Most people know what they like—especially when it comes to music. But DJ Santo, host of cutting-edge radio program Something Different (6-9 pm Sundays on 89.1 FM KMHD), is here to flip those supposed preferences on their heads. "Exposing people to things they don't know they like," he explains at the Low Brow Lounge, "that's what's fun for me."
It's not just fun for Santo (David Sanford to his mother). After accidentally happening upon his show one Sunday eve (my dial's often set to KMHD), I was hooked. Every track—from downbeat electronic, nu jazz and afrobeat to Blaxploitation-style soul, world, R&B and anything in-between—was the very definition of cool: I loved what I was hearing, yet I hadn't heard a lick of it before.
A 37-year-old Los Angeles transplant with cred in damn near every musical realm—DIY business-founding (he's the president of local promotions company Spectre Entertainment), pirate radio DJing (on KBLT, the subject of the book 40 Watts from Nowhere), big-name show opening (for the likes of Thievery Corporation and Bebel Gilberto), and indie record store-owning (now-defunct No Life Records, where Sleater-Kinney and Elliott Smith both played their first Los Angeles shows)—Santo's been discovering and playing cool music for years. And he just wants to take you along for the ride: "It's a journey," he says. "If you listen to the first and last 15 minutes of any week's show, it's like you're on a different planet!"
But Portland's been a bit of an adjustment for Sanford. He and his wife moved to town about three years ago to start a family, and—rather than playing to hundreds on the weekends—DJing has become "just a fun thing" for Santo and Something Different producer/Soulphonic Soundsystem bandmate Chauncey Canfield (who also adds keyboard and percussion to Santo's live sets). On the upside, Santo's no longer playing to people who, like some Los Angeles partygoers, "are like, 'Ooh, play the next mash-up party jam 'cause that's all I know and I just did coke in the bathroom.'"
Despite being, well, different from the majority of KMHD's programming, Santo says the show, which has been on the air for a year and a half, has been mostly well received. "There have been some really supportive people who have [stood] up for the show in the face of the jazz purists who don't [like] it for whatever 'jazz-pure' reasons," explains Santo. He says listener reactions have ranged from "How did you talk them into letting you do this?" to "We're in Portland, not Tijuana." Taking it in stride, Santo told the latter that the song he was playing was actually in Portuguese.
According to Santo, public stations are "at a crossroads in terms of figuring out [how] to appeal to the next generation." He uses our interview setting as an example: "We're sitting at a bar at happy hour, a grungy, smoky bar—they're playing jazz. It's definitely a little funkier and groovier than what they're probably playing on KMHD right now." Though he has a hard time assigning a tag to his show, Santo's sure of one thing: "It's all soulful." Pondering the question further, he adds, "That's how we came up with the name. The first question people ask when they call is, 'What is this?'"
DJ Santo and Canfield play Friday, Jan. 4, at the Press Club. 7 pm. Free. All ages. Listen to past shows