KROQ Freddy Snakeskin On Air, circa 1983
August 8, 2015 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Former DJ Freddy Snakeskin has posted in-studio footage from the glory days of LA's legendary "Rock of the 80s" KROQ FM.
Mixing rockabilly with reggae, early electronica with punk rock, ska, new wave, and every mutation thereof, KROQ championed unknown baby bands, including the Clash, U2, R.E.M., INXS, Duran Duran, XTC, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Cure, the Go-Go's, Culture Club, Devo, the Police, the Pretenders, New Order, the Specials, Billy Idol, Adam Ant, the B-52's, Oingo Boingo, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, the Human League, ABC, Split Enz, the Cult, Midnight Oil, Yaz, Bananarama, Berlin, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madness, X, the Bangles, Thomas Dolby, Missing Persons, the Stray Cats, UB40, Men at Work, and the English Beat. KROQ is also to be held accountable for "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage," "I Eat Cannibals," and Huey Lewis & the News.
KROQ: An oral history (Los Angeles Magazine via Google Books)
posted by teponaztli (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting. I got to LA after KROQ sucked. But I can tell just from the DJs who used to work there that it was an amazing station in the 80s. I'm digging the video!
posted by persona au gratin at 3:25 AM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

There is a guy I grew up with on Facebook who I will not friend, nor comment on any thread he is on, simply because I cannot forgive him for permanently borrowing my Killer Pussy album and "Teenage Enema Nurses" 7" and would not be able to resist bringing it up.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Northern California at the time and get some osmosis from LA Modern Rock to KQAK, and fairly recently I was able to finally identify and track down a copy of Maurice & The Cliches (before chancing on a second copy not a month later, as it goes). There is a whole swath of underground music that made it onto major market radio, rarely to be heard from again, even in the irony-drenched future that emerged. Their influence was sometimes nuanced.

It was a great time to be a teenager and into this kind of music.
posted by rhizome at 4:14 AM on August 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

I rarely listen to terrestrial radio these days and got curious what KROQ is even playing anymore. A quick look at the playlists on their site is kind of sad. You get the impression they're a little desperate for a format. They're still playing Nirvana, Sublime and Third Eye Blind alongside Hozier, Imagine Dragons and Mumford and Sons. They're not even trying to be cutting-edge. They're just trying to play relatively mainstream rock that doesn't suck, and that means a mix of stuff from 1990-something and whatever token rock songs happen to sneak onto the charts.

I'd forgotten how very mustache-y 1983 was.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:36 AM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Members of "the News" played with Elvis Costello, one of the sweethearts of the emerging new talents that FM stations (before the great consolidation of the later 80s and early 90s destroyed the indie station) would have played back then.

I'm not going to over state my case, but dismissing Huey Lewis and the News as *only* frat-corp-video rock misses the sort of scene LA was fostering back then.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:48 AM on August 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

They're just trying to play relatively mainstream rock that doesn't suck, and that means a mix of stuff from 1990-something and whatever token rock songs happen to sneak onto the charts.

I think this is the standard format for Rock stations these days. Add a small smattering of whatever band is coming into town soon and you have it.
posted by zabuni at 6:29 AM on August 8, 2015

KROQ is the first preset on my car's radio (I live in west LA). I agree it's not awesome but there's really not that much else out there if you enjoy alt/rock, which I do. Open to suggestions, though! (I already listen to KCRW, but they mainly play NPR news content when I'm commuting -- which is perfectly fine but sometimes I just want tunes). Interesting to see how much more awesome it was before I moved here, because of course it was more awesome before I moved here.
posted by Alterscape at 6:44 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I remembered hearing this one hit wonder that I remember from long ago, only to research it and find out that the guy went on to produce this, this, and this.

Quite the jump, really.
posted by markkraft at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for posting. I got to LA after KROQ sucked. But I can tell just from the DJs who used to work there that it was an amazing station in the 80s.

KROQ got me through my adolescence relatively unscathed and helped me realize that being a freak and living to tell the tale were not mutually exclusive ideals. And yes, indeed: there is an LA after KROQ sucked, and there was another mystical LA before it sucked -- sort of like Atlantis.
posted by blucevalo at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

The '80s were the glory days? Wow. I remember '90s KROQ being pretty awesome, and I say that as someone who has always found "alternative" rock to be kind of an eyeroll. Ralph's Sex U, a weekly segment on Kevin & Bean's morning show where they happily tackled one topic about sex or another, was one of the most enlightening and sex-positive things I've ever heard in pretty much any mass media. (Ralph later came to my university around 2002ish for a talk on the subject and it was amazing.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:24 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was a 90s KROQ listener, and I loved the Kevin & Bean morning show. In fact, I loved it so much that one holiday weekend, I woke my ass up at 5 am to drive to some bar in Long Beach to be an audience member during one of their remote "Party Machine" events. Yes, I wore a bikini and danced a lot with strangers. Yes, I was drunk as of 8 or 9 am. Yes, mistakes were made, but the hangover wasn't all that bad. One of my favorite questionable "living in Southern California" memories.
posted by TrishaLynn at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

First heard of KROQ in the full-page ads in WET Magazine in the late 70s, finally got to LA as a tourist in '81 and couldn't believe, such a high-quality mix. Finally moved to LA in '87 (and worked for a time directly across the street from their Pasadena office) and it was still great. Now... actually I was in LA last weekend, driving 'round, and couldn't find it on the radio.

