The Zion Curtain Falls Once Again: Brad Collins Returns to KRCL

Raunch Records owner Brad Collins behind the boards at KRCLduring his freshly resurrected show, Behind the Zion Curtain. Photo: Katie Panzer

In the nascent days of punk rock in the late 1970s, a small scene emerged in Salt Lake City. There weren’t very many bands forming, and touring acts didn’t come through town very often, but the small scene united over a common disgust towards modern rock music. “All of us felt like we couldn’t compete with Led Zeppelin and stuff like that. Maybe that’s why it all started, because there was such a discrepancy between the average kid and the rockstar. People were rebelling against this and that, but I think a lot of people were fed up with the music industry as a whole,” says Brad Collins, owner of Raunch Records and host of KRCL’s Behind the Zion Curtain, which returned to the air in late October after a 20-year hiatus. Collins was one of the kids energized by the emergence of punk rock, making frequent trips to Cosmic Aeroplane, an underground book and record store, to get his hands on all the records that he could. “I got into a lot of weird stuff because there weren’t a whole lot of records coming out and I had to find my own way,” he says. Collins accumulated an impressive and varied collection, featuring Elvis Costello, Devo and other Stiff Records bands, major label punks the Buzzcocks and The Clash, and even some new wave and 2-Tone ska.

While Utah’s underground music scene was slowly taking form, Utah’s first community radio station, KRCL, began airing in December of 1979. For the first time, many of the less prominent voices in Utah’s community were given a public platform. Utah’s LGBT population and many ethnic minorities were featured prominently in KRCL’s early programming, and a wide variety of music was showcased on the station—it was the perfect chance for Salt Lake’s punk community to share their voice as well. Several months after the station launched, Collins was approached by KRCL co-founder Stephen Holbrook about starting his own show. “They approached me just because they knew I was buying a bunch of punk and new wave records back then. They thought that because my dad was a radio guy, I might have an interest in it, but that’s the reason that I really didn’t wanna do it at all,” Collins says.  His father, Al “Jazzbo” Collins, was a nationally recognized icon in jazz radio, hosting successful shows in San Francisco and New York, and even serving as a fill-in host for The Tonight Show in 1957. Despite his initial reservations, Collins became a DJ, and Behind the Zion Curtain went on the air in early 1980.

“Once I decided to do it, it was gratifying in a lot of ways. You get a little ego boost, and I like being able to talk to people without them talking back,” says Collins. Having another punk show on the station, New York transplant Susan Brown’s I’m So Bored, also created a sense of friendly competition and drove Behind the Zion Curtain to define its own sound. “Maybe I was being arrogant in thinking that Susan’s show wasn’t good enough at the time, I just thought there was some other stuff that I could play on my show,” Collins says. “But it was good because we had two shows instead of one, and that’s what it was all supposed to be about—we had twice as much airtime to play some underground stuff that wouldn’t have been played.” Brown’s show went off the air in 1983, but Behind the Zion Curtain soldiered on, phasing out the new wave and ska featured on the show in the early days and moving into the hardcore sound that the show became known for.

While the show was on the air, Collins came into contact with a number of national touring acts and helped to set up shows for them in Salt Lake. In 1983, he booked shows for Legal Weapon and Articles of Faith in Salt Lake, and rather than spending his money on records for himself, Collins opened an account with distributor Rough Trade and started selling records from his apartment. In July of 1984, Collins opened up Raunch Records. “The show was definitely a vehicle for the store. If I hadn’t done the radio show, I wouldn’t have started putting on live shows, which created the initial capital for the store,” Collins says. Through the radio show, Collins exposed his audience to new underground music, and Raunch provided a place for that same audience to own the records for themselves.

