Leaders in Los Angeles Radio
September 26, 2005
The American (rock) music industry is centered around Los Angeles and New York. According to the article “Who Killed Rock Radio?” in Blender Magazine, New York no longer has a commercial modern rock radio station due to Infinity-owned WXRK (K-ROCK) radio switching formats to classic rock. Radio is hugely influential on music today and this leaves Los Angeles radio stations as the main influence on modern rock music. Fortunately, Los Angeles has innovative stations and DJ’s who have paved the way for quality music for years.
Rodney Bingenheimer has shaped the LA music scene since the 1970’s and continues introducing his listeners to the best local and imported music from around the world. Indie 103.1 FM is a newer station that started just a couple years ago. It has since expanded from having no DJ’s to having a number of specialty shows. KCRW 89.9 FM at Santa Monica College is possibly one of the most influential stations in the country, featuring various styles of music as well as National Public Radio and various talk radio shows.
People outside of the LA area might not know who Rodney Bingenheimer is. Most of today’s KROQ listeners probably don’t know who he is. Why? He’s been a “cutting edge” DJ since 1976, being the first to play music by artist such as Coldplay, David Bowie, and the Sex Pistols. Rodney has been a fixture on the LA music scene as a DJ, journalist, club owner, and celebrity friend. but his famous friends and his experience in radio are not what makes him special. The 2003 documentary on his life “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip” only scratches the surface on his tireless search for new music.
Rodney is an unlikely figure to admire because he is still not the best DJ despite his years of experience. His voice is distinctive, but not in the usual professional DJ style. To this day, he still sounds nervous on the air. From listening to his show and watching the documentary, Rodney’s genuine goodness and love of music sets him apart from most industry people. He enthusiastically shares the good music that he finds. His show is now currently on Sunday nights from midnight to 3 AM on KROQ. To loyal fans and listeners, this is a harsh blow because this time slot pushes him to the margins of normal listening hours and he originally played much of the music which has made KROQ popular.
Websites have been made to support Rodney, including an online petition to give him back his old time slot from 7 to 10 PM on Sunday. Such a move would be nice for his listeners in Southern California, but a podcast for people who are not in the KROQ listening area would substantially increase his listening audience. There were “Rodcasts” set up on his Yahoo Group mailing list, but those seem to have disappeared already. Another site is Rodney on the Walk which raised $15,000 (with the help of KROQ’s Rodney on the Walk-a-thon on Friday 6/17/05) to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of 7/5/05, the Walk of Fame did not approve the application for Rodney to get a star this year. However, his supporters have already begun the nomination for 2006, which marks his 30th anniversary on KROQ.
Despite KROQ’s seeming indifference to Rodney’s legendary status at the station, recent upstart station Indie 103.1 FM clearly appreciates his contributions and have offered him any time slot he wanted. Rodney is grudgingly loyal to KROQ and is quoted saying, “Then I wouldn’t be Rodney on the Roq.” Despite this offer, Indie 103.1 FM is far from lacking DJ talent. The station features such well-known music industry figures, as Steve Jones (former Sex Pistols guitarist who does a free form lunch hour show),
Dicky Barrett (vocalist of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and host of the Mighty Morning Show, and Nina Blackwood (one of the original MTV VJ’s and host of New Wave Nation). Specialty shows include electronic music on Friday nights hosted by the Crystal Method, a Friday morning legal advice show, a Saturday morning import music show, reggae music on Sunday afternoon, and local music on Sunday nights.
Though Indie 103.1 FM produces many specific shows, listeners who had previously been turned off by competing station KROQ have been pleasantly surprised by the “indie rock” format in regular rotation on the station. Local publications, such as LA Weekly and Cerritos College’s Talon Marks raved about the station soon after it came on the air in mid-December 2003. The initial controversy about Indie was its association with media conglomerate Clear Channel. Online indie music magazine Pitchfork complained about Clear Channel “stealing our favorite underground music away from us” and “forcefeeding the public with incessant ads and crappier muzak.”
According to Talon Mark’s writer Patricia Rodriguez, Indie 103.1 FM is actually programmed by Entravision Communications, one of the largest Spanish-language broadcasting companies. They targeted a male audience by converting 103.1 from a dance station to alternative rock. Clear Channel Communications, owner of 9 stations including KIIS FM, does not own Indie 103.1 FM due to FCC’s regulations to ownership limitation. They only sold its airtime to advertisers. LA City Beat writer Joe Piaseki reported that as of April 1, 2005, FCC regulators forced Clear Channel to drop the agreement because it already controls too much of L.A. commercial radio. The newly revised media ownership rules state that one company can have a controlling interest in no more than eight radio stations in the Los Angeles area. Indie’s broadcast as both KDLE out Santa Monica and KDLD out of Huntington Beach meant that Clear Channel had two stations too many. Despite the recent popularity of Indie 103.1 FM, commercial radio is not the only arena for quality radio in Los Angeles.
