Classic KROQ Gets a Second Wind With ROQ of the ’80s

The OGs of KROQ

Contrary to popular belief, radio isn’t dead! The truth is, video didn’t kill the radio star; it was free entertainment on the internet that almost did. It’s hard to fathom, but before the internet provided us with a deluge of digital choices, if you wanted to hear a new song from your favorite band, you’d have to buy their cassette, album or CD. There was the other option; wait to hear it on the radio and tape it on your boom-box. It’s not clear why, but the 80’s remain the most beloved decade of TV, film, and music. Reality is that no matter how cool any new band is, the Radio Gods want to press the button and send us back in time.

Flashing back to the future; Baby Boomers are basking in the glory that is their AARP card discounts, and they can now appreciate 80’s music with a new generation. These fans just can’t get enough of Depeche Mode, Bowie, Smiths, Cure, Clash, Duran Duran and the Beastie Boys. In the end, TV and movies give great imagery, but radio gives us infinite vision. As history would have it, a Pasadena-based radio station single-handedly changed the landscape. KROQ FM was a fledgling radio station back then, and thanks to a wide-range cast of characters, they brought us the New-Wave, New-Romantic, Rockabilly, Punk and Ska sound.    

Clearly, we love new music, especially the teenage demographic; it’s always been that way. However, in today’s music environment, some of the complaints have been that there’s a palpable lack of style among today’s new artists. Some go as far as saying that if it wasn’t for the iPad, live music might be no more. Despite all the criticism, there are a few local stations out there like today’s KROQ who pull off a good balance of great new tunes, while remaining loyal to their roots. Call it nostalgia, or having a generational bias, but, the future of music may not all be ahead of us. Part of the future may be in our past. Ironically, people say anything that was cool will come back in style 35 years after its peak; we’re right about at that mark. To fully understand the scope of the impact The World Famous KROQ has had on us, we have to know its past.

KROQ’s old Pasadena location

KROQ had its humble beginning as an AM station, and it was a Country station at that. The call letters were KBBQ (1500AM). Gary Bookasta and his partners bought that station and changed the name to KROQ. They changed their format from Country to Top 40. In 1973, they acquired KPPC-FM (106.7fm) from National Science Network, and changed their name again; this time to KROQ-FM. Their broadcast was a simulcast. The stories of the station being run out of a hotel at one time are not an urban legend; that’s really true. In those early days, the broadcast was done from two suites at the Pasadena Hilton. In 1977, they moved to the Los Robles (Pasadena) location, which was ironically a former parole office.

Early KROQ had all the challenges and drama of a soap opera. Ownership changed hands a few times, and due to cash-flow issues, running to the bank to cash a check became an adventure. Things happened as a result, for the better and worse. For any good story, you have to give credit to those who deserve it. There were three guys that were instrumental in the existence of this station. Without them, who knows where we’d be. The trio includes Shadoe Stevens (Program Director (PD) & DJ), the “Insane” Darrell Wayne (PD & DJ) and Ken Roberts. Roberts eventually took over ownership of the station. That move started a new era in radio broadcasting.

This new era brought us a variety of bands and styles. Bands from across-the-pond like Adam & the Ants, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Police, a Flock of Seagulls, and XTC led the way. There were cool American bands too, like Berlin, Blondie, B52’s, Go-Go’s, Dramarama, Ramones, Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Romeo Void, Sparks, R.E.M, Social D, and X. It’s also true that the girls all went nuts over Billy Idol. The ska sound included the Specials, Bad Manners, The English Beat, Madness, and Selecter. The local ska bands we fell in love with were Fishbone and the Untouchables. Can you imagine what the OC would be like if it wasn’t for that early ska movement?

As the station stabilized, “Spacin” Scott Mason was brought on as an Engineer and Joq. He transformed it into a technically sound station. Joqs that deservedly got props for breaking new music was Rodney Bingenheimer and Jed the Fish. Jed had a great delivery and infectious laugh. He literally stood up for bands like Devo, Talking Heads, and Boingo to get them on the air. Other names that brought us the tunes were Rick Carroll (PD), Lewis Largent (Music Director – MD), Andy Schuon (PD), and Larry Groves (MD). Larry and Rick came up with the slogan, ROQ of the 80’s. There’s a funny story how the station became WORLD FAMOUS. That was actually a tongue-in-cheek joke between Joqs. They joked about the limited antenna signal back then. In the years to come, the station earned that distinction and wore it with pride There are a ton of great stories of the things that went on at the station… some are greatly exaggerated, but many are true.

