Before podcasters and streamers, radio disc jockeys were often the tastemakers of a constantly shifting popular culture. And before the mass proliferation of shock jocks, there was a legendary radio DJ at KOME in San Jose named Dennis Erectus who heralded the format.
Though long gone, he holds a mythical status for a certain generation of people in the South Bay. Two such people, life-long friends Adam Reed and Garrett Lyang, have taken it upon themselves to preserve the memory of Erectus’ classic radio show.
Sometimes we do things without realizing the implications. That was no doubt the case for Lyang, who as an ardent fan of Erectus’ show, began taping broadcasts when he was in college. He held onto the tapes, but practically forgot about them until his friend Adam Reed, a sound engineer with a recording studio in Campbell, suggested they get the hallowed material off the tapes and onto the internet.
“I couldn’t remember why I recorded them, but then it hit me. There would come a time when Dennis wasn’t on the air, and that just really bummed me out,” says Lyang.
Lyang in fact, went from a fan to a regular contributor to Erectus’ show. After meeting Erectus at a record handout in San Jose where he won a Dennis Erectus impersonation contest, Lyang suggested joining the show with a character. Erectus warmed to the idea and together with Lyang created the character of a snooty British gentleman who would roast the American listeners. Erectus loved it, and Lyang went on to contribute a lot to his show. In time, they would also become close friends.
“Every time [my character] would go on the air, he would have an angle of attacking American men and it was designed to make the male listeners uncomfortable. People were livid with me and it was great,” Lyang says.
From the outside looking in, Dennis Erectus seemed mercurial, if not confrontational. He held no qualms over ruthlessly roasting people calling into his show, which oscillated between normal drive-time classic rock and something of a dirty radio play. But with a closer listen, it became clear that Erectus’ quick, acerbic wit acted as a protective shell for a deeply sensitive and compassionate man. Sure, he would lambast his guests and stretch the line of what’s appropriate as a rule, but in a way that never punched down. In the process, he earned a legion of fans including the drummer of Metallica, Lars Ulrich, and former Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta. Erectus also pioneered the type of imaginative and risque format that would precede the likes of Howard Stern or Opie and Anthony.
“I had never heard anything like it. I mean it was edgy but it was clever and intelligent,” Lyang says, “and unlike people like Howard Stern, Erectus never made fun of people for things they couldn’t help–but he would rip on you if you said something stupid.”
After his glorious run on KOME, Erectus bounced from station to station, languishing in relative obscurity before passing away in 2013. Fortunately, fans like Lyang and Reed had other plans. Armed with an extensive knowledge of all things Erectus and a couple hours worth of shows recorded between the Fall of 1991 and the Spring of 1992, Lyang and Reed sat down in Reed’s studio and transferred the material off the tapes onto Youtube. The Youtube channel now holds a few brief Erectus shows from the late 80s, acting as both a kind of living memorial and a testament to an early pioneer of a now classic radio style.
“We always wanted to do something to raise money for [Erectus], but then he died before we could. I always felt like I didn’t get to do right by him like I would have liked to,” says Lyang.
As for the future, Lyang and Reed plan to upload all the material they have with an invitation to the public to contribute what other material might still be out there, collecting dust in someone’s closet. With Erectus’ death a decade ago, the Dennis Erectus collection on Youtube will also mark the 10th anniversary of an oft-overlooked but never-duplicated radio legend.
“We want to preserve his legacy,” says Lyang of his and Reed’s project. “We want everybody to feel like this is theirs. Anybody can contribute, because we all own this together.”