KCRW (89.9 FM in LA and Orange Counties) is a public service of Santa Monica College and a broadcaster of National Public Radio (NPR), Public Radio Internation (PRI), and BBC. The station began in 1945 as a training ground for service men returning from World War II to be trained in broadcasting. In 1978, the station developed a mix of music, news, and talk radio. Today, the station attracts over 500,000 listeners every week. In addition to featuring live in-studio performances by new emerging artists, KCRW also offers cultural programs, local commentators, political analysis, and debate. KCRW is an early adopter of new technology. The station’s website has three program streams (a live broadcast, a 24-hour music stream, and a 24-hour news service), on demand listening, and podcasts of talk radio shows and in studio performances. The station also archives its talk and music programs with both audio and video streams.
Nic Harcourt, host of Morning Becomes Eclectic and the music director of KCRW since 1998, previously discussed emerging music on BBC Radio 1. Harcourt has been influential on music executives stuck in LA morning traffic. KCRW has promoted artists such as Beck, Coldplay, Dido, and Norah Jones. Harcourt’s show is a mix of Latin, Jazz, Pop, Adult Contemporary, and everything else. The evening shows feature a more electronic mix with Metropolis hosted by DJ Jason Bentley (who also works at Maverick Records). The early evening show is a dance exploration of “the pulse of urban life.” Chocolate City hosted by DJ Garth Trinidad continues the electronic beats of Metropolis with funked out bass and a soulful style.
KCRW is supported by 50,000 subscribers and broadcasts throughout Southern California and beyond, including the counties of Los Angeles, Orange County, Indio-Palm Springs, Ventura and Santa Barbara, Mojave and Antelope Valley, Ojai, Banning, Twenty-Nine Palms and Yucca Valley. Details Magazine named KCRW the “Best Bit of Everything.” Subscribers have the chance to win tickets to concerts every 6 weeks and are eligible for fringe benefits in addition to whatever offer they received for s
ubscribing to the station. KCRW has won many awards for its local and cultural programs including the George Foster Peabody Award, Ohio Awards, the Cindy, and the Major Armstrong. KCRW was twice named “Nation’s Best Non-Commercial Station” at the College Media Journal’s (CMJ) New Music Awards. In 1994, it was the first public station to be awarded a Crystal Eagle Award for community service from the Coro Foundation, a public affairs organization that trains individuals in leadership.
Los Angeles’s combination of an award-winning public radio station and new cutting edge commercial station offers a bright future for the music industry. Though veteran DJ Rodney on the Roq may not hold the influence he once held on his own station, he remains a respected figure to the many musicians he supported over the years, radio broadcasters, and the loyal listeners of his show.
About KCRW. 26 Sept. 2005. <http://www.kcrw.com/about/>
Jeremy C. “Clear Channel Switches California Station to ‘Indie’ Rock:
Also tinkering with “unclear” channels featuring shitty reception,
mumbling DJ’s.” Pitchfork: Daily Music News. 7 Jan. 2004. 26
Chan, Liane. “Rodney on the Roq, an unlikely music legend.” It’s All In My Mind. 8 Jun. 2005. 24 Sept. 2005.
Indie 103.1 fm shows. 26 Sept. 2005. <http://indie1031.fm/shows.php>
KCRW, Wikipedia. 26 Sept. 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KCRW>
Piasecki, Joe. “Indie 103.1 rocks on.” LA City Beat. 31 Mar. 2005. 26 Sept. 2005.
Rodriguez, Patricia. “Radio Review: Indie 103.1 F.M.“ Talon Marks. 28
Jan. 2004. Cerritos College, CA. 26 Sept. 2005.
Sisario, Ben. “Who Killed Rock Radio?” Blender Magazine, Aug 2005: 55-57.
Sullivan, Kate. “Corporate Radio Doesn’t Suck: Indie 103, loud and Clear Channel?”
LA Weekly, January 16 – 22, 2004. 26 Sept. 2005.
White, Thom. “Things Shaking at KCRW Radio.” Citizine Magazine. 20 Mar.
2003. 26 Sept. 2005.