“Never let the bastards win. Believe in yourself and know that you can make your life into anything you want it to be. Be vigilant, be smart, be courageous and fight for everything that matters to you. You will be surprised at the results.” – Carl Sundberg
It was the New Year of 2016 and Carl Sundberg was a little lost. He had lost his job as Program Director and Digital Content Director of 101.5 KFLY in Eugene, OR, a top rated powerhouse rock station, the summer before when the parent group Bicoastal Media flipped the format and let go of the entire staff. It was a devastating blow at the time, as Sundberg had been working there for over a decade. He had been out of work for half a year by the time the new year came and went.
Down on his luck, his unemployment dried up, he was living on the little savings that he had stored up for a time just like this and after months of applying for jobs and hundreds of rejections later, he was beginning to get worried. Flipping burgers was surely on his horizon.
But a quick call from a former colleague, Steven Walker, CEO and Founder of RadioContraband changed everything. “So are you coming to Vegas or not,” Walker asked Sundberg over the phone, referring to the RadioContraband Convention that happened in February. “Call me back in a hour and let me know either way.” Sundberg was hesitant. He wasn’t in the radio game anymore. He wasn’t doing anything. But he talked to his sister and she convinced him to go. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So Sundberg called Walker back with a big fat “Yes”. It was in Vegas, at the kickoff party of the RadioContraband Convention in the Real World Suite in Las Vegas, where Sundberg told Walker he should hire him to do some work for his website. Walker agreed and offered Sundberg a position working for RadioContraband with a handshake. “It was the vodka I think,” Sundberg recollects. “I had been mingling with all these radio pros and bands, some I knew well, some I had just met…I mean, Eddie Trunk was there, and I felt like odd man out. You know when people ask you what you do, and you grit your teeth and say who you used to be. It was a little difficult, to be honest. So I started drinking faster than normal. Social settings tend to make me nervous anyway, so booze helps calm the nerves and get the juices flowing. I don’t think I would have thrown that at Walker if it wasn’t for the vodka.”
But now Sundberg is a Contributing Editor for RadioContraband and is back in the game. “I also got a job as a Marketing Director for this place called Acoustic Sciences Corporation,” says Sundberg. “They do acoustic treatment for recording studios, home theaters and hi-fi listening rooms. Pretty crazy client list including Pete Townsend, the engineer of Michael Jackson, the sound effects lead on Game of Thrones and beyond. I’m pretty blessed to have both these gigs hit at once. They literally saved me from being homeless. Which I’ve been.”
Sundberg has had a pretty long career so far in the radio and journalism world. But it all started with the ZZ Top video for “Legs” which came out when he was in kindergarten. “Me and an older friend of mine made these fake guitars out of pinwheels and wood that could spin around like the weird beards had in that video,” Sundberg recalls. “Even at that tender age, I could tell the guitar was some sort of magical wand that got you cool cars and hot chicks. I didn’t understand it all, but I knew I wanted that in my life. I lived for that video to come on MTV.”
In high school he finally picked up the guitar and started a band called Hive. It was the mid 90s and the pacific northwest was a hotbed of rock. “It wasn’t just Seattle,” Sundberg notes. “That vibe was all over the northwest and infected me greatly down in Eugene, OR, where I was going to high school. I wanted to be a musician thanks to all the great music that was happening. Not just Soundgarden and Nirvana, but the lesser known locals like Floater, Jolly Mon, Hitting Birth, Melvins and Sweaty Nipples. Those bands were huge influences on my teenage brain.”
While pursuing his musical passions, playing and recording music and touring around Oregon with his band in his parent’s Dodge Caravan, he kept the bills paid working odd jobs and living off college loans. “I didn’t really take college seriously until later down the road,” Sundberg says. “I went just to keep my parents off my back.”
