A lengthy legacy in late night metal radio
Enter a side door tucked between a parking lot and a narrow brick alleyway in Cedar-Riverside, take the elevator up, and enter into a studio that has broadcast what is likely the longest running metal radio show in the U.S., if not the world: the Root of All Evil.
The weekly five hour-long program is hosted by Minneapolis’ volunteer-based, community radio station KFAI. While the station hosts a borderline bewildering variety of programming from a female-fronted folk hour to Hmong and Oromo-language specialty shows, Sunday mornings from 1 to 6 a.m. have been reserved since 1987 for metal alone. Black, symphonic, death, thrash, grindcore, old school, and local underground metal acts are all piped through FM signals 90.3 and 106.7 in this timeslot.
The show originated as one of the many projects of Earl Root, now-deceased, but a longstanding figurehead in the Twin Cities metal community. While changes have inevitably occurred with a rotation in show hosts, the current Root of All Evil crew carries on Root’s original mission in their own ways: keeping the music coming while allowing a revolving door of oddballs to fill the airwaves in a fashion inspired by Root’s past programming.
While the six members of the Root’s current ragtag team of metal heads and IT nerds have varying abilities and distinct holes in their knowledge of how to run a late night specialty show, the music continues to bring them together and keep them awake into the wee hours of Sundays.
John Allen, current Root host, describes the connection between metal fans as a family feeling. “I don’t see Britney Spears fans hanging out at a bar and saying to each other, ‘Hey man, good to see you.’ It just doesn’t happen,” Allen said. “There’s people that hate each other and people that are into it for different reasons, but I think there’s a lot more camaraderie in that genre than in any other music scene that I’m aware of.”
“I don’t see Britney Spears fans hanging out at a bar and saying to each other, ‘Hey man, good to see you.’ It just doesn’t happen,” said Allen.
Allen has helped host the show for over eight years now. For a time he ran the show with Root himself, then with former host Tim Honebrink until Honebrink’s departure from KFAI in September 2013, and now with members of the current crew.
Brian Hueller, another of Root’s former cohosts, continues to contribute to the show, just less regularly due to limitations imposed by his job and family’s schedules. A longtime metal head, while Hueller says he misses being a bigger part of the show, he trusts the current crew with Root’s project. Hueller said, “Dedication I would say, describes that crew down there to a t. I’m really proud that they’re doing the show and that I don’t have to worry about it when I’m doing it.”
ROOTS THAT RUN DEEP
Root’s legacy extends beyond the airwaves. His thrash-metal band Disturbed (not to be confused with the nü-metal act out of Chicago) gained a loyal following after forming in ’86. In 2001 he joined symphonic-metal outfit Aesma Daeva on rhythm guitar. Throughout chemo, radiation, and stem cell treatments Root performed and toured across the U.S. and Canada with the band in 2007, the year before his death.
Root also ran a label, The Root of All Evil Records, which continues to function under Brian Huebner, vocalist for local dark-metal band Cold Colours. To this day the label’s website contains one of the most up-to-date concert guides for DIY metal shows in the Twin Cities. Along with promoting and sponsoring metal shows in the Twin Cities, Root helped jumpstart the now defunct Milwaukee Metal Festival.
He owned Root Cellar Records on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, which was named the Best Bargain Vinyl in the Twin Cities by City Pages in 2001. While the store boasted collectibles in the double and triple digit price range across a swath of genres, it also featured $1 and $2 bargain bins in the “dungeon” downstairs, a rarity for record pricing even in the early aughts.
Throughout chemo, radiation, and stem cell treatments Root performed and toured across the U.S. and Canada with the band in 2007, the year before his death.
That store was where Root met one of the show’s current and most consistent contributors, Vern DeFoe. Thirty-four now, DeFoe immersed himself in metal through and beyond his teenage years. “From 15 to 21, I pretty much did nothing but obsess about metal,” said DeFoe. “I didn’t have girlfriends. I didn’t drink. I didn’t do drugs.” While he lived in Duluth at the time, DeFoe said he visited the St. Paul store whenever he could, where he says he blew through entire high school paychecks buying CDs and T-shirts.