- favors Richard Blade and the Poorman

posted by Rash at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ah, the memories.

I started listening to KROQ in 1987 -- after their indy heyday, but before the creeping corporatization of the 1990s. If you weren't around pre-internet, it's next-to-impossible to understand today how hard it was to find new music in those days. We had a subscription to Rolling Stone (which already sucked then) and Spin (which was much better, but published on a totally erratic schedule). I went to Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena on a weekly basis to look for new and interesting stuff. Usenet and internet mailing lists were just starting to provide alternative sources of information, but of course those weren't accessible to most people.

The stuff on KROQ wasn't particularly adventuresome, but it was music you couldn't hear on any other radio station: Gary Numan, Gene Loves Jezebel, Oingo Boingo.

The KROQ trajectory isn't all-too-different from other "indy turned corporate" concerns: the LA Weekly, Rolling Stone magazine, maybe even MTV? are examples that come to mind. Initially, things feel very *real*; individuals associated with the business have a voice and a personality that shine through whatever attempts there are to establish a larger brand identity. There's a certain amount of diversity. There's a certain lack of "professionalism". Drugs may be involved. As the concern becomes more successful, its management realizes that it can't be dependent on these quirky, fallible individuals and tries to rein things in. In doing so, they generally manage to kill part of what made the business great to begin with. KROQ held out longer than most, continuing to project individual and scrappy personalities long after they were an integral part of "the machine".

Other than a roughly six-month period where I listened to KDAY (before its untimely demise), my dial was pretty much locked to KROQ between 1987 and ~2000. Since then, it's been largely NPR, though I do occasionally flirt with KEXP since moving to Seattle.
posted by Slothrup at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, pretty much all mid-to-large market FM stations followed this trajectory. Remember when 92 CITI FM used to be more than a cog in the post-rock machine?

In some ways Canadian content rules delayed this disease, though the rock corpus finally gave in.
posted by clvrmnky at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2015

Oh shit, I just found out Scott Mason passed earlier in the year. How sad.

I talked to him on the air once, he had a 5 a.m. open line show, and I learned more about radio technology in that one call than I had ever had before.

He was one of the original Loveline hosts, back when the show also included an attorney giving legal advice.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:54 PM on August 8, 2015

John Frost was a guy on KROQ in the late 80s-early 90s that did a ton of their in-house advertising, bumpers and personal appearances. He did all kinds of jingles, comedy voicework and characters that were really, really funny.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:04 PM on August 8, 2015

Alterscape: some possibilities. 88.5 KCSN. 88.7 KSPC. 98.7 (kinda sucks). 93.1 (hit or miss)
posted by persona au gratin at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Great links, rhizome.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2015

Strong influence of Devo and B52s on "Just a Gigolo." Interesting, I don't remember that from Chicago new wave radio.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2015

Richard Blade is on Sirius, as is Swedish Egil.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2015

Poo-Bah Records! Now I'm really having flashbacks.
posted by blucevalo at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2015

Let's see if we can intensify those flashbacks: Moby Disc.
posted by The Tensor at 2:41 PM on August 8, 2015

"Right. I got it. Thanks. *Click*"
Okay, I'm dying from Penicillin-Resistant-Nostalgia right now because I WAS THERE. (Not in studio with Freddie Snakeskin, there were so many DJs doing 3-hour shifts, most of them, including Freddie, I just passed in the hall) But Freddie was such a heavy user of 'Drop-Ins' (the short clips of Jack Webb, Star Wars, the bad lounge singer doing 'My Way', etc.) that he didn't seem to let any real people in the studio when he was on (so I was surprised how many people - including the videographer - were around). The music, surprisingly enough, was mostly pre-selected by 'programming overlord' Ric Carroll and put on lists for the DJs to follow, except for two "DJ's choice" per hour, which Freddie abused more than most with things like the Jetsons Theme. The traffic reporter 'in the other room' was in another part of town, where the 'Radio Traffic Service' did reports for several L.A. stations (if you didn't guess from the one 'oops'). And the commercials! Carney's hot dogs, R-rated slasher movies, radio DJ schools, DIANETICS!

