popular radio show is the latest phase in the Zucchini Brothers’
quest to prove that kids’ entertainment doesn’t have to be
Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen
you didn’t know the Northway goes to Zucchini Land.
Every weekday, a radio show called The Zucchini Brothers
transports young listeners to a magical place where young
Jack, Sam and Steve Zucchini never grow old, and never run
out of ways to educate and entertain themselves. If you want
to see what Zucchini Land really looks like, take the Northway
to Clifton Park and drive into a quiet subdivision to find
the house where the assorted Zucchinimobiles are parked. Drift
through the living room, where a miniature drum kit emblazoned
with the phrase “my first band” sits by the fireplace, then
trek down to the basement. There, across from the washer and
dryer and surrounded by shiny insulation, is Zucchini Land.
But it’s not the candy-colored kingdom you might expect—it’s
a utilitarian space crowded with microphones, keyboards and,
of course, the Zucchini Brothers.
As longtime fans of the area’s most prominent children’s entertainers
know, Jack, Sam and Steve actually are grown-ups who have
been performing as the Zucchini Brothers for more than a decade.
The musicians, all in their mid-30s, aren’t really siblings,
and they prefer not to give out their real last names.
The group’s radio show, which debuted in December 2000, airs
locally at 3:30 PM every weekday on public station WAMC (90.3
FM), and is broadcast on nearly 50 stations across the country.
One reason the Zucchinis are jazzed about the show is that
it enables them to spread the word about their expansive view
of children’s entertainment. In addition to Zucchini Brothers
songs, the show features the music of Crosby, Stills &
Nash, Paul Simon, the Beatles and even Natalie Merchant—with
the intent of breaking down boundaries between kid-oriented
entertainment and adult entertainment.
cool thing is there’s nobody giving us a play list,” Jack
says, “as long as it’s music that would be good for public
have a pretty good concept of what we want to do,” Sam adds.
The concept of the show—in which kid versions of the Zucchini
Brothers play, learn, sing and listen to hits ranging from
’30s swing tunes to ’90s folk-rock numbers—is a natural outgrowth
of the concept behind the band itself. The three men met while
studying at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh,
and they first began playing together as a rock & roll
cover band. All were interested in education—Steve originally
wanted to be an
elementary-school teacher—so they eventually combined their
interests by forming a children’s-music group.
For the last five years or so, the musicians have been full-time
Zucchinis, and they just released their third album, Safe
& Sound, which offers musical advice ranging from
“Don’t Talk to Strangers” to “Learn Your Address and Phone.”
And while performances are still the band’s primary source
of income, they hope the radio show will eventually attract
a deep-pocketed sponsor. The Zucchini Brothers say their ultimate
goal is to become a nationally recognized brand name in kids’
entertainment, but they acknowledge how ambitious a goal that
a hard business to make money in,” Sam says.
dominated at the top,” Steve adds, “and we’re in the middle.”
The Zucchinis become impassioned when delving into the harsh
economic realities of their chosen genre. They note the huge
gap between the prices charged for children’s concerts and
those charged for grown-up shows, then say that many kids’
entertainers get out of the game because they can’t compete
with corporate behemoths such as the Walt Disney Company.
tough, but we’re a family,” Jack says. “That’s why we’re still
together: because we are like brothers. We’re constantly looking
for new ways to get what we feel inside out there.”
Jack’s family analogy makes sense as the Zucchinis put together
bits for the show, with the help of fellow performer Susan
Meyer. Meyer, a mother of two, was a vocal fan of The Zucchini
Brothers since its debut. She regularly e-mailed suggestions
on how to improve the show, and told the Brothers that the
program needed a female voice. The Brothers took her advice
and added her character, a child named Susan, last September.
Meyer also cowrites the shows with Jack, while Sam handles
the technical end of the program and Steve researches songs
for possible broadcast.
As the Zucchini Brothers and their honorary sister work together,
they exhibit the comfortable interplay of a clan, laughing
at each other’s foibles, complimenting each other’s best efforts
and sometimes just hanging out—at one point, Jack and Susan
flip through magazines while Steve preps a musical selection
and Sam tinkers with his digital editing machine. The four
seem to approach the task of creating The Zucchini Brothers
with the ease, and occasional friction, of a family making
The show is created virtually one line of dialogue at a time,
with Sam constantly adding newly recorded bits to previously
taped segments, then playing everything back to see how various
takes sound when put together with music and sound effects.
It’s painstaking work—more work, the musicians say, than they
ever expected—but each daylong session produces several days’
worth of shows.
On this Monday, the performers zip through sequences like
a “Word of the Day” segment introducing listeners to the meaning
and usage of “familiar,” and a scene in which Steve makes
slime for the gang to play with. The sound of crackling slime
is provided by Jack, who snaps bubble wrap in his hands while
peering over his glasses to read his script pages. Steve stands
across the basement by his keyboard, speaking lines with high-pitched
ebullience. The taping goes smoothly, despite flubbed lines,
until Sam encounters a technical glitch, at which point he
utters a four-letter gem unlikely to become the next “Word
of the Day.” A moment later, Jack ends up in the peculiar
situation of acting opposite himself: As pretaped bits of
his normal speaking voice are played back, he rises in his
chair to speak lines in the frantic, breathless pitch of Pete,
the shoe-store guy. Sam oversees the whole enterprise like
a director, offering Jack this advice on his characterization:
“Let’s get it a little more like he’s freaking out, as usual.”
Interestingly, this kids’ show is created without the direct
involvement of any kids: Recording sessions involve four adults
acting like children and presuming children will dig what
they’re doing. The Zucchinis say that they’ve been performing
for youngsters for so long that conjuring kid-friendly merriment
has become, in Sam’s words, “second nature.”
lot of this, as a writer, is based on my own experiences,”
Meyer says. “Like the slime show. I made slime with my kids
last month and had such a good time that I said, ‘We have
to do a show about that.’ ”
still doing enough gigs that we still have enough interaction
with kids,” Jack says.
The musicians feel strongly that children’s entertainers shouldn’t
condescend to children, and they dislike the widely held perception
that musicians who perform for kids are slumming. “There’s
a misconception that people who couldn’t make it in the big
world become kids’ musicians,” Sam says fervently, “and that’s
Meyer adds that she digs how the Zucchini Brothers’ music
appeals to adults, herself included: “Like, the first time
I heard ‘Mr. Ding-A-Ling,’ I swore the Dead recorded it.”
Still, the Zucchinis remember who their core audience is,
and they say they’re always looking for new ways to reach
their youthful listeners. “Being a parent helps me do this
better,” Meyer says.
know how to think like a kid,” Jack says. “I can’t grow up.”
And while you might think that being part of a popular children’s
program would make the Zucchinis heroes in their own households,
Steve—the only Zucchini Brother who is also a parent—says
that’s not necessarily the case. “My kids know that this is
what their father does,” he notes. “People on the outside
are like, ‘He’s a Zucchini Brother!’ But they’re like, ‘OK,
dad, when’s dinner?’ ”