Radio Waves: May 20, 2022

Weatherly Roq-in Again

In a case of going back to the future, or perhaps simply going full circle, KROQ (106.7 FM) and owner Audacy have announced the return of Kevin Weatherly as programmer of the once-mighty station.

I hate to use the word “alternative” to describe KROQ, because that’s not what KROQ was all about during most of its successful life … at least not in the traditional sense of the word. When KROQ was the trend-setting station, breaking new bands and new music in the days of DJs Rodney Bingenheimer, Jedd the Fish Freddie Snakeskin, Richard Blade, Poorman, Swedish Egil, Ramondo, etc., the songs heard on KROQ tended to appear there first, and later on KIQQ (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM) — though KIQQ broke numerous songs and bands itself — followed by other stations such as KIIS-FM (102.7), KKHR (now “Jack KCBS-FM, 93.1), and even KRTH (101.1 FM), KMET (now The Wave KTWV, 94.7 FM) and KLOS (95.5 FM).

For full disclosure, it must be pointed out that KNAC (now KBUE, 105.5 FM), during the Rock ’n Ryhythm days, played much of the same music with similar attitude … the limited signal out of Long Beach being KNAC’s downfall.

The Plimsouls, The Bangles, Oingo Bingo, The Blasters, Berlin, Wall of Voodoo, The Go Gos, Billy Idol, REM, A Flock of Seagulls, Kajagoogoo, Wham!, Human League, Peter Gabriel, X, Stray Cats, INXS, The B52s, Adam Ant, Psychedelic Furs, Prince, Rick James … almost every ‘80s band that you hear on flashback weekends — or now Jack FM — appeared first on KROQ. KROQ was the place for the hippest kids to find new music, and it was the soundtrack for so many of the era.

Which is why I was listening to other stations … I was never a trendsetter. But I digress. Intermixed with the new music, be it new-wave, British pop, or hard rock, was some traditional flavoring from The Rolling Stones, Cheap Trick, or even Led Zeppelin.

DJs on KROQ were funny, relatable, irreverent, sarcastic, and importantly, your friends. They curated the music, and especially in the case of Bingenheimer and his Rodney on the Roq Sunday evening show, they visited clubs, recording studios, and any other place they could think of to find new bands and new music. 

Original programmer Rick Carroll didn’t design the KROQ to be a station to hear “alternative” music. He wanted it to be an alternative to other stations … a  station where you heard something first. By the time you heard it elsewhere, KROQ had already moved on. 

Something changed along the way. The music got more predictable. More formatted. More limited in scope, such that the few new songs and new sounds got lost in the constant repetition of songs from bands — many of which were talented — that tended to all sound exactly like each other. I blame modern corporate ownership, in which executives are so afraid of taking chances, they choke the life out of such formats.

As time went on, ratings dropped. Stature dropped. The once mighty trend-setter became a has-been, almost embarrassing to its history. So it wasn’t surprising two years ago when Weatherly left KROQ to join on-line service Spotify as head of North America Programming. He could once again be free to innovate.

What is surprising is his decision to return. Nothing has changed at KROQ. The station is still owned by one of the worst companies to own radio stations, one in which innovation is actively blocked. One observer quipped that it probably had to do with “giving him some huge title and backing up the Brinks truck.”

Let me be clear, I hope I am wrong. If Weatherly is given the freedom to do what he wants, and he isn’t too old to remember that not everyone wants to live in the past and on past glories, KROQ could be in for something big.

The “big title” is Senior Vice President of Programming. In that capacity, he will not only oversee the programming — including content, talent operations and even the branding at KROQ, he’ll also advise the Audacy alternative stations throughout the country. No word yet on if he will be given a budget to hire DJs for each station, or if he will be stuck with the current policy to have a handful of DJs to work with, all pretending to be local, but spinning the tunes for stations nationally and regionally. 

I am not alone in my analysis. As another observer explained to me, “There’s no question that KROQ’s best years were under Kevin Weatherly’s brilliant leadership. But let’s not forget that KROQ’s decline began under his watch, too. That wasn’t his fault, of course. The firing of Ralph Garman, followed by failing to keep Kevin & Bean in place wasn’t Kevin’s idea. These moves are symptoms of the core problem. KROQ’s new ownership has a deserved reputation for being cheap, especially on talent. Upon his return, Kevin will still be working for Audacy, so he’ll have one hand tied behind his back.”

My message to Audacy management, and CEO David Field in particular: Leave. Weatherly. Alone. Let him do his job. Give him the financial backing to do it — invest in your stations and talent for a change. Weatherly — who officially starts June 6 — is talented enough to get the job done … when he is allowed to do his job. 

My message to Weatherly: Keep an open mind to new music. Start exposing new bands. Bring KROQ back to greatness. Los Angeles long ago lost the image of being a place to find new music … you have the ability to single-handedly change that, and in doing so save not just KROQ. 

And perhaps most importantly: don’t listen to David Field. Hopefully he has that in his contract.

I’ve reached out to Weatherly and hope to have a full interview with him in the very near future. At press time, I was unable to connect.