It’s Saturday night and the radio is tuned to KMUN. Maybe you’re listening at home, baking cookies. Or maybe you’re in the car, barreling down U.S. Highway 101 as rain pounds the windshield.
At first you may not realize it. What’s coming through your speakers seems something like the radio you’re accustomed to: big songs and smash cuts.
But something is askew.
The show’s sponsor — the Darlington Electronic Instruments — couldn’t be real, could it?
You perk your ears, lean in.
Was that just a PSA for … STDs? A taste test of … Soylent? Meditative new age music and ... snoring? George Costanza and … Depeche Mode?
OK, you start to think — am I losing it? What’s happening here? Has the world gone mad?
This hilarious, subversive, snaking and surreal ride is “Everything,” a four-year-old program on KMUN whose 100th episode airs 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.
For creator Will Chapman, it’s an occasion both marvelous and fraught. Hyper-obsessive about “Everything,” the milestone compounds Chapman’s never-fully-satisfied perfectionism.
The average episode takes Chapman between 30 and 40 hours to produce. As the barrage of audio — which includes music movie clips, stand-up comedy and God-knows-what-else — ping-pongs at such a frenetic pace, live mixing would be impossible. Anyway, Chapman’s focus is granular: Every millisecond is critical. It has to be just so.
While music is not necessarily the heart of “Everything,” songs played in their entirety serve an important role. Though the show is genre neutral — you’ll hear country, jazz, electronica, rock and more — the tracks share one thing in common: They’re insistent and elicit a response. You might not like every song on “Everything” — you might even hate some — but none will pass by without getting in your face.
Along with the music and trademark interstitial bits — often unraveling via thematic threads — “Everything” includes a number of recurring segments. Among them: “Naptime and the Dream,” “The Everything Taste Test,” “The Lucky Caller Fabulous Prize Giveaway,” “Jessamyn with the Saturday Night Recipe,” “Off The Wall” and more.
Some of these segments — the “Dream” sequence (where actual, nonsensical dreams are submitted to the show and read aloud) and the “Prize Giveaway” — were included in Chapman’s original pitch for the show.
Essentially, “Everything” emerged fully formed. When he discovered the tools of audio editing, Chapman realized the ride he could take listeners on was almost limitless. At times, listening to the show is akin to scanning the dial of Chapman’s discursive brain, following rapidly firing neurons from one wild pop culture reference to the next.
When he decided to start volunteering at the station, Chapman also proposed an electronic music program, “Electronic Tonic.” In the four years since, KMUN and members of its extended family have become indispensable to the Astoria native.
“I will never leave this town as long as I’m at this station,” he said. “This is my life. The most important thing in my life is radio.”
Chapman also hosts “Vern’s Basement,” a weekly jazz program played straight. Unlike Everything, Verne’s Basement delivers what’s expected from community radio on a weekday, around suppertime.
But it was the absurd, anti-corporate and innovative “Everything” that caught the ear of KMUN’s most famous DJ and booster, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Early in the show’s run, Novoselic lobbied for a better time slot and “Everything” was moved to its current home: 10 p.m. to midnight, every other Saturday.
Along with segments, guests are recurring, part of the “Everything” cosmology. This expanding universe rewards regular listening as Chapman is fond not only of deep, obscure references, but flat-out secret messages and embedded themes.
Altogether, “Everything” resembles something like a late-night variety show. As host, Chapman has anarchic impulses and a wry humor reminiscent of David Letterman. But where Letterman played off guests and a live audience, Chapman, ensconced in the editing room, doubles as auteur. He’s as neurotic and controlling as Stanley Kubrick, as outré as the director’s conspiracy-minded fans, ever ready to dive deep down the rabbit hole.
Chapman also enjoys pushing the limits, though less of censorship than suggestion. “I like to poke,” he admitted.
Chicanery aside, “Everything” is intended first and foremost to entertain, and to do so in a manner that is unlike anything else on the station — or, for that matter, radio at large.
And, for the time being, the airwaves are about the only place you’ll find the wicked, rewarding anomaly that is “Everything.” The show is practically un-Google-able. Only the latest episode is archived on Radio Free America, and only for two weeks — which is a shame, as it’d make a great podcast archive.
Perhaps the only traditional thing about “Everything” is the broadcast. That the show exists not on the internet, but for the airwaves, underscores not only Chapman’s devotion to the show, but the institution itself: live, public radio.
Whether you realize it or not, for the final two hours on Saturday, “Everything” is all around you.