Late-night Kung-Fu movies and their bizarre hosts are something of a low-rent underground TV tradition. For years, stoners, cult film buffs and homebound loners alike have turned to the UHF dial, the refuge of offbeat, independent and non-network programming, for some much-needed martial-arts-oriented entertainment after a night of bonging out or skulking about the house. Such an audience had a good sense of humor and a high tolerance for experimental television. Sadly, these local stations have dwindled in recent times, as major media outlets go from market to market (a.k.a. city to city) gobbling up any independently operated small channels and piping in corporate programming instead. —-
But WKRP (yep, just like the old sit-com) is holding out here in the Tristate. The locally and independently owned station can be found on channel 38 on the old-school TVs and on Insight and Cincinnati Bell cable, and if you’ve got one of those new-fangled converter boxes or digital TVs you can tune that baby up to 25.2 to get the signal. In any case, WKRP is keeping the Kung-Fu tradition alive: the station’s finest two hours might just be a little show called Friday Night Fu (most everyone just calls it “the Fu”), a cheeky, campy parade of goofy guys, segments featuring Nostradamus-like puppets and, of course, old Kung-Fu flicks. Recently they’ve added another excellent feature to their program: live performances from local bands.
Shane Chaney, the Fu’s co-producer and all-around general tech guy, came up with the plan. He liked the idea of combining weird movies with weird rock music. In addition to being a Fu functionary, he’s a fiercely independent local Rock veteran who’s still got his own band (Swear Jar), he’s a genuinely passionate loud music buff, and he’s a big fan of classic European TV shows from the ‘70s that featured top-notch musical performances from pioneering bands that were often ignored by stateside programmers—shows like Musikladen and the Old Grey Whistle Test. When you put it all together, an obvious realization begins to develop: this guy should take advantage of the freewheeling, fun-loving, 420-friendly Fu as a platform for showcasing some of Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati’s most criminally underexposed bands. Of course, it’s a realization Chaney came to as well.
Armed with his inspiration, skills, and frustration with the fact that no local media outlets have bothered to document the music scene around here, Chaney set out to do it right. And WKRP, with its independent format and willingness to let its staff indulge in eccentricity and eclecticism, gave him not only the creative freedom to make strides in remedying the lamentable state of local band-on-video affairs but also the tools with which to get the job done properly. Using the station’s top-notch sound equipment, handheld cams (which Chaney says give musical performances “that frenetic feeling”), and any other resources that happened to be lying around, Chaney and the rest of the producers and crew set out on a fearless quest to master the recording of the ever-unpredictable beast known as the live band. It started as an experiment with a crude acoustic Swear Jar set, and soon, the crew became comfortable enough to record full-volume rock bands. Today, Chaney proudly says they’ve got a mutually beneficial, smooth filming process, and they’ve got it down to a science.
“Bands can do [the Fu] a service by livening things up and adding color to our show,” he says. “Then they walk away with a professionally shot, multi-cam video with complete freedom to use it however they want.”
It all adds up to a pretty sweet deal. The performance adds to the Fu’s Technicolor tomfoolery, providing another attention-diverting segment between karate chops and poorly dubbed dialogue, and a band from southern or central Ohio gets itself on the air and leaves with a free, high-quality copy of their set. Considering the fact that MySpace and YouTube are two of today’s top platforms on which groups promote themselves, a spot on the Fu can be especially helpful for groups that until then had only grainy live footage, if any at all, to post. Chaney hopes this helps to provide an avenue for worthy bands to get past their limited audiences, and while he would love to rope in a national act like the Evens, Lightning Bolt or Shellac to play the Fu, he’s thrilled to be giving on-air time to groups from around here that sorely need it.
“As a musician, I know how frustrating it is when the local press concentrates on only one or two bands,” he says. “If your band is getting a lot of coverage and exposure, you actually have less of a chance of getting on the show.”
Giving priority to the little guys and helping unite the lower Ohio Rock scene in a spontaneous, reciprocal environment: that’s what live band spots on the Fu are all about.
The last two shows of this season will feature longtime local punks Pincushion on May 15 and SS-20 on May 22. Find some past performances by Caterpillar Tracks, Human Reunion, Lab Partners and more in the Fu site's videos section.