I got involved semi-unprofessionally with KROQ through Raechel Donahue (best known as the widow of Tom Donahue, 'Inventor of the FM Progressive Radio Format' and inspiration for the character in the movie "FM" played by Eileen Brennan), who had in-house produced 'bits', one of which I contributed to with me doing bad impressions of Rod Serling and Vin Scully on a cassette I sent to the station. I was SHOCKED they got on the air and KROQ 'Production Guy' Robert Roll contacted me to participate in the station's "FCC Requirement for News Content" weekend topical satire show "NewsRag" where my wacky ideas and bad voices were rewarded with stuff from the Promotional Giveaways locker. It was just plain fun in a 'Writers Room' with some crazy people, but frequently the cloud of pot smoke bothered me (how square can I BE?), so I went out in the hall where one of the station's secretaries was typing up scripts and made out with her (not TOO square). Good times.

It must be noted that they were using the tagline "The ROQ of the '80s" starting in 1978, in order to push a "tomorrow's music today" image. I have other anecdotes, including how I was invited to resident 'International Playboy' Egil "The Swedish Eagle" Aadvik's Catholic wedding, but maybe later. Here are some more snapshots of KROQ's music, via its "Top 106.7 of the Year" lists.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Great stories, foop.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2015

Man. I started listening to KROQ in '82 or so, for that 8 years through Jr. High and High School when they just playing whatever they found at Poo-Bah's or Moby Disc the day before. There was a torrent floating around a while ago with some old tape from Feb '82. Freddie Snakeskin and the Jed the Fish are on it. So are Adam and the Ants, Missing Persons, Wall of Voodoo, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Loverboy, The Go-Go's, Pete Shelley, Sparks, Slow Children, Nick Lowe, The Waitresses, Bowie, Martha and the Vandellas, The Clash, and Gleaming Spires. It's mind-boggling that commercial radio could have ever been that good in L.A.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:04 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oneswellfoop, in his video description Freddie Snakeskin says, "yes we really could Play What We Wanted, at least "within reason", ha ha)." Is he overstating that, and they could only play a song or two of their own choice per hour? Maybe he means they were free to play what they liked off the playlist (in addition to some songs entirely of their own choice). In any case, it's still more freedom than any DJ on a commercial station would have today.

I have an acquaintance who has a radio show at KXLU, one of LA's college radio stations. Before that his show was on KPFK, the Pacifica station. I've been a guest on both shows, and the studios (and equipment) looked a lot like what you see in these clips. I don't know what larger commercial studios look like, but over on the left side of the dial there are still some folks working in windowless little rooms with WKRP mics.

The Poor Man is worth a post of his own. He's an endearing character, but his temper and eccentricity have cost him dearly. In the 90s he had a local call-in TV show, live every night, but he lost it when he got naked on the air! I think he was protesting something at the station, they'd censored something maybe. His various shows always seemed to end with him ranting to anybody who'd listen about how he'd been ripped off and lied to. And he was probably right!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:39 PM on August 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Radio is a brain dead zombie of its former self. Sigh.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:08 AM on August 9, 2015

KXLU, Ursula? I attended that college AND that station; that was where, because of my personal collection of weird records, I got to do the show EVERY college station did those days, a Dr. Demento knock-off... if I'd gone to my 2nd choice, Cal Poly, I would've been fighting with Weird Al Yankovic to do that show there. In KXLU studios in the late '70s, we had windows BEHIND the DJs with blinds to avoid distraction, that I once opened (unauthorized) to re-create a recent natural disaster with a model of a bridge made of popsickle sticks and a bucket of water. It was not as well-received as my re-edit of Carlin's "Seven Words" monologue with Hanna Barbara sound effects for bleeps (a story I've told multiple times here).

eyeballkid, there was actual method to the madness in KROQ's music, with many records included for pure novelty value (any rock song with "Sex" in the table made the playlist for at least a week's trial... some like "Sex Dwarf" made it big), and a very strict list for the DJs to play in order, that avoided putting two songs in one of the station's secret sub-sub-categories back-to-back. But DJs made their opinions known and were given lists with more of the artists and songs they liked, just not too much. Ric Carroll was considered an Evil Genius there.

Poorman (as I called him) was one of the people I tried NOT to associate with at KROQ when I was there. Just a creepy air about him, which compared to some of the other KROQ-ers, is quite an achievement.

Radio is not what it used to be, and IMO, it's as much the blame of the people still doing "live" radio as the people automating the rest.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:17 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's been years since I was on Music for Nimords (the KXLU show) and I remembered the studio as windowless, but I was always on at 3 AM (literally) and maybe the windows were just dark so I didn't notice them. It's certainly not "slick" by any stretch. The KPFK studio was even more spartan, kind of a shack really. At least as of the late 1990s, it was the size of a garage. It kind of FELT like a garage!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:49 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just got curious and did a Google street view search, and the KPFK studio doesn't look like I remembered. I could swear it was one grungy little building on a busy street, but now it looks more like an actual radio station. So, either they moved or my memory's going.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:01 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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