Radio Waves: 5/29/20

Can KROQ be fixed?

KROQ (106.7 FM)  has been a big thing in Los Angeles for many years… longer than many fans even realize. The station actually has its genesis in 1972 as an AM station at 1500 AM, home of the former KBLA. The new K-ROQ played top-40 music and included personalities such as Charlie Tuna, Sam Riddle, Shadoe Stevens, and Jimmy Rabbitt, among others. As with KBLA, in spite of big-name talent, the station was never able to compete against the big boys in town, primarily KHJ (930 AM).  A limited signal didn’t help.

In 1973, KPPC-FM was purchased and became KROQ-FM, simulcasting the AM programming. But money was tight, and soon the staff was not being paid. By mid 1974, some of the personalities had resigned, the others went on strike, and the stations went off the air for about two years.

The KROQ most of us know picks ups from there. Back on the air in late 1975, the stations — under the direction of Stevens — were playing a format of rock music with an emphasis on some of the new music hitting the local scene … primarily punk and new wave.

In 1980, the stations stopped simulcasting; the AM went Spanish and eventually off the air. The FM, though, was building momentum. Rick Carroll arrived to program the station and tweaked the format … still focussing on new music, but with a top-40 approach. Essentially, Carroll saw the station not as “alternative,” but as the place to hear new music and new bands first — no matter the genre. 

Artists included The Ramones, The Police, The Cars, Duran Duran, Blondie, Sparks, The Runaways, Devo … and Prince, The Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys. 

I bring up this history in order to maintain perspective. A recent story in Variety (tinyurl.com/RadioWaves0529) makes the claim that recent changes at the station mean the end of KROQ “as we know it.”

What recent changes? Several months after half of Kevin and Bean left for England at the end of 2019, the station got a new programmer, management fired Kevin Ryder and the rest of the morning show,  and started switching up the music. Ratings, for their part, tanked … to the point where the station now finds itself with fewer listeners than any time since the early 1980s.

But therein lies the problem. The KROQ that we “know” is not the station that we think we know. It has been over a decade, maybe two, since KROQ was actually a place to find new music and discover new bands. Over the years the station has gotten as predictable and stale as the stations it once beat. 

The same thing that killed KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) — complacency and an aversion to risk — was killing KROQ as well. The only reason it wasn’t noticed was the boost Kevin and Bean gave to the station’s ratings; it became painfully obvious this past month when KROQ earned a mere 1.4 share of the audience. KMET, by the way, had a 1.6 share when the decision was made to end its format.

Over the years, KROQ essentially painted itself into a corner. Yes, it did play music that was different than some some of the music played on other music. But it was predictable. Songs were slow to be added. New bands were missed. The focus was on “alternative,” limiting the sound unlike the early days when the focus was being the first to play what would later be heard elsewhere. Instead of excitement coming over the airwaves, it was boredom.

I have wondered for years why a station that still sold itself on being the place for new music was playing mostly “recurrents,” industry jargon for songs that have been around a while. I like Blink 182, for example, but I should not hear songs in regular rotation from an album now ten years old.

So in my opinion, KROQ has to die so that KROQ can live. I don’t know if new programmer Mike Kaplan has the ability — or the authority — do do what needs to be done, but KROQ absolutely needs to bring back the focus on finding new music, breaking new bands, and opening up the playlist. It needs to become a true alternative to Alt 98.7, which honestly suffers from many of the same problems as does KROQ, including over-reliance on the morning show and a stale playlist.

Call it “active rock” if you want, rather than “alternative.” But it needs to be done. Otherwise there really isn’t a reason for KROQ to exist at all.

COVID-19 hits Bean

Speaking of Kevin and Bean … when Gene “Bean” Baxter moved to England, it is doubtful that he ever expected to become a statistic. But he did. Earlier this month, Bean announced that he had been infected with the Coronavirus and was at a critical point in the illness.

“Well no one is more surprised than I to now have the Coronavirus,” he messaged on social media. “…locked down tight at home since 9 March, only venturing out to walk the dogs and if we needed prescriptions or the odd grocery in between food deliveries. Masks, gloves, disinfectants, hand-washing, we took it seriously. Yet somehow here I am …”

Last week came an update. He said he is doing fine, recovering, and telling friends that the worst is behind him. Spirits are good, and he has not had to go to the hospital…. “feeling stronger every day,” he writes.

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