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Sunday, July 02, 2006

John Gullak

"Why Johnny Ticks" graphite on paper by John Gullak.

For almost a decade, KPFA radio in Berkeley has aired a program called No Other Radio Network. John Gullak, the host of No Other Radio Network broadcasts over the air every Tuesday night at midnight. Experimental electronic and Industrial music from local bay area artists, as well as from all over the world can be heard. The show usually lasts for an hour and a half, and doesn't disappoint listeners' expectations for supplying the audio-unusual. John has had an interesting past. During the punk scene in the late 70s, he played base for the group, The Mutants. In the early 1980s he produced his own publication, Another Room Magazine, which featured artists involved in many underground scenes, as well as pop culture. Throughout the years, John has maintained his artistic focus by experimenting with the human anatomy in very detailed pencil drawings- some of which are featured in the debut issue of Cyanosis Magazine. John plans to continue with No Other Radio, and in the future, he hopes to produce a series of compilation albums of industrial/experimental music via Subterranean Records in San Francisco. John spoke with me at the KPFA studios one evening during the No Other Radio show.


AC- how long have you been doing the NO OTHER RADIO NETWORK program on KPFA?
JG- Well, the show started in 1982. Back then it was every other week and actually was on at a different time as well. I forget when it was- it's been switched around quite a bit. So it was on every other week and it was just called "No Other Radio." Then in 1985 I got weekly slots and that's when I came up with the "Network" idea. The reason I did that was it's a lot of work putting together the shows because there's a lot of music to listen to and trying to get it all compiled with what I'm going to do. Usually it takes close to twelve hours to put it together. Maybe not that much now though. Anyways, I used to put twelve hours into putting a show together. I realized that I just couldn't put that much time into each individual show, plus actually doing it over the air, so I figured I'd call up the network and get other people together to help doing the show. Brian Ladd and Julie Frith were doing Radio Object. They'd send tapes in and I'd play some of their shows. Steve Iverson would do a show like once a month or so to help break it up and give me a rest. I think all of this made the show more diverse. Now Eldon's been helping out a lot, and that's really good.

AC- I spoke with Eldon about a week or two ago and he had mentioned that you had started out working in a factory in Oakland playing tapes over a P.A. system. Would you tell us about that?
JG- Eldon's talking about these events we did called "public hearings." They were put on in conjunction with Another Room Magazine, and we did three of them. Basically it was real simple. We just put loudspeakers on the roof of the warehouse and solicited tapes through the magazine for people to send them in to broadcast out into the public on a certain date to go along with the environmental sounds. The first one that we did was probably in 1980, and we got around eighty tapes. The second one we got close to 200 tapes, and the third one about the same amount came in. The last one was held on Halloween at midnight. Right around that time Charles Armoconian from KPFA had an opening for a show. At that time there was a very popular show in Holland called the Home Tapers Show. I've forgotten the person's name who ran it. Charles thought it might be good to get something like that. He was familiar with the public hearings-

AC- So you were the man for the job.
JG- Yeah, at the time. I already had a network of people who were doing home recordings and it was amazing to get those tapes at that point. To know there were that many people out there doing stuff. They didn't have any way to get their music heard. I mean, the college stations wouldn't play them because they were too wild- too way out for that and everything. So that's where I got the name for the show no other radio, it's because there's no other radio that'll do it.

AC- If you can remember, how many people would show up to the public hearings?
JG- Well, they lasted for half a day and we'd start around six in the morning. The first hearing only drew in maybe a couple dozen people. Next time throughout the day fifty people showed up. The last one on Halloween turned into a party. For that occasion we didn't broadcast off the roof, we put the speakers back in a railroad spur so you had to walk back there at night where these sounds were coming out of nowhere. That was nice.

AC- Did you ever have anyone from a record company show up and check it out- some kind of a scout or anything like that?
JG- Oh no, nothing like that.

AC- Just mostly your friends?
JG- Yeah and mostly the artists that were involved. Other people came by. Curious about what was going on. It was intended for the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, at the second public hearing, the police were called and they came in and told us to shut it down. The classic story behind it was, across the street from where we were doing the sound piece, a metal salvage yard was dropping metal into railroad cars. It was so loud that the police had to come inside to talk to us and tell us to turn down the music. We were disturbing the neighborhood but we couldn't even talk because the people across the street were making so much noise. It was great.

AC- How would you categorize the music featured on No Other Radio?
JG- Well there's a wide variety. The easiest pigeon hole I'd say is experimental. Then again nothing is really that experimental anymore. I mean there's so many people doing so many different things that you run out of things to do. When it first started out with people cutting tapes up and putting them back together- that was real experimental. It's still being done, but you'd call it cut up music, or Musique Concrete. Maybe Difficult music or.... I don't know. In the KPFA folio, No Other Radio is listed as "the underground of the underground."

AC- By playing music submitted to you, do you think the show has helped any of them to gain success or notoriety?
JG- I don't think there is any tape I've played that people have become famous from, or been discovered through the show. However the show has been one of the first places to play a lot of artists. One of the first shows to really concentrate and feature certain artists. When the show started out we played mostly cassettes. It was all cassette music, but a lot of those people that we originally played on cassette are now being played off of CD's. They've followed through with the progression and become successful with their material. I do honestly feel that having their music played on the show did give them encouragement to continue. I think it's an important show in that sense.

AC- What are your future plans for No Other Radio?
JG- Nothing (laughs). The only thing I can think of is we've talked about doing syndication and possibly having Subterranean Records do a series of compilation albums.

AC- Have you released any compilation albums in the past?
JG- No, just the audio Another Room Magazine tapes. A lot of those people I got in touch with because of the radio show. Those are the only releases at this point.

AC- In the future you will be putting some out?
JG- Well, Steve Tupper at Subterranean said that he would like to do that and I've already asked certain artists to put stuff together for that, but it's going to be a while because he has such a backlog of things to do.

AC- What kind of reaction does No Other Radio get from listeners?
JG- It depends. There's a lot of different people so it's hard to get some kind of general response. The type of reaction I like to get from people is, I like to get them hooked. I try to play things that if they're switching channels it'll stop them and make them listen for at least a few minutes. Hopefully even longer because they might think they're in between stations not knowing what's going on. Maybe it'll just make them stop and think about what they actually do listen to, and get the idea that there are other options available. I think that most people who listen to it think it's just horrible.

AC- How do you go about previewing the music you might put into a show?
JG- I listen to tapes, not so much anymore, but I used to listen to tapes all the time. You get so many tapes and you only have so many hours in the day to listen to stuff. I'd listen to it at work doing construction and that would kill two birds with one stone. I would get lots of funny reactions from the people I worked with.

AC- What types of "funny reactions"?
JG- Pretty much anything you can imagine. The funniest thing that happened once was, I was working in a basement listening to a tape, and the owner of the house came down just really freaked out because he could hear the tape from upstairs and he couldn't figure out what it was. He seriously thought that his boiler was acting up.


This interview originally appeared in Antocularis issue #2, January 1993. John continued the interview in a second session with Darin De Stefano at a cafe in Oakland, which was featured in the debut issue of Cyanosis. John has since moved on from hosting No Other Radio Network on KPFA. The show however is still on air every Tuesday at midnight. For more information about No Other Radio on KPFA please visit:
http://kpfa.org/nootherradionetwork/ and http://nootherradio.blogspot.com/


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