We answered every complaint personally to apologize. We learned our lesson." (A new, military-free compilation comes out next month, to be carried by Best Buy, with proceeds going to local AIDS charities.)
That's the politics, but what about the music? "I'm starting to build up a dance music collection," said Bayliss, who's been working in radio since he was a kid. "This particular format tested through the roof in this market when we were looking to buy the station. I had no idea who Paul Oakenfold or Kaskade was when we started. I used to run a country station, and I didn't know Merle Haggard from a hole in the ground either. But we're 100 percent committed to this music and its audience. We have to be our listeners are very dedicated."
Rabid may be a better word. The phone lines were jammed while I was there, and according to programming manager John Peake, the in-boxes are full every morning with e-mails from gaga enthusiasts. Good portions of Energy listeners stream the station online, and employees interact continuously with members of Energy's E-Club virtual community. Even the afternoon DJs were leaping up and down in the booth while I was there, pumping their fists heavenward.
"Often we'll get these enormously long e-mails from people listing every song we played that night, going into intense detail about each one and exactly why it was so important to them," Peake told me. "We get a lot of e-mails at six in the morning."
Looking compact in a lavender oxford, faded jeans, and a kicky Italian snakeskin belt, Peake took me through the music selection process. Each week he and music programmer Trevor Simpson go through new releases, recently submitted remixes, and requests from the station's fans. They form a playlist based on what they think will most appeal to listeners and then program their picks into a hilariously retro MS-DOS program called Selector with, I shit you not, a rainbow-colored interface. "It's tacky, but it's bulletproof," Peake said, laughing. DJs either punch up the tracks automatically or refer to the playlist to make their own mixes using Serato software. Zero vinyl's involved.
Peake and I talked about the criteria for choosing songs. "It's a moving target. There's definitely a ton of music out there that falls within our brand, and our nighttime and weekend DJs get to play a huge variety of mix music from around the world, so there's a lot of latitude. I think our biggest challenge right now is figuring out the role of hip-hop. Our younger listeners demand it, but a lot of our demographic is still afraid of it. If we play something with rapping in it, we get flooded with angry callers screaming, 'How dare you play this! Don't you know it's homophobic?'"
Later I spoke with Energy's promotions director, Tim Kwong, about the backlash against the station. "We get it from both sides," Kwong, a young Bay Area native with impressively gelled hair, said. "Trance and progressive fans say, 'Why don't you play more harder, locally produced records?' Rock and hip-hop fans want us to play fewer remixes of their favorite songs. We try to strike a balance, but the truth is what we do works for our audience."
"I can totally understand the frustration people feel when a certain image is projected that doesn't fit them," he continued, addressing the gay question. "As an Asian American with a punk and indie background, I have a lot of experience with stereotypes, believe me. But we try to be as broad as possible in our appeal and acknowledge differences. And we're not bribing people to listen to us."
To their credit, the folks at Energy also acknowledge that their programming may not be in sync with what's going on in the gay club scene now.