Feeling Underwhelmed

NWCZ's newest show finds cheerful cynicism in rock radio

By Rev. Adam McKinney on February 11, 2015

The phenomenon of the "morning zoo" radio show is a persistent and inexplicable one in American culture. People like Bubba the Love Sponge and other assorted fake monikers dominate drive time radio with an unending assault of sound effects and self-consciously edgy material, seemingly just because it's hard to keep the attention of a nation of pencil-pushers blearily driving their ways to work. In the past decade, though, podcasts have risen to prominence with their promised delivery of unusually intimate relationships with the hosts and niche subject matter that will connect to a feverish fan base that doesn't listen to any old radio station.

Tacoma's NWCZ Radio has established itself as a middle point between radio and podcasting, with live Internet shows and archived episodes to be downloaded later. In addition, the programs on NWCZ have a formality that more mirrors terrestrial radio, while still exploring the freedom allotted to Internet programming. The newest addition to the station is called Underwhelmed, and it features not only a former on-air radio personality, but a production style that turns up the sound of the traditional morning zoo into something bordering on the psychopathic.

Underwhelmed comes to us from Dick Rossetti (formerly of 107.7 The End and currently the frontman of the Jilly Rizzo) and Isaac Olsen. Olsen should be known to fans of local music and film as the director behind Quiet Shoes, Ich Hunger and the Girl Trouble documentary, Strictly Sacred. The touch of Olsen can be felt in the hyper-kinetic editing of the show, which mirrors the energy shown in his movies. Assaultive radio stings come and go, framing a show that steers violently from tongue-in-cheek commentary to comedy sketches to readings of prison letters and - their favorite invention - a 10-song montage in five minutes.

"The episodes are edited quite rapidly out of accumulated fragments," says Olsen. "Between Dick, myself, the planetoids in each of our orbits, and our combined musical collections, there's an unbelievable amount of material from which to cull from and sequence. Audio sequencing, compared to video, is unbelievably simplistic. In this day and age of relentless ‘content,' the mind boggles at the amount of systemized time-wasting that occurs on the airwaves. In answer to that, we're making little audio sculptures for you to listen to and, we hope ultimately, will continue to listen to."

>>> Isaac Olsen

The audio sculptures Olsen refers to span almost the entire show itself, creating an unrelenting sound collage that simultaneously sends up terrestrial radio and betters it. With cheesy songs intermingling with deep cuts from the likes of the Frogs and the Moldy Peaches, Underwhelmed creates a tapestry of almost simultaneously repellant and fascinating content. In the first episode, Rossetti opens with a self-deprecating aside to his having been let go from The End. From then on, cynicism remains a constant source of sarcastic delight.

"Critical thinking without hope is true cynicism," says Olsen. "Dick and I are both somewhat eloquent and do have things we both like to complain about, but we always do it in the spirit of entertainment. If you're a cynical kind of a person, you have to use the cynicism as your cultural raw material, and I think that's always a positive thing to do. Neither of us drink or use drugs, so we are left to dish our natural angst out in ways like these. ‘-Isms' are all we have. For the rest of you, the show will probably be enhanced through the use of drugs."

In a presumably self-reflexive statement about the sheer number of shitty bands he had been made to interview in his tenure as a rock station DJ, Rossetti culls audio from an earlier interview to stage his own meeting with the Clash, including the very well dead Joe Strummer. That the piece isn't exactly played for jokes underlines the deep-seeded sincerity at the heart of Underwhelmed. Yes, Rossetti may be interviewing Strummer from beyond the grave, but the heart of the interview is about opening up a real, disbanded group of rock icons. Shitting on record collectors for being pretentious may be one of Underwhelmed's gimmicks, but the love of the game will always be inside of Rossetti and Olsen.

UNDERWHELMED, 6-7 p.m., Mondays, nwczradio.com


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