Thursday, March 10, 2005

Radio, Life Transmission

Well, I could call out when the going gets tough
The things that we've learnt are no longer enough
No language, just sound, that's all we need to know,
to sychronise love to the beat of the show
And we could dance

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio... Joy Division

There is a radio station here in LA called Indie 103. When it started, I was filled with distrust. It sounded good: lots of Pixies, Interpol, Queens of the Stone Age, Le Tigre, Bauhaus, LCD Soundsystem ... alternative type stuff that I like. But the Pixies on commercial radio? I figured it was just a ploy - that they were trying to lure me in and then they'd start with the Good Charlotte and Unwritten Law. And then they brought in Steve Jones (whose tag line is "formerly of the Sex Pistols") to do the lunchtime show, and he was a rambling mess of a DJ. Ugh.

The rumor mill around Indie 103 said that it was a pawn of Clear Channel, the radio beast that already owns the legal limit of stations in LA. This was kind of true - the station, owned by Entravision, entered into a deal with Clear Channel which allowed the giant to sell the ad time, bundling it up with time on their higher profile stations, which would profit both entities. Michael Steele, the program director of Indie 103, came from a Clear Channel station. There was also talk that the whole reason CC got involved in this deal was to take listeners away from alternative mainstay KROQ, owned by rival Infinity. In fact, although Indie 103's signal is weak compared to the KROQ monster, the last posted ranking did show that it has won the coveted 25-34 market.

Thing is, Indie 103 stayed interesting. Steve Jones got really good. I was listening to commercial radio. Not all the time, but it was one of the three presets I bother with on my car stereo. After eons on the left end of the dial, it was shocking to me that I could like a commercial station that much... A good friend was visiting last October, and as we drove around on October 30th shopping for Halloween costume gear, we heard the Dream Syndicate's "Halloween" on the radio. He was floored. When was the last time you ever heard the Dream Syndicate on commercial radio? Never?

The thing I hate about deregulation is that one company can own a whole lot of radio stations, and then they import all the same programming into them. So listening to a commercial station in LA is basically the same as listening to a station in Philadelphia which is the same as listening in Austin. Cookie cutter format - all the pop stations have the same playlist, as do the hard rock, alternative, urban, and so on...

Indie 103 actually became very LA. You hear local bands in the mix (Autolux, Earlimart, On the Speakers, Rilo Kiley), they have a country show (with more local acts like Soda & His Million Piece Band, Susan Marshall, John Doe), an alternative Latin music show, and a dance show (hosted by the Crystal Method). The station also picked up some local personalities to do some DJ time, and in this town, that means celebs. Courtney Love hosted an evening show for a while during her rehab period, Henry Rollins too, Rob Zombie, Danny Masterson (That 70's Show guy), and Nina Blackwood (yes, she's still alive, and has the same hair), for example. One night, Jane Wiedlin was guest hosting and proclaiming herself a member of the Church of Slushitology - "more booze, less guilt." Wonderful.

And the programming got very wacky, in a good way. Steve Jones is a big fan of early Roxy Music, it turns out, so I would love to hear the early 70's British glam or first wave ska he'd throw on. You could hear the Plugz or the Weirdos on Rollins show, maybe even get to hear Dolly Parton's "Me & Little Andy." There's nothing creepier. One morning, my alarm went off to Shaun Cassidy. In my world, that's a GOOD thing.

But the party is over for Indie 103, as the FCC is actually enforcing its own rules and has interpreted said rule in such a way that the business deal Clear Channel has with Entravision means they are part owner, giving them interest in 9 stations, which they can't do. By April 1st, Clear Channel's involvement with Indie 103 will end. Which leaves Entravision with the question: to continue on as an alternative channel, or go for the big bucks chasing the ethnic market? Spanish-language stations make a killing here, and the radio gossip boards are predicting a Korean station.

Oh well - I'd finally warmed up to it, and now it's going away. I guess we couldn't trust it after all?