Eventually the band dissolved and Sundberg found himself working at a record shop in town, where his knowledge of music blossomed beyond the world of rock into jazz, hiphop, world, folk and classical. He bounced around in various bands playing those styles of music while gaining valuable knowledge in the music school at the local community college. It was then that he got into radio. “It was kind of an accident, really,” Sundberg says. “My dad was the General Manager and Chief Engineer of 91.9 KRVM and he was always telling me I should try radio. He was like a drug dealer pushing crack on me, because when I finally did agree to do a shift, I was hooked. I only agreed because I could play whatever I wanted. The station was – and still is – a community volunteer station and the programming was a bit looser than commercial radio. I had all this music from working in a record store that I thought would be fun to play on the radio. I still have the aircheck, I think. It was awful.”
From that point, radio became his passion. He worked at various stations around Eugene including KUGN, an AM newstalk station. “I was the producer on shift on 9/11,” Sundberg remembers. “I’ll never forget that AP wire story. It was a one line piece simply saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We didn’t really think much of it a the time, like many news sources. Probably a drunk pilot or something. That day changed everything for many people, but for me, it made me want to be involved in journalism in a much more serious way. So I went back to college, changed my major to journalism and decided to take another hobby of mine – writing – to the next level and use it for the forces of good.”
While in college, Sundberg went after every opportunity with reckless abandon, working at the Knight Library in current periodicals, taking on Music Director at the campus station, 88.1 KWVA, writing for various publications like the Oregon Voice and the Oregon Daily Emerald. “I actually won a Hearst Award for a column I wrote for the Emerald,” Sundberg says. “It was about the Janet Jackson nipple incident at the Super Bowl, of all things. It was a validation of sorts that I was on the right track.”
After graduating from the University of Oregon on Dean’s List with Bachelor of Science in Journalism and minor in Business Management, Sundberg briefly considered moving to Japan to teach English, but just before he got on a train headed to San Francisco for the interview, he got a call from Clear Channel Radio. They wanted to interview him for a administrative assistant position – basically a receptionist. It wasn’t the job he wanted, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. The cluster had the best rock station in town (KFLY), a top 40 CHR station he grew up listening to (KDUK), an Oldies station (KODZ) and a newstalk station (KPNW). “It was weird wearing a tie every day and doing receptionist work,” Sundberg recalls. “But I was in the door. I immediately started impressing the brass with my graphic design work that I’d been doing for years, mostly for bands and show flyers, but I also embraced the newly launched Clear Channel websites, which were revolutionary to the radio industry at the time. Say what you want about Clear Channel or IHeart as they are called now, but they know what they’re doing. I will always have a deep respect for that company.”
As time went on, Sundberg continued his ascent for Clear Channel leaving the front desk within a year, getting a weekend shift on KFLY within months of his hire (which later became a massive successful weekly metal show called the Edge) and when Bicoastal Media bought the group, Sundberg was already informally doing the job, but officially took over the entire web and digital department for Bicoastal’s clusters in Eugene and Albany. He also moved up the ranks on the programming side of KFLY, taking every job offered to him, eventually becoming the Program Director and Midday host. During that time, he continued his writing career on the side, writing for magazines like Crave and Metal Edge Magazine and joining another band, We Have Guns, which was a very successful local band for nearly 7 years. “Looking back, it blows my mind how much stuff I’ve done,” Sundberg says. “The past decade of my life has been some of the best days of my life. Well, until it got ugly at the end. But I’m proud to say that it wasn’t a programming problem that ended that era, it was a sales problem and myself and my staff were the unfortunate victims of that fallout. We went out on top, bringing in a number one book, even after we were let go.”
Sundberg continues to take the opportunities that are presented to him as they unfold. “The trick is never give up,” Sundberg says. “Never let the bastards win. Believe in yourself and know that you can make your life into anything you want it to be. Be vigilant, be smart, be courageous and fight for everything that matters to you. You will be surprised at the results.”
What are your three most Rock & Roll moments?