The show continued as Utah’s underground music scene evolved throughout the ’80s. Touring acts came through town more regularly and local bands became more numerous and more talented. As the scene he helped cultivate grew and began to come into its own, Collins ended Behind the Zion Curtain in 1991. “I just got burned out on it. I was doing a four-hour block, 11-3 a.m. on Saturday nights, and before that I was doing a five-hour block for over a year,” he says. Running Raunch and doing the show became too much, but Collins still valued his time at KRCL and had a hard time giving up the show. “No one at KRCL ever really wants to give up their show. There’s always a reason when somebody leaves. Sometimes it’s because you get tired of it or the music gets stale, but most of us have enough music coming into our lives that we felt like what we do is important there.”

After relocating several times and weathering a changing scene for over a decade, Raunch Records closed in 1997 and Collins became absent in Utah’s punk scene. Other record stores and radio shows carried on the spirit of Raunch and Behind the Zion Curtain, but both became legendary parts of Utah’s underground lore. When Raunch Records reopened in December 2009, a void left in the Salt Lake punk scene was filled, but many old-school punk rockers still longed for the return of Behind The Zion Curtain.

“I got excited when Brad opened Raunch again, and around the time he got his store back is the same time I got my job at the radio station,” says Bad Brad Wheeler, KRCL’s current weekday afternoon DJ. “I went in there and got advice from Brad about being a DJ. I tried to get him to be on the board at KRCL, and I tried to get him to make a pitch at Radiothon, but he never wanted to do anything, so I kinda gave up on him,” Wheeler says. During one of Wheeler’s trips to Raunch earlier this year, Collins told him that he wanted to go back on the air. “I didn’t believe him at first because I’d begged him so much to do it, but he told me he was serious,” Wheeler says. KRCL interim program director and midday host Ebay Jamil Hamilton took over from there. “I’ve been around KRCL for a very long time now, and any time I speak with someone a little bit older than me who’s been listening for a long time, he’s probably the name that comes up the most often. He’s a legend here at KRCL, so keeping him attached to KRCL just makes sense,” Hamilton says. Hamilton modified KRCL’s schedule to make sure Collins’ show would find a proper timeslot, and on Thursday, October 27 at 1 a.m., Behind The Zion Curtain returned, immediately following longstanding metal show Maximum Distortion.

The station and the scene have changed a lot since Collins originally began the show in 1980, but he’s approaching it with the same kind of enthusiasm that he had over 30 years ago. His playlists have featured well-established (but still underground) acts such as Amebix, bands touring through Salt Lake (he pushed Resistant Culture hard before their November 16 stop in town) and a surprisingly large number of local artists. “We’re trying to play as much of the good local stuff as we can—actually, it doesn’t even matter if they’re good or not, I just like the idea of the effort. Sometimes encouraging the effort will make it into something greater than the sum of its parts, you never know,” he says. “In a way, it’s all kind of a mentorship program. The radio station is a mentor to all of the DJs and we’re acting as mentors to the kids we’re playing and supporting on the air. Not a lot of people are playing local talent—the station could be full of local music if they let it.”

Collins also approaches his show in a much more old-school manner than most of his fellow DJs. “I take a box of records in, and most people don’t do that. A lot of people just take in burned CDs or they’ll take their laptop—there’s no spontaneity. I seem to be working really hard compared to those guys,” he says. However, in 2000 Collins sold most of his personal record collection, vastly limiting his music selection for the show. “I don’t have the collection that I had before, so that’s been a lot different. What’s here in the store is my collection, but that really just belongs to the store. I’ve been trying to play stuff that I personally physically own, but if I stick to that then the show would end after three months because I’ll run out of stuff to play.” If the playlists from Collins’ first few shows back are any indication, though, he has enough good local stuff, old stuff and new stuff to keep us all entertained for a while.

Behind the Zion Curtain airs from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. every Thursday on KRCL 90.9 FM.

Raunch Records owner Brad Collins behind the boards at KRCLduring his freshly resurrected show, Behind the Zion Curtain. Photo: Katie Panzer Photo: Katie Panzer