Every Tuesday, FADER deputy editor Eric Ducker gets on instant messenger and "discusses" a subject that's been on his mind with another member of our staff or a special guest. Two weeks ago, Los Angeles radio station Indie 103.1 went off the terrestrial airwaves. A lot of people were upset about it. After jump, read the discussion with Alexis Rivera, a LA-based band manager and the founder of Echo Park Records, about what Indie 103.1 really meant for Los Angeles music and the state of radio in the city.
Eric Ducker: What do you think of Indie 103.1 going off the terrestrial airwaves?
Alexis Rivera: At first, I didn't think that much about it. On a personal level, I don't listen to the radio that often, and if I do it's usually a specialty show. But in terms of business, the bands I manage had a good relationship with Indie, and now that they're gone, there's not really anyone to pick up the slack. I had a meeting with a label the day after Indie went off, and it's a fairly big label, but they're still an independent one, and they were really worried about what it'd do to their business. The labels are already hurting, and Indie is a way for them to break their acts.
ED: Do you think Indie 103 really broke acts?
AL: Well, break in terms of a group could go from maybe the El Rey to the Henry Fonda to the Wiltern if they had the support of Indie. For instance, LCD Soundsystem, there aren't many better contemporary touring bands, either in terms of their music or their show, but I don't think they ever headlined a venue in LA bigger than the El Rey. I heard them on Indie maybe only a few times, and granted I didn't listen to Indie that much, but I imagine they could've made that push to a bigger room if Indie was playing "All My Friends" ten times a day.
ED: Which they should've.
AL: One thing that sucks about Indie being gone is that Steve Jones isn't on the air anymore. When he started I was on disability and listened to the radio a lot, because I had to drive everywhere because I couldn't walk, and I really enjoyed his show. It was unlike other shows on the radio, and he would talk about interesting topics, play different kinds of music and even if he talked about getting pedicures and being fat, he had a lot more personality than most people.
ED: I was never a big fan of that show
AL: It got too bloated, like the host. But Indie was pretty boring otherwise. Shit, their morning show hosts were the guy from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and then the guy from The Vandals. Did you listen to Indie?
ED: Yes, but I thought it was pretty ridiculous that in the beginning of 2008 they ran promos about how they were playing new music by LCD Soundsystem and CSS, when those albums had been available in the US for months. When I flipped around the radio I would hang out there for a bit. I guess what's frustrating to me about the memorializing of it that's already going on is that Indie 103 wasn't in reality what people are saying it was. In its first couple weeks/months of broadcasting they didn't have any DJs and hardly any commercials and they played lots of old and new alternative music that wasn't just Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails or Sublime. I think lots of people are pretending that for the past four or five years that the station has basically been that, plus Jonesy’s Jukebox. I understand that a commercial radio station can’t financially exist without DJs or commercials or a playlist, but let’s not pretend that Indie 103 did exist without those things. In reality it was as decent an alternative rock station should be in 2009. In terms of breaking bands and taking risks, occasionally they did cool stuff, most recently playing the shit out of Amazing Babies' "Headdress," but that wasn't a common occurrence
AR: I agree with you on people's perception of Indie. In the past everything is great. It's like with exes. But if you actually listened to the station for a full day before they went off the air, you would've heard a lot of mediocre music, just the same as how you might think highly of an ex, but then you bump into her and maybe she's got cankles and a colored tattoo on her arm. Also, this is kind of an old topic, but what the hell does "indie" mean? Can people stop using indie and hipster?
ED: Hipster is obviously an awful, meaningless word at this point, but yeah, I guess I never understood what exactly was "indie" about them. Was the company indie? Most of the music in the rotation wasn't technically indie.
AR: Exactly. If MGMT is on Columbia, how is that indie? If they mean the type of people who go to Spaceland, have no asses and wear Chuck Taylors, I don't think Indie really played that kind of indie. At least the station now at the 103.1 frequency has a cool name now. I'm not a cat person, but "El Gato" sounds a lot cooler than Indie But I still wouldn't listen to El Gato. It's a bunch of mediocre banda like Jenni Rivera. My girlfriend's aunt had a fun banda group on New Year's Eve at her house in Tijuana, so maybe if I wanted to relive that? But otherwise I don't need to hear it.
