With a frizzy gray mane and a 27-year-old tee from Sabbath's Dio years, Bill Peters has to bleed pure heavy metal. If I jabbed a fork into this dude's chest, I'd probably hit copper ribs, iron lungs, and a huge heart made of cobalt.
Of course, disemboweling Bill Peters is unthinkable. We've only known each other for, like, 10 minutes, and already I'm a fan. Before this interview, several folks told me things like, "You're gonna love Peters. He's a down-to-earth guy with zero ego, who just loves music." And they were right.
Hanging at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Medina, a couple miles from Peters' home, we should be rapping about his legacy and the massive metal concert going down at the Beachland on September 15. Legends like Raven, Anvil, and Cleveland's Destructor will honor the 25th anniversary of "Metal on Metal," Peters' Friday-evening radio program on John Carroll's 88.7-FM WJCU. Respected by serious metalheads around the globe, the pro-underground show (named after Anvil's 1982 LP) has schooled Northeast Ohio on many of the music's most vital bands: Slayer, Possessed, and even Metallica.
If national upstarts look to crack Cleveland's thriving metal market, or if some locals crave their first dose of publicity, they go to Peters. Constantly in search of fresh meat, the guy's a one-man metal institution dedicated to grassroots action. "Being a college radio show, I can be a vehicle for bands to bring their music down and talk about their shows," he explains. "Once a band gets a decent fan base, I move on. I always want to hear new stuff. And I only play stuff that I like."
But Peters, 47, fidgets when talking about himself. He's proud of his show's success and influence, and he enjoys helping musicians break through. "But I don't want to be the center of attention," he says.
Instead, Peters, just wants to talk music. With a personal collection of roughly 30,000 CDs and 10,000 LPs, he knows metal's mainstream as well as he does the dank corners of its sprawling underground -- from Judas Priest and vintage Def Leppard to Sweden's infamous Bathory and Necronomicon, a proto-metal outfit from the '70s.
That shag-carpeted decade gave birth to Peters' metal addiction: Growing up on the West Side, near 128th and Triskett, Peters hung out with an older teenager in the hood, who exposed him to Alice Cooper's 1972 anthem, "School's Out." From there, Peters' taste turned progressively more obscure and extreme.
After discovering college radio at the dawn of the '80s, he knew he wanted to deejay, and tried to secure a show on Baldwin-Wallace's WBWC. "When I did my audition tape, I put all these obscure bands on there -- just the weirdest stuff. I turned the tape in. They listened to it and asked, 'What is this? I thought you wanted to do a heavy-metal show?' I said, 'This is heavy metal. This is the underground.' And they were like, 'We can't let you play this stuff on the radio.'"
Although college stations generally showcase indie and alternative rock, many of them are woefully clueless about metal. But when Peters headed over to WJCU, the station embraced his concept. So did listeners: He built an intensely devoted following, which he attributes to Cleveland being a "metal town." But that's too modest. In an age when most radio jocks were regurgitating some chart in the back of Billboard, Peters delivered metal that fans couldn't hear anywhere else.
Twenty-five years later, those same metalheads are tuning in. More remarkably, so are their kids. During a recent Black Sabbath CD giveaway, Peters says, a 15-year-old girl called, "just going crazy on the phone: 'I wanted to win this for my dad. He's listened to your radio show for 23 years. I don't dare touch that dial, or he's going to chop my hand off or something.' Then she says that she's now hooked on the show."
Peters has also broken local bands that went on to inspire Cleveland musicians, including Destructor, Breaker, and Black Death. "Bill Peters is the cornerstone of Cleveland metal," explains Greg Van Krol, former axeman for Victory Flag. "He is part of the reason why I and many others picked up our instruments. I laugh when I read pieces that say, 'Metal is making a comeback.' Bill knows it never went away."
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