Fueled by Twinkies, caffeine drinks and chew, Grim the Zombi King and his minions Juice Box and Wicked Willis take the Kenai airwaves by force every Saturday night with a show they call the Grave Yard Hour.
Death metal is their musical muse, and with infill of cutting banter and improv-styled comedic riffs running in the spaces between tracks from bands like The Black Dahlia Murder and The Devil Wears Prada, the show builds a strange and wild mix for KDLL and public radio on the Kenai Peninsula — where the median age is 40 and aging Baby Boomers rule the roost.
Not fully sure who listens to the show, the 20-something trio believe their biggest audience is a captive one, as in the inmates at medium security Wildwood Correctional Center. Even knowledge on that segment of listeners has become tenuous after the state cut off phone access to The Grave Yard Hour, because its live format created a “security risk.” According to the prison’s spokesperson, inmates could have been passing messages through code while calling in to request metal music.
The killer combination is the brain child of John La Plante, aka Grim the Zombie King. His performer name is a mash up of his love of all things zombie and a band nickname.
“Nothing gets me more pumped to do anything,” La Plante said of death metal. “There is nothing I won’t play, but there is stuff I prefer not to play.”
Giving credence to various genres that do make the playlist, aside from death metal, minion Juice Box asks rhetorically, “Ever hear of Zydeco?”
It reminded his showmates of the standard public radio musical offerings that line the walls of the KDLL studio.
La Plante worked his way through nearly a dozen “auditions” at the KDLL studio before he was allowed to host the show, a dream of his for years following a high school job shadow program at the local commercial radio conglomerate. The rookie mistakes made during those tryouts, including breaking the turntable, were a form of “tuition” payed to gain access and realize his death metal and comedy dream. The show he came up with is something that he says people on the Peninsula want.
In between metal tunes, during a five-minute portion of the show a few weeks back, the boys bounced between their “Boots N’ Cats” beat box, complaining that Redbox unjustly threatened the last brick and mortar Blockbuster video stores on the planet, which are on the Peninsula, and a phone bit with a friend calling in with a non sequitur about pizza.
“We’ve always known that this was going to be his profession,” Melissa Le Plante, John’s mother, said. She and her husband are avid listeners of the show and neither would consider themselves funny at all.
“I don’t know how he became as funny as he is,” Melissa Le Plante said.
One recent version of “funny” to her son was having himself mummy-wrapped in packing wrap and staring out a pickup truck window while being driven through town. There is also the standup routine with Wicked Willis that used to be done at the now defunct all-ages venue Icons 907 in Kenai. The radio show is peppered with inside jokes, contemporary issues, talk about the women in their lives — including mothers — callers and reports from past minions living elsewhere in the state.
Stand-up comedy is what gives La Plante the juice. He’s learned, “Don’t be afraid to say anything.” It’s an attitude that can be trouble for a live public radio show. After four or five “mess ups,” including once leaving the mic on for an “inappropriate” studio conversation, he and the boys just aren’t sure if the Federal Communications Commission is ever listening.
Once inspired by Howard stern, La Plante said he now sees the so-called shock jock as a hack and a sellout. His comedic heroes are Sam Kinison, Louis C.K. and Nick Swardson — all wildly successful and edgy observation based comedians.
Doing a bit earlier this summer, La Plante had his dad out hunting for Ashton Kutcher who was reportedly at Hooligans in Soldotna. The whole point was to razz the well known celebrity that once ran the MTV show Punk’d.
In its second incarnation, The Grave Yard Hour has been back on the air since February after a six-month break for La Plante to spend some time Outside in Port Orchard, Wash., home to the Hallmark Channel’s Cedar Cove.
Planning for the future of his show is simple: “keep on rocking on” and do it day by day, which seems to be working for him so far. As for his role on public radio, La Plante said his show is one of only two public death metal offerings in the nation, and both hail from Pickle Hill Radio.
“Public radio is awesome,” Le Plante said. “It’s way better that commercial. We can do our own thing.”
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org.