Video didn’t kill the radio star


In an age of streaming services, community radio is often overlooked. However, radio host and videographer Bill DeBlonk has spent nearly 25 years on air at KZFR and recognizes the value local stations have for communities.

Since 1996, DeBlonk has contributed to the community station as a DJ and host of the shows Creol Stomp and Playing Dead. He thought being a full-time DJ would be a great job but didn’t like the restrictions that came with commercial radio. KZFR allowed DeBlonk to share music with the community without having to follow a pre-programmed set.

Creol Stomp airs Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and features jazz, Zydeco and Cajun style music originating from Louisiana. Playing Dead airs Fridays 1-3 p.m. and features live hits from the rock band Grateful Dead. He also hosted the music and talk show Lunchtime Spotlight until the early 2000’s.

In addition to hosting radio shows, DeBlonk is the head creator and producer of the KIXE-TV program Banana Grape Stomp. Since 2014, DeBlonk and a small crew have archived and recorded live footage of music festivals, benefits and other shows in the Northern California region. He has produced 75 episodes and recently documented the 6th annual “For the Funk of It” festival.

“I’ve been recording [shows] my whole life,” DeBlonk said. “Recording concerts on audio, starting to do them on video. As time has gone on, I just got more and more professional at it.”

DeBlonk has produced an extensive archive of concerts and shows from over 200 different bands. Most notably, he produced “This is the Sound,” an official compilation of footage from Bay Area band The Mother Hips in 2004. 

While collecting videos that other people had taken of the band, DeBlonk produced a lot of his own footage from the band’s whole career for a DVD release. 

“I was really lucky that I did it at that time because that was before there was YouTube,” DeBlonk said. “That was before you could watch so much video on the internet. If people wanted to watch a video of The Mother Hips, there wasn’t a place to do it unless they brought a camera themselves.” 

In recent years, radio as a means of entertainment has seen a drop in listenership. Many believe that the industry will cease to exist. Pew Research Center published a study that has shown a loss of nearly 3.4 million listeners as of 2020. However, DeBlonk said that while commercial radio is on the decline, community radio is on the rise.

“KZFR is still thriving. … Even though radio listenership as a whole has been going down for several years now,” DeBlonk said, “listenership for community stations in general has been rising.” 

The appeal of community radio stems from the connections made between listeners and the station. Commercial radio relies heavily on advertisements for revenue that often disrupt the music and talk shows that are featured. Local stations like KZFR have fewer musical restrictions and focus on exposing listeners to diverse programs and hosts from their community.

“It’s like a glorified iPod,” DeBlonk said. “It’s just preprogrammed into a computer and you’re lucky if there is a disk jockey on commercial stations. I think that’s one of the reasons why people gravitate so much toward community radio.”

The next episode of Banana Grape Stomp featuring Chico band GravyBrain is preempted for Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. Funk band Blü Egyptian will also be featured on the show in mid-November.

KZFR plays daily shows at 90.1 FM and on the KZFR website.

Michaela Harris can be reached at [email protected] and @MichaelaRH21 on Twitter.