KUPD's John Holmberg on Red, White, and UFest and 9-11
John Holmberg has been at the helm of Holmberg's Morning Sickness on KUPD for 10 years. The weight of the fact does not escape him.
"Wow," Holmberg says over the phone, his trademark voice in full effect.
"[That] makes me feel old. Makes me feel useless. This is not the way this [was] supposed to go," he jokes.
"It flew by. You start hearing stuff, mainly, like, we were at a restaurant a while ago, and the waiter came up, and he couldn't have been more than 20, and he recognized us. Brady [Bogen] and I were sitting there eating, and he said, 'Oh, my God, I've listened to you guys every morning since I was in sixth grade.'
You're like, 'This kid is old enough to drink. I could go drinking with this kid.' I don't feel much older, but it's been little moments like that when you realize 10 years is a long time -- we've been fortunate enough to have that. I can't say I've worked a day in the last 10 years, so it can't be all bad."
Holmberg is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his show with the Red, White, and UFest concert, featuring Anthrax, Five Finger Death Punch, Danko Jones, My Darkest Day, and more, on Saturday, September 10, at Firebird International Raceway. But the concert doesn't just mark Holmberg's milestone. The show also honors the heroes of 9/11, and pays tribute to "Holmberg's Heroes." Complimentary tickets were given to military personnel, firefighters, and police officers.
"We're doing this show because our anniversary falls around the same time [as the 10th anniversary of 9/11]," Holmberg says. "But it kind of dovetails nicely, into [remembering a] situation were we all realized what heroes were. I want to put a silver lining on [the events] rather than focus on how awful it was. Kind of look back and say, 'This is the day I really truly learned what heroism is.'"
Holmberg took a few minutes to speak with Up on the Sun about being on the air the morning of the 9/11 attacks, the Clear Channel "no play" list following the attacks, and the importance of not cashing in on tragic events to sell concert tickets.
Up on the Sun: You have a history with Valley radio. You did some other shows before coming to KUPD, right?
John Holmberg: I was at the Zone (KZON). I started there as a scrub, goofing off, doing tapes for public affairs, running things. I produced the morning show. [Then the] morning show guy decided he didn't want to do it anymore. Didn't want to get up. So they put me in during the interim, and things went really well. So I did that morning show for little awhile, and they had an ownership switch out when all that craziness in the late '90s happened with radio, and every owner moved and switched, and they switched formats, and then when they switched back, they asked me to come back and do afternoons.
I told them [I wouldn't] unless they doubled my money. And they did it, so I was like, 'Sweet!' So I ended up taking the job for money, which I never recommend anyone doing. It ended up being -- well, it ended up being a good decision because it lead me here -- but at the time...They were overpaying me, which is rare for me to say. It was a bad decision that ended up leading to the best possible situation.
So KUPD is the place for you.
It's a great group of people more than anything else. I love it here.
Does KUPD represent your musical taste?
It's probably the top choice I have. I like the rock. I like it to be more on the harder side of rock. I run the gamut. I have a weird sponge-brain for knowledge and strangeness. So, sometimes I get caught up in [weird things.] I also have an odd sensation of loving things I can't stand. So Katy Perry, Ke$ha, [they] stick in my head, I hate them both with a passion, but I know all their songs. I hear them once. They are just such bubblegum garbage to me, but there it is and I'm stuck with it. A hypnotic power.
Obviously, you run a pretty funny show --
That was sort of complimentary [laughs]. Thank you. You run an average magazine.
[Laughs.] No, I mean you guys have a lot of fun on the air. But what I was working toward is that you guys are doing something heavy, the Red, White, and Ufest thing, which is tied into 9/11. You were fairly fresh to KUPD when the attacks happened, right?
Two weeks. It was really strange. It was a really strange time, going through the transition of figuring out how to replace someone who had been here for 20 years, and start new without doing anything old, and then have that happen on top of it. It was really, as far as my job goes, not to say it was a good event, but it made everyone relax and say, 'There's so much more important in the world than to worry about how my job is going...' It opened our eyes to to say, 'The world is a different place, after that, and we're not going to change it by any means. Let's provide people with what we do. And in the meantime, if we entertain ourselves someone else might enjoy it, too.'
Even thinking back on it, it kind of washes over me. Such an odd sensation of 'well, everything is different.' What I thought at the time [was] there goes our personal freedoms, so much of what we know. In hindsight, the way everybody felt at the time was, 'Who knows now? So let's just live day to day and do what we can.'
[This show is a tribute to the heroes of that day.] I learned what true heroism was that day. We all did, watching on TV, those people running toward the building. The obvious reaction is 'Get the hell out of there,' and so many of these people were running at it. You really recognized that. By choice, they don't want to be there. But they had to. You didn't see anybody cowering away. It's an unbelievable statement on what those guys do day-to-day. It really personified in the most horrible way what these guys could face at any second. And I don't know anybody who has a job that that threat is prevalent each day. That's an awesome responsibility. And when the military got involved, immediately after, you're thinking, these guys do the same thing. They run to the problem. That's truly what a hero is.
So we really want to tip our caps and say, 'Let's not sit back and act all maudlin, we all know it was a tragedy, let's use this opportunity to recognize where our heroes are.'