The Show: Thursday, September 19, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Shazam!

Not just for comic-book geeks, Fanboy Radio approaches its first anniversary.

By Matthew Smith

The recent death of my car’s cassette player abruptly halted the personalized hit parade. Being too cheap — all right, poor — to purchase a nifty XM setup or at least a c.d. player limited my options to silence or Clear-Channel Hell. Silence is out; I’m a gotta-have-my-tunes guy. But commercial-radio drivel only inspires spastic button-punching buttressed by streams of profanity.

The only solace local radio provides apparently is KERA-FM/90.1, an NPR affiliate, or KTCU-FM/88.7, the TCU-affiliated station. KTCU leans heavily toward classical and jazz during the day, but on nights and weekends offers a textbook example of what radio should be — they play everything from The Kinks and Velvet Underground to Sleater-Kinney and the New Pornographers. This is Radio Free Fort Worth.

Speeding down I-30 one weekend, I was tuned into KTCU when I heard this message: “Stay tuned for Fanboy Radio and the best in comic talk.”

Comic books? Hell, never bothered with ’em much as a kid, I thought — I’ll find something else. Several runs up and down the dial and a few choice words later, I capitulated and grumpily returned to Fanboy.

Funny thing is, the show isn’t a nerdfest of dorks creaming over Agent Scully while arguing over how Aquaman survives out of water. Fanboy is mature, smart, quality entertainment. I was immediately sucked in, as if I were listening to NPR’s Car Talk or PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. Hey, I thought. Maybe there’s a little geek in me, after all.

Although it might not lead to comic-shop splurges, the show may pique your interest in all things comic-bookish. It targets both the hardcore collector and outsider by being at once serious and a little self-deprecating. The half-hour program, which airs Sundays at 3 p.m. (with a 9 a.m. Thursday re-broadcast), is the brainchild of TCU communications majors Scott Hinze and Josiah Miller. After a debut last Thanksgiving, Fanboy is now at 33 episodes and counting. The main man behind the show now is Hinze (Miller left after episode No. 30; a revolving cast of “guest hosts” helps out). Hinze looks at Fanboy like a career: After graduation this spring, Hinze wants to get the show syndicated. “I will leave KTCU when I graduate,” Hinze said. “My heaven would be to do Fanboy for the rest of my life. I think there’s a market, and I think the industry would support it if it’s syndicated.”

I got a chance to talk to the two radio-show creators before the break-up, which both now admit was amicable. The boys owned up to being comic nuts as kids who eventually outgrew and then re-entered the hobby. Since both worked for the station in other capacities, they had an inside track on proposing a new show idea when a block of airtime became available.

“It was a hard pitch, but we griped and didn’t give in,” Hinze said. “Finally the station manager said we could have 30 minutes if we could produce it every week. I think he only said that because he thought we couldn’t do it.”

The show did in fact nearly end at one episode. “During the review section, I said I could eat alphabet soup and crap a better [show] than this,” Miller said. “Some people got upset over that.” Another early obstacle was the large amount of work involved — both were taking classes full-time and working part-time jobs. Each episode, which the pair wrote, produced, edited, and starred in, took six to eight hours to prepare. “I always loved talk radio and thought, ‘I can do this,’ ” said Hinze, “but was totally floored by the effort involved.”

Fanboy, after such bad beginnings, is now approaching its first anniversary. The name, Hinze said, “is a bit of a derogatory label — to the outside world, we’re a couple of fanboy geeks with bad skin, sitting around discussing comics and pushing our glasses up.”

Lone Star Comics’ Chase Jacobs (who is not necessarily a geek but has been collecting comics for more than 30 years) said he’s been tuning in for about four months now. “Someone told me about it,” he said. “I’d never listened to KTCU before but think it’s a cool show.” Jacobs, who turns customers on to Fanboy every chance he gets, said he believes the program is good for comicdom in a couple of ways: It lets fans know what’s out there, and it has the potential to get non-fans interested in visiting comic book stores.

