When a thousand people turned out at the Skowhegan Fair last weekend to watch Sinfist, Loki, Salvo, and Colon Blow battle it out for $1000 and a fair bit of bragging rights (Sinfist won), it was a sweet night to savor for Chris Rush. Though he'd hosted the battle finals there since 2003 — an event that helped launch central Maine metal heroes Dead Season — it looked like it was dead in the water just two years ago.
See, Blueberry Communications in 2008 bought WTOS, where Rush had for 15 years been "the Rushman," proponent of all things heavy and local. Then they showed Rush the door.
That meant a hiatus for the battle. "Basically, it took me a while to get over the whole shock of it," Rush said, speaking from the studio of his brand-new Maine's Xtreme Radio, an Internet radio station (find it at mainesxtremeradio.com) based in Winthrop, while on the air. "Things were going great one day, and the next day the axe was swinging."
After some time in the wilderness, Rush had his formula working again at 93.5 FM, where he introduced a heavy rock/metal format for the new "Edge," pulling fans from his old employers by giving the masses what they wanted: a healthy dose of Pantera, Tool, Warrant, Mötley Crüe, basically anything you could throw the devil horns up to.
"People were going nuts over it," Rush said. But that sort of blew up in his face when some personnel decisions went bad.
So, once you've run out of broadcast stations in Maine, how do you give the people the metal they so desperately want? Yep. The Internet. Scott Cayouette came to him with a plan, and Rush jumped on it.
"That was two pretty good gigs where the rug pulled out from underneath me," Rush reasoned, "so at the point, I just said, 'Screw it.' I like the fact that the Internet wasn't regulated, and we could pretty much do what we wanted to. I wanted to blend a little of the Edge and 'TOS and make it a great classic heavy-rock-and-beyond station. We're still fine-tuning it. We're still experimenting with it. But people seem to be really liking it."
Plus, he noted, "We're playing local bands in the middle of the national bands. We just have them in rotation, where some stations just play the local stuff in a certain hour of a certain day. We're really trying to support the scene and not just the metal. We play a lot of hard rock, as opposed to just all metal."
That whole "unregulated" thing hits home when he excuses himself from the interview to plug one of his sponsors: an exotic dancer service. "They put the 'ass' in Carrabassett!" It's not too much of a cognitive leap to think fans of "Cherry Pie" (RIP Jani Lane) might be exactly the right audience for that advertiser.
But in a world where Disturbed frontman David Draiman just went on indefinite hiatus partly because of "you know, the demise of hard rock and heavy metal right now," is there really a large enough audience to sustain a nascent Internet radio station? Rush says there are anywhere from 50 to 400 people listening at any one time, more when they're being picked up by cyberstationusa.com, a larger international gathering place, every Wednesday from 4 to 6 pm.