Radio host helps Las Vegas bands gain exposure

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

You could call it radio Darwinism.

Laurie Steele explains.

“There are two thoughts of how to do a local music show,” notes the host of KOMP-FM, 92.3’s “Homegrown Show,” now in its second decade. “One way is to give everybody an opportunity and not keep anybody off. The other school of thought, which I subscribe to, is that it means something to achieve that, and you have to work hard enough to get to that spot in the mix.

“With the first way, maybe you might have more bands and band girlfriends and band moms listening,” she continues, “but I think you’re going to reach a broader audience with the second philosophy. In the long run, the bands who aren’t good enough to make the cut either get better or get left behind. It’s survival of the fittest, and the way it needs to be.”

For the past 20 years, Steele’s brand of musical natural selection has thickened skins and nudged the local scene toward a steady evolution.

Since debuting on Jan. 4, 1998, “Homegrown,” which airs from 10 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, has provided unsigned Vegas bands with a powerful platform to be heard — if said bands meet her admittedly high standards.

“I try really hard to be fair to the artists,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Look, this is what you need to do to be on the show.’ And if you can meet that criteria, then you’ll be featured on the show. There are bands who have to submit two, three times to get on the air because the production wasn’t there, the vocals just weren’t right. I think bands can understand, ‘Hey, there are certain parameters and if we meet that, we’re going to be given a fair shot.’ ”

The Killers got that shot back in the day, getting some of their first exposure on “Homegrown,” as have hundreds, if not thousands, of bands since.

The RJ recently caught up with Steele to get the story on the show that has soundtracked the Vegas scene since the Clinton administration.

Review-Journal: It’s always been hard for local bands to get on the mainstream airwaves. Was “Homegrown” a tough sell at first?

Steele: When I went and pitched the idea to Mike Culotta, who was the program director at KOMP at the time, he made me come back and pitch the idea three different times before he OK’d it. He finally told me years later, “You know why I gave you the green light on the show? Every reason I had for you not to do it, you answered. I couldn’t come up with any other reasons for you not to do it.” I guess it was more of a tough sell than I realized. It took a little persistence.

Where did the concept for the show come from originally?

I got to Vegas in October ’96, and I guess there were a few incarnations that they called “Homegrown” prior to my getting into town, but the format was completely different. The way it was set up was completely different, and the DJs who were doing it said that they got tired of it because they didn’t like having to deal with the band egos and the fighting back and forth between bands about who was on the air and who wasn’t. So they stopped doing it awhile before I came to town.

A lot of cities don’t have this kind of outlet to showcase local artists unless its 30 minutes at 1 a.m. or something.

I’m still excited about finding new bands and new songs that I like and want to turn other people on to. That’s what I get out of it. I know that bands have gotten new fans specifically because they heard that band on my show. That’s cool.

The idea of Vegas as a city capable of producing successful bands has certainly evolved since you’ve been here.

I think that goes back to availability of the internet and the ability to put your music in front of listeners on the other side of the world that simply wasn’t available in the ’90s. The internet was starting to get more popular toward the tail end of the ’90s, but certainly not to the degree it is now, where you can go down to Beauty Bar or House of Blues, film a live performance of your band, upload it onto YouTube and have thousands of views all over the world. That didn’t exist back then. That certainly has broadened the appeal of bands to a larger market outside of Las Vegas, just being able to stream the radio station online has done that. I have a surprisingly large U.K. following for the show, which airs early Monday morning for them. They come over here on vacation, they catch the show or even just the radio station, then find the program and become fans of it.

“Homegrown” has never felt like the local music amateur hour, which can sometimes be the case.

My goal has always been to make someone turning on the radio midsong not realize they were listening to local music. I wanted the quality of the production, of the way everything sounded, I wanted it all to sound just as good (as national acts), because let’s face it, a lot of the bands who are signed are signed because of who they know, not because they’re more talented or better songwriters. There are some fantastic local bands that never see beyond the local scene because they just don’t have the connections. I wanted people to hear that there is some great music here. And I think it’s worked.

Getting to know Laurie Steele

Pets

I’ve got two birds: a sun conure, Merlin, and a green-cheeked conure, Archer. I have 10 guinea pigs that are all rescues.

Ten guinea pigs!

Yeah, they kind of took over my living room. They’re all females, and they all live together. I’m a huge animal lover, as is my husband. I think if it was up to him, we’d change our last name to Doolittle.

Favorite place to take visitors

I’m kind of low key. I would rather sit around the table and talk politics and current events with good friends over good food than go out partying, honestly.

Secret or unusual talent

I play piano — not very well, because I don’t do it often enough. I drive a stick shift vehicle. I’m ambidextrous. And I’m a mean shot.

Alternate occupation

Because of being ambidextrous, I kind of need to exercise both the creative and the analytic sides of my brain. What I’d probably be doing is writing. Probably a political blog.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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