelling and surreal verbal experimentation, Preoccupation fulfills a radio niche you won't find elsewhere on this station, or any other in Austin.
"I chose to focus on what I call 'the performative spoken word,' which allows me to focus on a lot of different things that Austin does best," explains Pinchbottom, who is known less formally to friends and family as David Moses Fruchter. "It's a broad enough net to include a lot of genres and specific enough to focus my energies. It also allows me to interview great people on the show because Austin has so many vibrant scenes in each of these areas."
Fruchter's rise to a key time slot at the largely volunteer-run KOOP began with a love for the medium and a desire to share his passion for collecting obscure and interesting ephemerata. "Radio attracts a lot of introverts who want to show off but not in front of people. We are curators of a specific variety — haunting record stores or chat rooms for in-depth research on our favorite topics. It’s an electromagnetic intersection and meeting place for a lot of different groups."
After moving to Austin and dipping his feet into the pool of radio broadcasting with the newly launched KOOP, Fruchter finally decided to take the plunge with his own hour-long show when his daughter was born. He recalls, "I had messed around with college radio, and during that time I realized I’d had a dream about doing radio for a long time. When I became a dad, I decided I wanted to be someone who went after his dreams instead of sitting and wishing I had."
We are curators of a specific variety — haunting record stores or chat rooms for in-depth research on our favorite topics. It’s an electromagnetic intersection and meeting place for a lot of different groups.
What might surprise most people is how entirely accessible it is to land one of these spots on the KOOP schedule. Twice a year, Fruchter explains, the volunteer review board accepts applications for new shows to replace departing shows, fill in gaps and revitalize the schedule. Since all of the DJs are also volunteers at the station, the most important qualifications for a new DJ are steady availability, a commitment to the show's concept and a willingness to help out around the studio.
The station offers orientation two times a year and free training for anyone who wants to sign up for it. Volunteers will train you on their studio equipment, provide relevant FCC training and what you need to know to apply to get your own show on the station. It really is that straight-forward and available.
DJing at KOOP is not a paid gig. ("Since you have to volunteer a few hours each month, I suppose it's the opposite of getting paid!" laughs Fruchter.) But the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream, like Fruchter, or share your passion for music, is more than enough to maintain a stable of around 70 DJs at the happy, humble community station.
KOOP's DJs appear on the air during the daytime, between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. most days, with a few exceptions. The rest of the time, the 91.7 FM frequency is shared with KVRX, The University of Texas' student radio station. This arrangement was the final verdict after some heated discussions with the FCC back in the day; but today, the two stations happily co-exist. Between KOOP's range in programming and KVRX's experimental approaches, the frequency is undoubtedly Austin's most diverse lineup on any given day.
Still, Fruchter points out that diversity implies several different definitions when it comes to programming. "There is still a great need for more representation in the Latino and African-American populations in Austin on community radio like KOOP," he says. "Part of it is because Spanish-speaking radio is already quite prominent on the Austin radio dial, and there are other community radio stations in town like KAZI that are reaching these community members who are interested in doing radio. Whatever the reasons, we'd like to hear more diverse voices in the studio."
When asked about feedback from his viewers, Fruchter relays that he gets about three to five emails or phone calls a week but is otherwise in the dark about his ratings. "I have literally no idea how many people are listening to me each week. I’ve heard the range is anywhere between 500 to 5,000 people listening to our station at any given time, but we don’t buy those kinds of statistics at the station."
Clearly, the role of a community radio station DJ is not about the fame and the glory, but about sharing a love for music, art, sports, politics or food with a community that appreciates the old-fashioned quality of the radio. "These are the people who would be out there buying records or collecting books anyway," muses Fruchter. "Now they get to share it with other members of their community that they wouldn't hear from otherwise."
Slappy Pinchbottom was a character my friend Hank Cathey and I came up with in our days of plastering old-fashioned anti-authoritarian broadsheets around town.
As for the silly title of his show, Fruchter explains the origins of his alter ego: "Slappy Pinchbottom was a character my friend Hank Cathey and I came up with in our days of plastering old-fashioned anti-authoritarian broadsheets around town. We wanted a ridiculous, old-timey name to sign at the bottom, and it just became the perfect name for my show. I’m still kind of anti-authoritarian and satirical on my show, but nowhere near where I was back in my big pirate radio days. Let’s just say, I’m not as much not The Man as I used to be."
More an advocate than a revolutionary these days, Fruchter has learned to use his Odd Preoccupation to help draw together a rather effusive creative population by highlighting the efforts of the new and noteworthy. With a focus on in-studio interviews and promotions of eternally upcoming events, Mr. Pinchbottom, through Fruchter's eyes and voice, has documented the changing face of the Austin arts scene as it has transformed over the years.
While a whiz with the state-of-the-art equipment in his studio, Fruchter has a soft spot for the simplicity of an old-fashioned radio. "The technological divide doesn’t really exist with radio. You need two dials: on/off and the frequency dial. Anyone can effectively listen to it," he explains. "Sure, it's anachronistic and outdated, but so many of the art forms that I love — that Austin loves — are that way."
Slappy Pinchbottom's Odd Preoccupation airs Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. on KOOP 91.7.
Funding for KOOP comes primarily from donors. Consider making a donation to the station this holiday season to keep community radio alive in Austin.