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SALT LAKE CITY — In 2010, Adam Reader’s band won an international contest online and was awarded the Hollywood Music Award as best rock-and-roll band. In addition to having a single produced by the man responsible for "High School Musical," the Utah band had the honor of playing numerous Hollywood hot spots such as the Troubadour and the Whiskey A Go Go.
Unfortunately, the music industry was in the middle of significant economic change and endless touring was the surer path to fame and fortune than a possible record deal. Reader had a wife and toddler at home, with another baby on the way.
He soon decided to prioritize his family and walk away from music.
From the very beginning
Reader’s love of music had family ties. His father was a successful painting contractor in Blackfoot, Idaho, and while Reader had no interest in following in his father’s professional footsteps, they shared a love of music.
"My father and I clashed over a lot of things," Reader recalls, "but music and baseball were the two things that really brought us together — especially music."
His now-encyclopedic knowledge of music took root when his father would quiz him about anything and everything music-related. Reader would find every book and magazine he could get his hands on about the artists. And eventually his dad could no longer stump him; the student had become the master.
Shortly after leaving his band, Reader and a former bandmate started a music development company in the Salt Lake area, called Music for the Masses. Like the School of Rock model, Reader would teach kids and young bands how to hone their craft as musicians.
He grew frustrated with the modern musical inspirations of his students and their lack of knowledge about the artists of the past.
At about the same time, the new general manager at KTVX, Salt Lake City’s ABC television affiliate, was looking to replicate a late-night independent music show that had success at his previous San Diego station. He asked Reader to help produce a show that would highlight up-and-coming Utah artists.
After discussing the project, Reader suggested there were very few local bands potentially destined to be the next Imagine Dragons, and that interest in the show may be limited. He successfully made the case, instead, to interview known touring acts performing in Salt Lake City and build the show around that.
After interviewing numerous Salt Lake radio station personalities, a host had yet to be found. Those quiz games with his father had prepared Reader for what came next.
Richard Doutre Jones, then KTVX manager, noticed throughout the interview process that Reader was far more knowledgeable about the music industry than any of the other personalities being considered. Unlike others, Reader would later encounter, he also thought Reader had a look uniquely suited for the role.
He called off the search and offered Reader both the hosting and producing duties.
On the job
The first interview lined up for the new program was with none other than Kenny Loggins, someone Reader has maintained a friendship with ever since.
"About 10 minutes into the interview, Loggins paused and loudly said, ‘Who are you?’" joked Reader. "Later, he pulled me aside and said I had a real talent for interviewing people and that I needed to develop this, and that he wanted to help me."
Loggins helped line up interviews with the Beach Boys and the Doobie Brothers, among others, and it was during the Beach Boys interview that Reader was dubbed "the Professor of Rock" by one of the band’s members. The band agreed that Reader seemed to know more about them than even they could remember.
The nickname stuck for the purposes of the KTVX program and is the name of Reader’s now successful YouTube channel, which has over 612,000 subscribers. He has a love-hate relationship with the moniker, as Reader views himself as a stand-in for music fans when interviewing performers, rather than an expert professor of anything.
"I am a fan just like you’re a fan — and if the tour bus broke down and there’s no cell service and Alice Cooper knocks on your door for help — you wouldn’t ask him about controversy. You’d ask him about the songs," Reader said. "It’s always about the songs."
The late-night KTVX show did well during its run, even holding 80% of a huge Oscar night audience one week, but Reader was dreaming of doing things on an even larger scale.
Over the course of lining up guests, he met his now-business partner Del Williams. Williams, according to Reader, had been an executive for several record labels and was a hired gun talent scout for a few years when they met.
Williams has helped guide the careers of Maroon 5, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead and others. He continues to help Reader book interviews.
Their collaboration, along with funding from investors such as Utah real estate mogul and entrepreneur and Skinwalker Ranch-owner Brandon Fugal led to Reader being able to conduct more than 500 independent interviews that he and his partners shopped to streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu.
"What I love most about Adam is that he’s preserving and documenting the stories behind the soundtrack of our lives," Fugal said. "I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he has a unique ability to personally connect with the artists on a level that we haven’t seen since Dick Clark."
In the end, the streaming services were more interested in Reader getting dirt on the music artists than in talking about the all-important songs.
Reader had never considered YouTube a legitimate way to monetize the accumulated collection of interviews, but with investors to satisfy, he and his team decided to give it a shot.
One of the earliest videos on the channel was a tribute made at the request of Journey guitarist Neal Schon — another artist with whom Reader has formed a lasting friendship — and about when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. That video outperformed more prominent social media posts by Rolling Stone magazine, and others.
Reader’s editor (one of several he has assisting with the channel) told him he needed to capitalize and immediately create more content.
From that point forward, the channel has included interviews with hitmakers and one-hit wonders, alike, as well as content featuring Reader telling the stories behind the making of popular songs and albums from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
In addition to the channel, Reader does live interviews for fans, interspersed with music from artists at Park City’s Eccles Center. He and the Park City Institute recently hosted the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive singer and guitarist Randy Bachman.
The hope is to bring those live shows to the larger downtown Salt Lake City Eccles theater in 2023, where conversations are ongoing to line up superstars like former guests Sammy Hagar and Kenny Loggins.
Things are now coming full circle for the Professor of Rock, as the streaming services are reaching out again. The YouTube channel’s success means that artists now ask to be interviewed.
Reader has been told many times over the years, by entertainment company executives, that no one would care what a guy in his trademark fedora, eyeglasses and bowling shirt has to say about the music business.
He credits his supportive wife, Leslie, who serves as his second set of creative eyes and ears, and his team of producers, editors and partners for helping him prove the doubters wrong, time and again.
In one memorable moment, one of those executives apologized to Reader, at a live show in Park City, for not taking him seriously.
Reader is most proud of an interview with Benny Mardones prior to his passing two years ago. Mardones’ lone hit "Into The Night" charted three times over 40 years, including reaching the Billboard Top 20 twice in the ’80s.
Mardones publicly struggled with drug addiction and poor health, according to Reader, and never saw his music career reach its full potential.
Over the course of an emotional interview, Mardones came to realize that his work had, nonetheless, been meaningful to fans such as Reader.
While he’s proud of what a kid from Blackfoot has accomplished to date, Reader won’t be fully satisfied until he can say he’s interviewed Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. Let’s hope either of them sees this.