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Monday, October 7, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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If Marco Doesn't Get It, There's Nothing To Be Got! -- Kndd Music Director And Dj Seeks Out The Cutting Edge

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

It's five minutes to 9 on a recent Monday night, and Marco Collins is pulling off another upset.

The dauntless music director and disc jockey for KNDD-FM (107.7) scored an early copy of Nirvana's live compilation "From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah" and is boldly playing it start to finish, stopping once for commercials.

No doubt listeners have tape recorders rolling. DJs on The End had been playing two tracks every hour all afternoon; other DJs in the country only had the choice of one song, "Aneurysm," the single spoon-fed to them by DGC, Nirvana's record label.

Suckers.

Collins would rather lose a kidney via a rusty screwdriver than reveal his sources. How did he get that disc? Maybe from friend Courtney Love, widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Maybe from former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, whose liner notes Collins read as a way of introducing the album. Maybe Dave Grohl, the last member of the famous trio, loved that Collins also leaked the self-titled debut from Grohl's new band, the Foo Fighters. Maybe Grohl slipped it to Collins.

Maybe a technician at the recording studio dubbed him an extra copy. Maybe somebody who owed Collins a favor had a cousin who . . . ?

Who knows?

Just understand that these antics cause promoters at record labels to reach for antacid tablets and prompt rival DJs to pick up the phone. Labels deliberately issue singles so all listeners hear the same songs whether they're in Seattle, San Antonio or St. Louis. Then, after seeing the video on MTV, listeners head to the record store, the song pleasantly lodged in their brains, cash in hand.

Promoters can't get too huffy at the affable Collins, who is giving the album hype. They just dread the morning after, when every other music director is tying up phone lines, demanding copies. They fear the scheduled release will be anticlimatic. They just may be irked the album was leaked in the first place.

" `Bad Marco, bad Marco,' " he admits that his critics chorus, with a wag of his finger. "But they're laughing when they say it. They know it's a passion for music that drives me to do what I do." Industry honors

Almost underscoring his point, promoters and music directors voted the 31-year-old Collins Music Director of the Year at last year's Gavin awards, radio's Academy Awards. Rolling Stone echoed the compliment, naming Collins one of the "new masters in radio."

Senior vice president of promotions for Capitol Records, Phil Costello, was only temporarily grumpy after the Foo Fighters leak.

"I'd rather have a guy like Marco who causes me headaches because he's knowledgeable, passionate and wants to be upfront," Costello said, "rather than someone who doesn't (care) about music and who would be doing a talk-radio show if it paid the same."

"Marco is just obsessed with being first," explained Sky Daniels, former program director at Seattle rival KISW-FM, and current alternative music editor for trade magazine Radio & Records. "He wants to find the record first and he wants to play the record first . . . he's potentially the most influential music director in the business."

Collins has leaked Pearl Jam's last two albums ("No Code" and "Vitalogy"), Nirvana's "In Utero" and convinced Beck to debut "Odelay" for The End's listeners. But he's just as notorious for breaking new bands. He scours record shops - both in Seattle import stores and during jaunts to New York and London - and picks next month's Hot New Artists from the no-name bins.

The Presidents of the United States of America, Everclear, Beck and Garbage are among the many artists played on The End before any other modern-rock station had uttered their names.

"There's a feeling that if Marco doesn't get it, then . . . there's nothing to be got," Daniels added.

Collins smiles and shrugs off such statements. But that's only because he sees himself first as a music lover and second as a fortune teller. Following his passion

Growing up in small Northern California town, Collins was reprimanded by his parents (a police officer and a driver's-education instructor) for joining all the 10-Albums-For-A-Penny! deals. He was active in student government and arts editor on the school paper.

In 1984, he headed south to San Diego, where he slept in his Dodge Colt, showered at the beach, became music director at San Diego State's radio station, double-majored in telecommunications and partying (the latter taking precedence), worked as an import buyer for a local Tower Records store and interned at the city's top modern rock station, XTRA-FM.

The program director, Kevin Stapleford, started the gothic-looking, black-eyeliner-wearing Collins answering phones. Soon Collins was hosting a locals-only specialty show.

In 1989, Stapleford suspended Collins for playing a nasty track from The Geto Boys. After a stint doing public-relations work for a small label, he snatched up Stapleford's offer two years later to be music director at a new Seattle station called The End, which was being started by the station's parent company, Noble Broadcasting Corp.

No smooth talking

Measured by anecdotal evidence, Collins' influence covers the length of the radio food chain: from the president of Reprise Records who flew to Seattle on a day's notice because Collins told him he had to see a band live - the band, Muzzle, now has a contract with Reprise - down to the two 14-year-old listeners who printed up an "I (heart) Marco" fanzine a few years ago.

He's not winning this admiration for his proficiency behind the mike: If Collins comes across on-air as undisciplined, that's because he is. He did not graduate from the Casey Kasem School of Smooth-Talkin' DJs before jumping into the country's 13th-largest market. He fumbles around, his vocabulary seems limited to "ah" and "amazing" and he takes a breath whenever he feels like it - even mid-sentence. He emphasizes random words.

"I'm just a dork on the air who's a DJ because he loves the music," Collins explained.

In Arbitron's latest ratings, KNDD ranks eighth overall. On weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight, the station ranks first among listeners age 18-34 (its target audience), with an average percentage share of 9. More than 71,000 pairs of ears tune in sometime during the week to Collins' show, "The Endzone," from 7to 10. From 10 to 11, he plays the top requests of the day.

Stapleford said that when he hired Collins at The End, it was because he'd done things like play early Jane's Addiction and interview frontman Perry Farrell years before Farrell was known as creator of Lollapalooza. Collins' potential as a music director mollified any fears that he might occasionally broadcast a few seconds of dead air or stumble over words.

No reveling

It has been two days since Collins played the Nirvana album, and aftershocks are pleasing. Hungry listeners keep the switchboard lit. Novoselic heard it and seemed amused. DGC sent copies to stations a few days earlier than planned.

But Collins doesn't have the minutes to revel in his latest triumph. Aside from making up the daily playlists, handling promoters and assisting program director Rick Lambert, he's hustling an entire genre of music from underground to mainstream status and, with two friends, starting up a record label.

The label promises to be a long-term investment. His immediate future is committed to championing electronica, thought by some to be the next big wave in popular music trends, something to knock alternative music off the throne. Described in Spin magazine as "a rather arty rest stop somewhere past Rock City and just outside the Disco Inferno," electronica has worked itself out of rave clubs and onto The End in the form of bands such as The Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Orbital. Industrial beat-driven tunes best served up at heart-stopping decibels on a crowded dance floor with flashing lights, electronica - especially the stuff without lyrics - isn't exactly radio-friendly.

Says who? This may be the biggest test yet of how many music directors follow Collins' lead. He did an hourlong feature on The Prodigy, and 150 copies of the band's album flew off local shelves. He'll sandwich a song from the band - which the station flew in from London to close out this summer's Endfest concert - between radio darlings Bush and local favorite Alice in Chains during afternoon drive time.

"Marco isn't just looking for hits for the station," said Matt Smith, promoter for The Prodigy's label, London Records. "His genuine concern is, Is it right for Seattle? He flies to London just to buy records. That's definitely going beyond the call of duty . . . Marco just knows what kids like better than anybody else."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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