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Losing Fidelity

It's been a few years since I've been to a college radio station. The last time was a guest spot on DJ Ellegitimate's (now-defunct) show, The Bonus Cup, on FAU's Owl Radio. It was weird talking to an audience I couldn't see. Of course, because I couldn't see them, I could only assume they were all hot sorority girls enthralled by my broadcasting genius. Well, it was fun to pretend, at least. So when I heard about Low-Fidelity Events' new radio show, Shut Up and Play — which takes place every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. on the University of Miami's WVUM-FM (90.5) — I wasted no time inviting myself on as a guest. But two days before the show, I got an e-mail from Low-Fi's Mike Hooker saying that there was a scheduling conflict. Apparently, his slot was temporarily bumped for a basketball game. (And I thought "punks versus jocks" was strictly a high school thing.) It was frustrating for all of us. But for Hooker, who has dedicated the past two years of his life to booking shows, such setbacks are a dime a dozen. And it's another reminder why he's leaving South Florida. Sure enough, like many frustrated rock 'n' roll types before him, Hooker's moving to Austin, Texas, probably by next summer.

"I'm moving to Austin because I've lost faith in the scene here," Hooker told me on a recent Thursday, around the time we would have been at WVUM. "I've tried really hard to get things going, but there aren't enough venues, there aren't enough bands."

True, I said, but won't the opposite — plenty of bands and promoters — be just as challenging? You know, the small fish, big pond dilemma?

"I considered the fact that I might not be of any value out there," Hooker said. "But every night of the week, I can go out and see a show and have favorite local bands, which I don't have anymore. One thing I used to love about our scene was that there were so many bands I loved to see. But now I can't name any. Nothing excites me anymore."

That's a different Mike Hooker from the guy who, two and a half years ago, booked shows at the Pitt, the ill-fated Hallandale Beach-based warehouse Hooker called home... literally. You can probably guess what its fate was.

"When Clit 45 played the Pitt, there must have been 150 people, which was a big show for a warehouse," Hooker said. "At the very end, as soon as the crowd cleared out, the cops came in from all entrances. They thought they were going to find drugs and all sorts of illegal shit going on, which there wasn't. But they found out that we were living there, which was illegal. They contacted our landlord, and he threw us out. After that, I slept on friends' couches. I'd invested thousands of dollars in that place. I maxed out all my credit cards and had nowhere to live. It took me a good six months of relying on friends to help me out before I got back on my feet."

With his dues paid in full, Hooker started booking shows at Maguire's and Sonny's Stardust in Fort Lauderdale and Churchill's in Miami. The first show Hooker promoted under the Low-Fidelity moniker was Wayne Hancock's October 2005 gig at Maguire's. Though Hooker has had his ups and downs with the bar (all about the Benjamins, of course), it's been his most regular venue to date.

"At first, I was exclusively dealing with Maguire's," Hooker said. "I wanted to put this place on the map."

But Hooker's plans changed when he was approached by Jim Hayward of Slammie Productions, who was looking for a new partner after he and his longtime cohort, Grant Hall, parted ways. At first, Hooker was reluctant to join forces with anyone but realized it's better to make allies than enemies. Plus, it's Slammie — the company that brought most of Hooker's favorite bands to town while he was growing up.

"I've seen the Slammie logo around as long as I can remember," Hooker said. "The first show I did with them was last July, when Clit 45 played Roxanne's. It's funny because that band was my ending at the Pitt but my beginning with Slammie."

Ah, but pairing up with another punk promoter is one thing — signing on as the local go-to guy for the Bodog Battle of the Bands is quite another. The so-called "battle to end all battles" held its regional rounds in 17 different markets, including South Florida. As "local manager," Hooker was in charge of "getting the bands to sign up, conducting meetings, setting up shows, MC'ing the shows, breaking down — everything."

And he did this while still booking his own shows — and working a day job as a graphics designer.

"In six months," Hooker said, "I did 16 shows for Bodog. With Low-Fidelity, I did 42 shows this year. That's almost a show a week."

So it's going to be hard to find someone to pick up all that slack. But Hooker definitely wants Low-Fi to keep going once he moves to Austin.

"There's so much risk involved, so much legwork involved," Hooker noted. "It's hard to keep going when you're constantly in the red doing it. You have to keep convincing yourself that it's for the greater good of the scene."

Still, Hooker's got at least half a year before he bails. So far, he's got a few Slammie-partnered national shows lined up this month (Agent Orange, the Loved Ones), as well as a few local reunions (Anchorman, Radio Baghdad, the Shakers, Die Stinkin'). And, of course, he's still doing Shut Up and Play, which he co-hosts with fiancée Chelsea Wine. The show's been going well, Hooker said, the basketball game incident notwithstanding. And they've got ways to please their steady stream of callers.

"We try to do ticket giveaways for each Low-Fi show that's coming up," Hooker said. "And we try to think of clever ways to do it, like, whoever tells the funniest joke gets a free ticket."

So keep those calls coming while you can. Pretty soon, the only ticket Hooker will have is for a one-way flight to Austin.

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Jason Budjinski

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