For Little Steven, it's good to be a garage gangster.

Silvio Lining 

For Little Steven, it's good to be a garage gangster.

After several weeks off the air in Kansas City, Little Steven's Underground Garage returns to KZPL 97.3 Sunday, the station said Monday. The show, a survey of rough-hewn pop, vintage rock, and surf instrumentals curated and DJ'd by E Street Band guitarist, Sopranos actor (he plays consigliere Silvio Dante) and "Sun City" writer Little Steven Van Zandt, was an early casualty of 97.3's format change last month. Mark Felsot, head of affiliate relations for the syndicated Underground Garage, says the midnight-2 a.m. time slot isn't ideal (most stations broadcast the show Sunday evening; 97.3, which picked up the show last fall, pushed Garage back two hours in July) but is pleased to have Little Steven back on KC's airwaves. Ted Edwards, director of market development for 97.3's parent company, Union Broadcasting, tells the Pitch he hopes to renew the show when its contract with the station expires next February. Van Zandt, who turns 55 in November, recently talked to the Pitch about the state of rock and roll.

Are you calling from a garage?

I'm calling from the car on my way to the office. I have a radio show to do.

You contributed notes to Rhino's great new Children of Nuggets boxed set. Are you a collector yourself?

The other two [Nuggets] packages are the greatest rock and roll record packages in history. The content literally defines garage rock. But I'm not a collector. I'm still discovering things along the way. I don't play things because they're rare. I play them because they're cool. Is it a great record? That's my only requirement.

You're a Jersey guy who likes surf music. Does rock have an East Coast-West Coast beef?

Actually, if I had to pick the capital of the rock world, it's Detroit or Sweden.

What has doing the show taught you?

I've learned all about the radio business, which I knew nothing about. I approached the thing very naively, and thank God I did. If I'd known the difficulty I was going to have, I may not have done it. I couldn't picture everybody in the country turning the show down like they did and being so opposed to a rock-and-roll show. There is no rock-and-roll format in this country, no one playing rock and roll. I suggested something that plays not only rock and roll but new music. I said, "Me and the industry gotta have a long talk here." I call it the F word — familiarity — everybody is afraid to do what isn't familiar. But the ratings when we put it on 20 stations were so high that everybody relaxed.

But what you play is at heart a familiar music.

That's the intention. The point is to play cool stuff that doesn't get played that often or never got played. About a quarter or a third is new music, but the rest is basically the entire 50 years of rock and roll. We're inheriting more and more cool stuff as formats die all over the place. We may be the only format in the country playing Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

What's going on with your own music?

After Born Again Savage [his most recent solo release, from 1999], I'd made five albums, five scenes. I don't have a screaming need to say anything else. The radio show now feels like artistic expression. It's not exactly the same, but it satisfies the need to communicate. Now I'm communicating something that's bigger than me. I want people to recognize these musicians.

What about your desire to communicate politically?

If I wanted to, I could do that. But I have a bigger war to fight, which is reconnecting people to this music. What's more important than content is the means of communicating the content. Rock used to be able to do that, country to country. Some of the hip-hop guys do it, but the rock phone lines are down. That infrastructure has to be fixed, and that's more important to me than the political stuff, which can come later. Everybody takes themselves so seriously. Being serious is essential, but it has to work on a primitive level. Let's motivate people on a fundamental level. The rebirth is about reminding people that the music is fun — that's radical.

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