Richmond's radio revolutionary is celebrating five years of unfettered music and uncensored AM opinions.
That's right, folks. Local DJ Chris Bopst, animated host of the always unpredictable "Bopst Show," is celebrating his five-year anniversary with a musical get-together at Millie's Diner featuring two bands the upbeat, old-timey Two Man Gentlemen Band from Brooklyn, N.Y., and '70s-styled reggae band Session Rockers, from Hampton.
Bopst, a musician, promoter, artist and culture writer, has been spinning every kind of music you can imagine, from The Clash and Nina Simone to Slayer, Public Enemy and Bollywood musicals, since his show dropped in 2002. After two years at WVNZ (1320 AM), he switched over to the African-American-owned and -operated WCLM (1450 AM), where his show expanded to weekdays.
"He's probably the best in the city, just his knowledge of music," says station owner Preston Brown, who recently acquired WHAP 1340 in Hopewell. "It's on the Internet, so he gets over 50,000 hits, from London, Germany, Korea, all over. You gotta be good to be on a soul station in prime time."
Reared in the D.C. punk scene, Bopst, 40, offers a throwback to the classic personality-driven radio show. A political progressive never afraid to speak his mind, he rails with a subversive sense of humor against social injustice, from racism and homophobia to religious fanaticism. A serious proponent of free speech, he has also featured interesting guests on his show, including comedian/actor David Cross, political journalist James Ridgeway, cartoonist David Rees ("Get Your War On") and Tim Kaine, who revealed his musical tastes when he listed Bob Dylan and The Replacements ("Let It Be") as two of his favorites.
A recurring guest on the show is R2-D2, with whom Bopst has conversations that neither the FCC nor George Lucas would approve of.
"People call in and get the fax machine, and it sounds like R2-D2," Bopst says. "So I started picking up, asking R2 if he might like a Rusty Trombone or a Gorilla Mask. Do you know what a Gorilla Mask is?" You probably don't want to.
Style talked with Bopst about other memorable moments from the show.
Style: Let's get straight to some personal highlights.
Bopst: At the old station, when I played [Gil Scott Heron's] "Whitey on the Moon," I went to the bathroom, came back and this guy had called in [imitating a quavering, upset voice]: "Why are you playing this song? I didn't do anything to black people!" I told him the song wasn't about him. Or when David Cross was promoting his album, "Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!" and I asked him how he would say it on the air. He said, "When a man puts a penis in a vagina." The next day the engineers were all freaked out. They were like, "You can't say 'penis'!" A lot of people called in. They were sooo freaked out by "penis." Another personal favorite was this older guy who called WCLM to request some gospel and he said, "I got a confession to make. I hate your radio show. Yeah, I don't like it that much, but then I find myself listening to it every day." [Laughs] A woman once called and said, "That was the best sex I ever had, we did it all the way through your show." Most people call because they want to know what song I just played.
Do people ever think you're just trying to provoke a reaction by playing such disparate music?
Yeah, it's sorta like vandalism to me. There is a certain juvenile aspect. ... but so much of that music is never going to be heard. There are already plenty of stations for music that sucks. ... I like WCLM because it's so much outside of my world. They have a mostly black audience. And they never tell me what to play.
Has radio gotten any better since you started?
It's only gotten worse. The good stuff is still relegated to the fringes. The airwaves are all bought up. The people who care the most about music are the ones least likely to be heard. XM and Sirius have created some diversity, but there is still no show where you can hear everything. It's all still specific markets. There's no intermingling in Richmond between black and white, or Hispanic music. When I was growing up, black and white music was synonymous to me -- you know, Aerosmith followed by Stevie Wonder. You don't hear that anymore. I don't want to milk a vibe, or lull people into a mood I want to keep you on your toes and play stuff out of my own comfort zone. I'll keep doing it until I get sick of it, which is how I've lived my whole life. S
The fifth anniversary show at Millie's Diner is June 10 at 7 p.m. with the Two Man Gentlemen Band and Session Rockers. Admission is $10, buffet is $5 more. 643-5512.
The "Bopst Show" airs on WCLM 1450 AM, 1-4 p.m. weekdays.