“At the record store, that’s where we talked. It’s where I learned that he wasn’t a douche bag. He learned that I wasn’t a douche bag,” said DeFoe of Root. “That’s where we became, friends.” Eventually Root invited him onto the show and while DeFoe has had lapses in his appearances and his reasons for them, he remains one of the show’s largest contributors of musical content.
The store closed in late 2004 due to a mounting pile of debt Root faced as he waded through medical bills surrounding the treatment of his cancer, says Hueller.
While he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2001 after noticing growths on his arm and neck, Root continued to play and curate music for his community over his final years. In a 2006 interview Root told the Pioneer Press how much he disliked discussing his illness. “People’s perceptions of you change, and I have to run through all the b.s. with everybody about what’s happening and how I’m feeling,” he said. “It reminds me of my mortality, and who wants to be reminded of that?”
Hueller recalls the passion Root brought to both his radio and his bands’ shows even through illness. “Even when he was sick and he was on the air, you wouldn’t know it. Even when he was on stage playing. That was Earl,” he said.
On his deathbed in May 2008, Root did all he could to secure the future of the show. He requested that DeFoe remain a part of the show in order to best ensure that the Root’s mission be continued by providing a platform for local underground metal acts like those in DeFoe’s personal music circles as a Twin Cities metal musician. Allen says he also made a promise to Root in his last days that he would do everything in his power to keep the Root of All Evil running. “I have a singular mission and that is to keep the show going,” said Allen.
A NEW INCARNATION
And the show did not die when Root did. It landed in the hands of his cohorts of varying lengths: Honebrink, DeFoe, and Allen.
Beyond the loss of a friend and father figure, a struggle confronted by the remaining Root crew was how to proceed in the absence of their founder’s widespread popularity. According to current cohost Elena Erofeeva, in the months following Root’s death listeners called in and questioned whether the show should continue under the original banner of The Root of All Evil in the absence of its namesake. Erofeeva says the crew asked Root’s widow, Nancy, and she gave them her blessing. “As far as I’m concerned she was the only person who could have said no,” said Erofeeva.
While the name stuck, some of the fan base dwindled for a myriad of reasons. The formatting of the show changed, as former host Honebrink at times refused to take requests that didn’t fit his vision for the show and he limited the variety by prioritizing heavier thrash metal over other more early-hour-friendly genres like doom and symphonic.
“Tim didn’t do a bad job. He actually did a great job as far as what he did to the radio show, but he wouldn’t do requests,” said DeFoe. While Honebrink was ultimately banned from KFAI in September 2013 for repeated offensive remarks on- and off-air, DeFoe insists that Honebrink played an important role in keeping Root’s show alive after its founder’s death. Some other crew members remain uncomfortable with his actions to this day.
Now perhaps the biggest obstacle the Root faces is reaching an audience comparable to the show’s former following. “As it turns out, we discovered once we started promoting the show there’s a huge number of people who think that the show stopped back when Earl died,” said photographer and Root contributor Mike Milligan. But the crew has some tricks up their sleeves.
KEEPING THE METAL COMING
In spite of setbacks, such as funding concerns that have begun to draw into question the ultimate fate of KFAI, the dynamic weirdos of the Root are far from running short on ideas. For KFAI’s March pledge drive they’re giving away tickets, freshly designed posters by local tattoo artist Adam Sward, and new T-shirts.
The crew’s eternal go-getter Erofeeva even pursued the production of a limited edition Root of All Evil liquor, but was deterred by the high cost.
Simpler plans and dreams include preparing the show for conversion into a Podcast format, which would still require a financial boost and distinct limitations apart from the current FCC ones KFAI and the Root currently broadcast under.
What remains most important to the crew is keeping the show alive, one way or another. “We have a deep bench. We have redundancy,” said Milligan. “We have stuff in place so if one person leaves, it’s going to keep going.”