KROQ drone: Appeal may fall even as station ratings rise
Students, KLA express discontent with 106.7 FM’s perceived
By Kristin Fiore
Does your radio ever get that "not so fresh" feeling?
If so, you’re not alone.
Many fans of alternative music and KROQ (106.7 FM) feel that as
the station’s ratings go up, its appeal goes down.
"[KROQ] has a tendency to repeat songs as much as other popular
stations … like KIIS," says Bill Sloss, a fifth-year psychology
student. Though he likes what is played, he and many other
listeners feel there is not enough variety.
We change our underwear every day (except during finals) and our
milk every week. So why can’t we get new, more diverse music?
UCLA’s KLA (99.9 FM) and KCRW (88.9 FM public radio) get
feedback from those who appreciate the wide variety of music they
"KCRW’s listening base has grown in recent years … we get more
pledges," says Tricia Halloran, the host of "Brave New World,"
KCRW’s alternative music show (10 p.m. to midnight weeknights). She
gets many calls from listeners who say they can’t find this type of
music anywhere else.
KLA get its share of "disillusioned KROQ listeners tired of the
candy-coated format," confirms Conrad Cayman, the station’s program
director. KLA plays artists like Liz Phair and James, but
concentrates on the tracks that don’t get airplay on bigger
stations. As a KROQ intern, Cayman also takes listeners’ calls.
"They ask, ‘Why don’t you play more Front 242, industrial, or
older Ministry?’" he says. "The rare times we do, the [phone] lines
light up for it."
Has commercial radio lost touch with its audience? Surprisingly
not. Has the college audience lost touch with commercial radio?
This is not the answer you might have expected, but after
bringing the gripes of the disgruntled youth to Gene Sandbloom,
KROQ’s assistant program director, it seems to be the only logical
Sandbloom’s office is a music junkie’s fantasy, as though Spin
magazine threw up in your dorm room. It’s wallpapered with
autographed posters and gold albums from the likes of Soul Asylum
and Love and Rockets. Compact discs climb from floor to ceiling
like overgrown ivy, sprawling out onto and under tables. There’s
even a poster for Jabberjaw.
Is this the home of corporate radio? Well, sort of.
Unlike KCRW or KLA, KROQ has a massive audience whose average
listener spends no more than two hours a day listening to the
radio. This explains a lot of their policies, which cater not to
the indie (independent label) music hound but to the average
Where KLA and KCRW can get away with little formatting and
eclectic music, KROQ cannot.
To keep the programming from sounding too one-dimensional, they
include the entire staff in formatting decisions, and sometimes
invite outsiders. Their sources are similar to KLA and KCRWÂ
labels, local record stores, magazines and personal
Their major source, however, is the teen-to-twentysomething
listener. Sandbloom himself asks listeners at shows what they want
to hear, and while DJs don’t play requests immediately like they
may have in the ’80s, they are one of the first considerations in
In other words, if you don’t like what you’re hearing, blame
your peers, says Sandbloom.
"If people request ‘Zombie’ 300 times a day, how can we not play
it?" asks Sandbloom.
"The rotation (the amount of time before a song repeats) has
remained the same since 1978 … If anything (there is) less
redundancy than there was in the ’80s."
KROQ doesn’t play nearly as much indie music as KLA and KCRW do,
but they are still the biggest influence on new music in L.A. and
"We have broken more independent bands than anyone else in
L.A.," boasts Sandbloom, producing a sheet of local record sales
that shows when KROQ plays a band, their sales jump Â in the
case of Face to Face, from zero to almost 300 in a week. Not to
mention the Offspring, who had sold 50,000 albums until KROQ played
them. Now their latest, Smash, is the biggest selling punk album of
Well, when do they play indie music?
The KROQ "Party Pit" program on Saturday nights plays a local or
indie band every other song, but many students aren’t home to hear
them. The DJs slip one in every so often, such as Jed the Fish’s
Catch of the Day.
"They do give new bands some airtime," says Sloss, "even if they
only play them once."
All too often, however, one time isn’t enough to prompt a
response from listeners, and the bands get dropped from the
playlist. There’s only so much time they can devote to these bands.
People like what they are familiar with, and it takes time for a
new sound to grow on the masses.
Even on KLA, the DJs were forced to play more popular bands
because listeners couldn’t identify with the indie bands being
played, says Cayman. On the other end of the spectrum, newer KROQ
listeners cannot identify with flashbacks, favorites among
"If you ask the average 20-year-old what they hate most about
KROQ, they’ll say flashbacks," says Sandbloom.
"We don’t want to resurrect the past … Today’s 20-year-olds
are looking for their own artists to embrace," he says.
KROQ seems to be playing what the majority of their audience
wants to hear, which is what they should be doing. The KROQ credo
seems to be: If you’re not happy with it, it’s probably because you
don’t fall into that category.
Who does? The average high school kid who was probably in
kindergarten when the Smiths broke up. Disheartening? Yeah.
Like all else in the real world, there’s no absolute solution
(maybe an alternative studies program?).
But KROQ has proven that if enough of you let them know what you
want, they will play it. In the meantime, KLA and KCRW are
dedicating themselves to new music, waiting for corporate radio