At “Don’t Touch That Dial,” culture maven Gerry Fialka interviewed three Los Angeles area radio hosts about the joys and challenges of working in “alternative” radio.
Participants at the discussion, held at Beyond Baroque on November 11, included Reverend Dan, whose “Music For Nimrods” airs from 3-6 a.m. Saturdays on LMU’s KXLU, Stella, whose “Stray Pop” show also airs on KXLU at 11 p.m. Saturdays, and Martin Perlich, Program Director at Cal State Northridge’s KCSN, who hosts a live interview show from 2-6 p.m. weekdays.
Fialka began by asking the panelists and audience Marshall McLuhan’s four questions about the effects of media:
1. What does radio enhance or intensify?
“If it’s good it enhances everything, and if it’s bad it diminishes everything,” said Reverend Dan.
2. What does it render obsolete?
Audience responses: distance and conversation.
3. What does it bring back?
Dan suggested, “It gives us another way to imagine.”
4. And what does radio become when pressed to an extreme?
“Propaganda,” said Stella.
The panelists then talked about their careers. Stella grew up in Gardena, listened to local rock stations on “a little transistor,” got into album rock radio in the 1970s, and started at KXLU in 1977. Her “Stray Pop” show started in February 1980 and has been a fixture of KXLU ever since. How has she survived? “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s tenacity. I view it as a vocation, it’s meant to be.” (Stella is not paid for her radio work).
She admitted to initially having some trouble at KXLU when she played what was then considered “punk” music at a station that played mainstream rock. Also, “It’s hard being a female because you get a lot of male attitude.” But Stella hung in there and got her own time slot.
She played a clip from a show on which she simultaneously interviewed R&B legend Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the post-punk group The Cramps.
Reverend Dan was influenced by many Los Angeles radio personalities such as The Real Don Steele, Dr. Demento, and Rodney Bingenheimer. Eventually he took his hobby of making music mixes on tape to radio, first at a limited-power college station, then to KPFK in 1996 and to KXLU in 2000.
In addition to playing rarely heard music, Dan has been reading news items during “Music For Nimrods.” He said he had become impatient with TV and radio news that focused on trivial gossip when “there’s a war out there.” The reaction to his “real” news? “I have not received one negative comment.”
Martin Perlich’s career goes back to the 1960s, when he worked at a classical station in his native Cleveland and was permitted to do his own free-form show – years before the album rock format took off. In Los Angeles he worked at KMET in that station’s glory days of the early 1970s. “It was different then – we really believed that we could change the world.”
After a long hiatus from radio, Perlich returned to the broadcasting business in the late ’80s. As program director of KCSN, he oversees a format that includes blues, rock, folk, and other “roots” music styles as well as the daytime classical programming. “I believe in art as an alternative religion with the way it explores the world.”
But despite his past history of mixing music and activism, Perlich says he now stays away from politics in the programming, preferring to have his station concentrate on music.
“If you ruled the world and could improve radio, what would you do?’ Fialka asked the panelists.
Stella: “I would equalize the access. There’s too much regulation.”
Dan: “I would like to see radio evolve again.”
Martin: ”You’ve got to do what’s in your heart. Corporations aren’t interested in that. That’s the problem. I don’t know what can be done about it.”