by Harry Parmenter
KHUG 97.5 FM is the little engine that could, can and is. The station launched nearly three years ago by Henry Urick from his ranch in Castaic. It’s been growing leaps and bounds with its blend of rock, pop, R&B and a lethal dose of blues after dark. Now, thanks to the power of internet radio, KHUG can be heard in 168 countries around the world, while continuing to expand its reach in the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond.
An entertainment industry veteran with an illustrious resume with consummate knowledge of radio spectrum, his day job has been to develop new digital technology that will benefit industry. Urick’s passion for broadcasting also drove him to carve out a niche with a unique musical pastiche fueled by his love of music and radio.
While he hasn’t quit his day job as Chairman of VIE Technologies, he has undertaken a labor of love borne of a Father’s Day gift from his son to create, program, produce and engineer the growing community radio force that is KHUG-FM, 97.5 on your dial, as well as across the globe on streaming radio apps. Just tell the ubiquitous Alexa, “Play K-H-U-G Radio” and you’re in business.
Henry took a few minutes out of his schedule to speak with the Gazette about all things KHUG (www.khug.rocks).
Gazette: What kind of music can someone expect when they discover your station?
Henry: KHUG rocks out by playing classic hits and deep cuts by day, with a rich blend of blues at night that is well-seasoned with a pinch of old school R&B. Listeners tell me these songs represent the sweet spot for rock and blues.
Gazette: Did the station really start out as a way for you to hear your music collection in your car when you were driving around? How was that the first time around?
Henry: Well, as a lifelong TV exec, I’m accustomed to working with megawatts, but KHUG was granted a low power community license. So my expectations were modest at best, thinking it would fade at the bottom of the hill in Castaic. I initially played my personal music collection, as I was the first and only listener. However, the FCC permitted KHUG’s antenna to be located on a tall ridgeline overlooking the SCV. FM radio signals flourish when antennas are placed high up. So I was stunned when driving through the Costco parking lot in Canyon Country with KHUG booming in my pickup. I looked at my son and said, “Holy crap, Todd, this is the real deal.”
Gazette: Tell us about the reach of the station right now in the SCV and your plans to grow it in L.A. County?
Henry: Geographically, the SCV is a huge bowl, and KHUG fills much of that bowl, but there’s some hilly terrain to contend with. We’re working to have KTCN 88.3 sign-on in Acton, which includes a repeater on Mt. Wilson, where listeners in Pasadena, Glendale and Los Angeles can tune in. The target is January.
Gazette: For the uninitiated or technologically challenged, how does streaming radio work and how do you find KHUG in the 168 countries you can be heard in?
Henry: A digital stream can be routed wherever the internet goes, and that’s virtually everywhere. Apps like TuneIn and Simple Radio direct the KHUG stream to your computer or smart phone. Half of online listeners are in Southern California. But it’s astonishing that the other half is international in 86% of all countries on the planet. I guess somebody likes the music. This is mighty humbling.
Gazette: How do you select the songs for the station? You seem to seamlessly cross genres unlike most typical stations I’ve ever heard.
Henry: The short answer is, I go with my gut. I’m passionate about music, and am a student of what’s played live at local venues. If you get out in the SCV, you’ll hear a predominance of classic rock and blues. The Canyon Club took off like a rocket by booking classic rock acts. Bistros like Bergies in Canyon Country have been attracting loyal devotees to hear the blues for the last seven years, which was started by Chuck Strong and Skip Van Winkle.
Gazette: How is the SCV live music scene developing?
Henry: Thanks partly to the redevelopment of Newhall, more music venues are sprouting up. SCV residents are getting off the couch and creating a more diverse music scene. KHUG wants to encourage more of this growth. The SCV Jazz & Blues Fest was the best attended ever in its 25th year. The SCV is blossoming beyond a bedroom community, developing a distinct music culture. That’s huge!
Gazette: As a proponent of local music in the SCV, who are some of the artists you like to hear around town?
Henry: The array of local talent is impressive. Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps are 2019 Grammy nominees who just released their best album ever. It’s incredible to have the KHUG jingle composed and recorded by these Grammy nominees. The SCV Blues Society, which has amazing volunteers, sends local bands to the International Blues Challenge, and for two years in a row, local bands placed in the top 3 in a field of over 200 competitors, so hats off to Artur Menezes and Celso Salim. The Blues Society is sending Jim Gustin & Truth Jones, as well as Crooked Eye Tommy in 2020. There are many more to mention, including Chuck Strong / SRBQ, Kelly Z, Alan Wright, and the Primal Kings. That’s all that can fit in one breath, but there’s a list on the KHUG website.
Gazette: Do you ever get listener requests? Would you like to get more?
Henry: Great question. There’s a constant flow of positive emails, focusing on the station. Our listeners have an incredible passion for the music. I melt every time I open their emails, which are so warm and personable. I answer every single one. It would be great if professionals who know social media would consider volunteering to help get the word out about KHUG.
Gazette: What kind of radio did you listen to when you were growing up?
Henry: There was the local top 40 station, but I wanted more, even at age 14. WLAC in Nashville beamed in late at night and I’d secretly listen with headphones under my pillow. WLAC heavily influenced white kids like the Allman Brothers. I listened in Pennsylvania, while they listened in Florida. The Allmans would go on to innovate a new genre called Southern Rock. I also loved the Memphis stations while in college. They mixed everything together, and I thought that was the norm. When I moved to LA, I noticed the limited playlists designed to capture a 2% wedge of the audience. Maybe they make money doing this, but it sounds hollow and unsatisfying to me.
Gazette: You are a busy tech executive, you almost singlehandedly run KHUG; what is it that gives you the most pleasure about what you’ve done creating this radio station?
HENRY: I am deeply touched by KHUG’s listeners. Their personal sentiments and passion make it all worthwhile. Most listeners learn through word of mouth, so there’s something going on that feels special. This music is worth curating and conserving. I guess we’ll see where it all goes!