Longtime media blogger Mike McGuff’s documentary about the rise, dominance, and demise of Houston’s hardest rocking radio station — KLOL-FM — finally has a release date.
Runaway Radio will be available to rent or purchase on most video streaming services including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and cable/satellite services starting Tuesday, February 27. There will also be a special screening at 6:30 pm and 9 pm Saturday, March 2 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Katy, followed by a Q&A with McGuff hosted by CultureMap contributor Craig Hlavaty.
I had first written about McGuff’s documentary back in 2019. Nice to see it ready to screen now.
McGuff spoke to dearly departed icons like ZZ Top's Dusty Hill.Photo courtesy of Mike McGuff
The KLOL Era
KLOL dominated the hard rock format in Houston during the 1980s and early 1990s. It was one of the highest-rated, album-oriented stations in the U.S.
The station’s disc jockeys became celebrities in Houston, led by wild and wooly morning “shock jocks” Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett, who were Hudson and Harrigan on a country station in a previous radio lifetime. Other on-air stars included Outlaw Dave Andrews, Brian “The Boner” Shannon, and the pioneering rock radio empress, Dayna Steele.
Disc jockeys were allowed to pick the songs they played — something absolutely unheard of in today’s ultra-pre-programmed radio lineups.
Risque, raunchy, always rockin'
The station became known for its outlandish and sexy promotions targeted to its mainly male audience inspired by marketing director Doug Harris. I once asked beloved Houston jeweler I.W. Markswhy he devoted so much of the store’s advertising budget to KLOL. He said: “Most of that station’s listeners are young men. Young men buy engagement rings. I sell engagement rings.”
Part of KLOL’s success was based on the station’s personal relationship with music stars like Sammy Hagar, Lyle Lovett, Melissa Etheridge, Carmine Appice, and Dug Pinnick, who regularly appeared live with KLOL’s disc jockeys.
Rock legends like Sammy Hagar were friends of the station. Photo courtesy of Mike McGuff
But, nothing in media lasts forever, and KLOL’s stronghold on Houston radio ratings faded by the late 1990s.In 2004, management swapped its rock playlist in favor of Mega 101 FM, a Latin pop music format.
A Runaway hit for true Houstonians
Here’s a conversation I recently had with the Runaway Radio director Mike McGuff.
CultureMap: What motivated you to do this project?
Mike McGuff: I always wanted to direct a documentary, and as a media blogger, I kept hearing Houston listeners talk about Rock 101 KLOL years after it went off the air. You take the wild disc jockeys, the major rock acts associated with the station — and its proclivity for stunning visuals — and you get a pretty compelling documentary that will excite Houstonians and anyone who grew up on rock radio across the country.
CM: When did you start and finish this documentary?
MM: I started at the end of 2010 and finished in 2022. It would have come out much sooner but the global pandemic delayed that.
CM: Who was your favorite KLOL personality and why?
MM: I liked most of the personalities, but one of my favorites was Dayna Steele. As a music fanatic, I appreciated how she always knew what was happening with the artists KLOL played. How did she know so much? Well, she actually knew many of the artists personally! As a result, Steele's section of the film got one of the biggest responses when we screened it for test audiences and film festivals.
CM: How did you react when KLOL was taken off the air and replaced by a Latin pop music format?
MM: I wasn't surprised, because the station fell on some hard times in the end, but I always thought it could recover. Ultimately, I was upset that it was gone. Just think, if Clear Channel had changed 93.7 The Arrow's format, I would have never made a documentary.
CM: What was the secret ingredient that made KLOL so successful? Why did it ultimately fail? Could a revamped KLOL work today?
MM: KLOL's secret ingredient was the personalities and the station's involvement in the community. Through the course of production, I realized that KLOL was the internet, before the internet. It kept you updated on the latest music and lifestyle trends of someone who was into that music.
Many KLOL staffers interviewed in the film blame the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for the station's ultimate demise. That act let companies own many radio stations in one market. KLOL suffered as a result. When I started the doc, I thought KLOL could come back, but I don't think so these days. The way people consume media has changed so much since then.
CM: What are you listening to on radio these days?
MM: I mostly listen to streaming with SiriusXM mixed in, but as far as Houston radio, I like 95.7 The Spot, KKHH, and Oldies 107.5 HD2 KGLK.
Now, let me tell you about an experience I had with KLOL morning hosts Mark Stevens and Jim Pruitt, both of who have passed away.
Years ago I wrote a book – pretty good for someone who barely has the patience to read one. The editor of the Houston Chronicle — my big boss, by the way — was instrumental is getting my book published. I made a few appearances on local radio stations to push the book.
They went okay, except for the day I went on the Stevens and Pruitt Show. First thing they asked me was, “That editor you work for, he’s a real a-hole, right?” They meant it as a joke because my editor and his wife happened to be buddies with Stevens and his wife.
But...the audience didn’t know that. Now I’m sputtering, “No, he’s a pretty good guy.” And I’m sounding like a butt smoocher.
My spot with the Stevens and Pruitt Show lasted about 10 minutes and centered around if any of my female co-workers were “hot” and similar topics. I couldn’t answer a question like that. The only thing hot that morning was the seat I was sitting on.
I’m not sure we ever got around to mentioning that I had a book out. Fun time.
Runaway Radio will be available to rent or purchase on multiple platforms on Tuesday, February 27. The film will screen at 6:30 pm and 9 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (2707 Commercial Center Blvd., Suite K-100) in Katy. For Alamo Drafthouse screening tickets, visit the event site.