Though Fanboy certainly caters to geeky interests, the show is, according to Hinze, generally geared toward attracting non-fans. “On one level, it’s satirical,” Hinze said. “We realize the concept is weird and comics aren’t for everyone. In many ways it’s not even about comics so much as people’s crazy obsessions with collecting. We’re not mean-spirited, but we do poke fun at fanboy culture and ourselves talking about how insane it is that we spend this much money on comics.”

To those who think comic books are kids’ stuff, Hinze cites Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Maus, a tale of Nazi Germany told in the form of a really big comic book or “graphic novel.” Hinze further points out that other popculture media, such as tv and film, have been heavily influenced by comic books. Ghost World, Road to Perdition, and From Hell all originated in comic form.

As serious fun, Fanboy probably wouldn’t have gotten off to such a great start without good chemistry between the show’s hosts. Although not as geeky in real life as one would assume, neither Hinze nor Miller could hide his enthusiasm when discussing this pop-cult phenomenon they love so much. The easygoing manner in which they play off each other accounted for much of the show’s engaging pull. The pair’s ability to wrangle “big name” interviews didn’t hurt, either. Some of the celebrities who’ve appeared on Fanboy include Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics; Brian Michael Bendis, a writer for Ultimate Spiderman; Barbara Lesel, head writer for Crossgen Comics; and Max Cannon, the creator of Red Meat (which has been featured in this very newspaper).

“I know those names mean nothing to the average person,” Hinze said, “but in our little subculture, they are huge — on par with Michael Jordan.” Both said they were initially star-struck and amazed at being able to gain access to such luminaries. “No one we approached was the slightest bit pretentious, and, for most of them, [Fanboy] was their first-ever radio interview,” Miller said.

The trademarked Fanboy lead-off question — “Who are you and what do you do?” — often leads down a fascinating trail, sometimes ending up in discussions of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

And therein lies the heart of Fanboy. Much in the same way that, say, Antiques Roadshow is more of a history lesson than simply a place to get your valuables appraised, Fanboy is an open-ended platform to chat about myriad topics as seen through the lens of comic culture. A typical show runs the gamut from rants and observations on comicdom to criticisms of comics that “cashed in” on Sept. 11 to the lack of female involvement and interest in the genre.

Hinze usually wraps up the show by listing new titles worth reading and giving pointers to help the uninitiated navigate the sometimes-overwhelming world of comic books. Fanboy tells you what to avoid, too. And another thing: The show is not a price-guide. Speculators can stay away.

Hinze is understandably proud of the fact that, as far as he’s able to tell, Fanboy is the first and only comic-book radio show in the country and the first wholly student-produced talk show on KTCU. “Whatever happens,” Hinze said. “I think Josiah and I set a standard for what will hopefully be future student-made radio shows at TCU.”

Listenership, like the rest of the programming on public radio stations, is difficult to gauge. Professor Andrew Haskett, KTCU station manager, said that Arbitron studies are too expensive and that KTCU doesn’t conduct them often. Still, he said he thought the station’s daily audience was fairly low.

Which doesn’t mean there’s no support for Fanboy. The recently launched web site, www.fanboyradio.com, will soon provide transcripts and streaming audio of prior installments and sell Fanboy t-shirts. It has an active message board. “Around campus, I’m the Comic-Book Guy — a horrible thing,” Hinze said, “I never expected an average person to come up to me and talk comics.”

Calling the show “so much fun,” Hinze intends to broaden its scope from comics to the alternative pop-culture world of indie movies, scratch music, and Japanese animation, among other things. “We’ll still have comics but also a huge dose of personality,” Hinze said. In the same way, he said, “Car Talk isn’t so much about cars as it is about the show’s hosts.”

Odd though it seems, Fanboy is a unique little piece of radio that’s worth a listen or two. It’s also a show that deserves to go on, in part because it is a refreshingly different concept. Several years ago someone walked into a tv executive’s office and pitched a show in which people would present antiques to an appraiser. The idea probably sounded pretty absurd at the time, but it led to one of the most popular shows in the history of public television.



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