1 – Attending the Revolver Golden Gods Awards in LA a few years ago with complete access to the “secret” Epiphone lounge where I had many interactions and drinks with some of my musical idols like Jerry Cantrell, Dave Grohl, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy and so many more. Me and my colleague and cohost Tobby Lugo sat next to Kerry King and some pornstars during the show. Good times.
2 – Taking Brian Posehn comic book shopping in Eugene. I realize technically, Brian is a comedian, not a rockstar, but he’s the most metal comedian alive and he’s as hilarious and awkward in real life as he is in person. And standing around 6’5 or something, he barely fit in my BMW.
3 – Opening for Hellyeah with my old band We Have Guns at the McDonald Theater. I didn’t realize it while we were playing, but some of our “roadies” told us later that Vinnie Paul and Chad Grey were watching us from the side of the stage and getting into it. Not sure if they usually watch the local openers, but I’ll take it. Later we partied a bit after the show.
Now that we know some of your most rockin’ moments, how about the 3 worst/weirdest moments?
1 – Generally speaking, most of my experiences have been pretty positive. But without throwing anyone under the bus, when you wait over 30 minutes for an interview with someone, it puts a bad taste in your mouth. That’s happened on more than one occasion…
2 – Again, not throwing anyone under the bus, but band members who have intense attitudes or egos when you’re interviewing them is a turn off. Generally speaking, when it happens, it’s almost always a younger band who has this quality, in my experience. The longer a musician has been around, the more they tend to mellow and respect who got them there. Kind of like snakes. The young ones haven’t learned to control their venom yet. 8)
3 – There was this one standup comedian who had a comedy central show back in the day who was performing in town and his tickets weren’t selling. We were promoting the show far more than normal to help the promoter and the comedian sell tickets. The promoter asked us to interview the guy again, and we were reluctant because we interviewed him a couple weeks ago and thought it might be overkill. Well the guy was a complete asshole to me on the phone. One word answers. Dismissive attitude. And I called him out on it. Then hung up on him. It was an awful interview and it has never seen the light of day and never will.
What advice would you give a young music fan who wanted to break into this crazy industry, but didn’t know where to start?
Run!! Kidding. I would say just follow your passion and never give up on it. If you love music, get involved in it any way you can. I started playing guitar when I was 15 and eventually ended up in a record shop which led me to a volunteer radio gig and so on and so forth. I’ve made music the centerpiece of not just my career, but my life. As the legendary philosopher Sun Tzu once said, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Take every opportunity that comes your way, even if it’s a small one. You never know where it will take you.
What are the most played songs on your iPod?
First off, I don’t have an iPod. I’m a PC guy. And being old school, I play a lot of vinyl, CDs at my place and use Spotify Premium when I can’t get to those. But to answer the question, just looking at my most played on Spotify recently…the latest Deftones album is getting a lot of play. Kvelertak…Silversun Pickups…Iron Maiden…Pink Floyd…Baroness…Gogol Bordello…Willie Nelson…Miles Davis…David Bowie…
Your house is on fire. After your wife and children are safe, and of course pets, what is the one piece of Rock n’ Roll memorabilia you’d run back in to the house to save?
Oh man. This is actually something I worry about regularly. I have many autographed things…framed Axl Rose, Slash, Aerosmith, Slipknot, Gwar, Black Keys, Paul Rodgers posters. A signed letter from Avenged Sevenfold thanking me for playing their music back when Bat Country came out. I have a a bunch of awards and gold records…But my real prizes are my guitars. I collect them and have many. Mostly Les Pauls. The two hanging on my walls in my living room are very special to me. I would grab those at least.
If you could have a shot of whiskey with any person, living or dead, who would it be?
Tough question. Can I pick three? Jimi Hendrix. Hunter Thompson. Jim Morrison. I realize they are all dead. But I imagine those three dudes would be a riot to drink with. And the first shot would turn into a week long bender that would involve much more than whiskey…