ED: I think one of things that was frustrating to me about Indie 103 was the celebrity hosts they had for their specialty shows: Crystal Method, Camp Freddy, Joe Escalante from The Vandals, Henry Rollins... I understand that those people all made contributions to modern music—some more significant than others—but I don't consider them involved with or in tune with the music that the station claimed it was supporting. I'm not saying they should have given mp3 bloggers shows or become a college radio station, but there are a lot of other people in LA that would have done great/relevant shows that focused on modern “indie” music.
AR: What are your favorite LA stations?
ED: KPCC, which is the non-music NPR station, and KLOS, which is classic rock.
AR: KPCC is pretty good. Girlfriends always have secret stations they listen to that they don't want you to know they listen to. I had one who listened to KLOS. Another listened to the Arrow, which was 93.1
ED: I think a lot of the DJs on Power 106 are more adventurous than the Indie 103 ones were. They will work in Treasure Fingers and Chromeo into their mixes amidst their constant stream of TI, Rihanna and TI with Rihanna.
AR: You'll hear all kinds of music and different races on Power, but you won't on Indie or KROQ. The only commercial station with mixed artists is K Earth and their playlist hasn't changed for forty years. That's depressing to me. I like how regional Power is. I remember thinking Westside Connection’s "Gangsta Nation" was the biggest song ever, I liked it a lot and it was on Power every ten minutes. Then I went to Philly to see some friends and they'd never heard it, I couldn't believe it. I don't think most radio is that regional anymore. I have two favorite stations, one that I really love and one that just intrigues the hell out of me. Have you ever heard Recuerdo? It has two frequencies but I listen to the 98.3 one. It plays older, mostly Mexican music, that's vaguely psychedelic, although they were all major mainstream hits during their time. But I hear stuff on there that sounds like Baxter Dury or, I don't know, Panda Bear. The other station… Have you ever heard of or seen Santa Barbara Plaza? It's near Crenshaw and MLK. It's this rundown, depressing as hell shopping center that the city keeps planning on doing their urban renewal on. There's a radio station in there, and it's only good in the immediate Crenshaw area. If you get to Adams it goes out. I mean it's limited as hell, but the music is interesting and the hosts are really out there.
ED: What are the presets on your car radio?
AL: The first one is 88.1, which used to be KLON but then they renamed it KJAZZ, which is horrible. Saturday nights this guy Miles Perlich does a good show, he'll play Joe Bataan and stuff like that. Then KPCC, which is 89.3, then KCRW, which is 89.9, then Recuerdo at 98.3, then K Earth at 101.1. I think the other one is KPFK. So basically all NPR crap. And yours?
ED: KPCC, KUSC which is classical, KLOS, The Beat, and, sadly, KROQ.
AL: One thing that sucks about LA's radio and a lot of the cultural biggies is that most of them are in the Hills and going west to Malibu. I feel like if KCRW was based in downtown it'd be a lot more interesting.
ED: There's a lot of things that could make KCRW more interesting, like a ban on global beats.
AL: One of their DJs, this guy Mario Cotto, I've started listening to his show online, because on the radio it's from midnight to 3AM and I'm not staying up that late. He's pretty good And Garth Trinidad will play some interesting stuff. Cotto lives in Koreatown and Trinidad lives in Ladera Heights, I think. But most of their other DJs are Santa Monica and Westsiders. Another problem is that KXLU [Loyola-Marymount University’s free form radio station] is hard to hear in most of the city because there's a religious channel in the Valley that swallows up their signal.
ED: Maybe it’s just that Indie 103 was just really good in the context of all the other stations in the country that play modern music that could potentially appeal to lots of people. I never listened to the radio when I lived in New York because I didn’t have a car, and driving across the country in a truck without a tape or CD player I became familiar with lots of weird, regional NPR shows because there was nothing else out there I could listen to.