Truth be told, the driving force behind their success was the DJ’s. Early 80’s Joqs we loved were Larry Woodside, Raechel Donahue and the legendary Frazer Smith. There were a few DJ’s that got to be larger than life. We knew them by one name, there were Ramondo and Blade, Egil, and Poorman. The ladies of the airwaves were Dusty Street, April Whitney, Kennedy, Katy Manor, and Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira. April was one of the first ladies of the airwaves, she joined the staff in 1979. She gave WORLD FAMOUS new meaning when she appeared in Playboy in ’86 in the Women of the Airwaves issue.  Aside from the starlets, there were even artists that shared the mic, Sly Stone and Ian Whitcomb have that distinction. These were just some of the voices of the beehive that made this place so damn special.

Back then, Joqs had a hand in picking music. They were notorious for frequenting local record stores for imports and extended remixes. Bands could literally walk up to the studio and talk to the Joqs and hopefully have them play their music. That’s how Missing Persons got their songs “Mental Hopscotch” and “I Like Boys” on the air. They walked up to the back door, pressed the red button and asked for Freddy Snakeskin. He was happy to oblige, and before you know it… it was his Joq’s choice song; the rest is history. The full measure of what they were doing couldn’t immediately be felt. It wasn’t until 1982 when everyone grasped the enormity of what was going on. The event was the US Festival, or, the DUST Festival as it was known to those who attended. The fact that Apple was being launched simultaneously at the festival made it a surreal moment in time.  What’s unforgettable is the response to the bands that were played at the station and for the DJ’s introducing the bands. It was clear this little station had become a radio juggernaut.

No disrespect to any time periods, but ‘80s bands were ahead of their time. They produced music that entertained us and made us dance. For their loyal fans, the music was more than a good beat that gave them happy feet. Their music became memories of the best and worst days of their lives. Those songs inspired and comforted; they told stories about heroes and villains… they helped us deal with life, death, and recovery. They created resurrection through redemption. That’s why this music holds a special place in the hearts of so many. Add to that that they were competing against KLOS and the KMET’s of the world, it was unbelievable when they became the #1 Rated Radio Station in Los Angeles.

As with everything in life, all good things eventually come to an end. Music evolved as a result of grunge, then alt-rock and to today’s new genres. Sadly, that ‘80s sound slowly moved to the back page of our thoughts.  Stations developed online-only channels that featured specialty shows, like ‘80s segments. The new music environment just about killed live radio for these “B” channels. Honestly, file sharing may be a way to hear music, but it doesn’t have the same soul as a live radio DJ.  While a good number of radio stations have downsized over the years, there are some that remain as Titans of the industry. Kick in a user-friendly website, and BOOM, the next wave of radio is here!!! Consider the enormous success of music festivals like LOST 80’s LIVE, 80’s Weekends and the Like Totally 80’s Festival. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out there’s a gigantic market for 80’s music. Many say the reason we love the 80’s so much is that we’re loyal to ourselves, and the teenager still inside us. That teen remains loyal to the bands they loved. Considering this, a successful radio station would seize on opportunities like this.

Much credit goes to ROQ of the 80’s PD, Gene Sandbloom, and the RADIO.COM Innovation Team, for giving people what they want. Sandbloom recently said that “there’s a huge fan base of original KROQ fans out there. My number one goal is to not disappoint them.” So far, he’s off to a great start as the wait for flashback tunes with live DJ’s is over. The re-launch of  KROQ HD2 – ROQ of the ‘80s is in full effect. The re-launch will feature two familiar voices, Tami Heide and Freddy Snakeskin.

Both of these great DJ’s bring us comfort, tell us great stories while painting a mental picture for us. Tami will be on-air from Noon to 6 pm.  She’s the girl with two first names, and she’s been at the station for a good part of its history. Tami was originally at WBCN in Boston before joining KROQ. Once she landed, she fit in perfectly. She has fans that can’t imagine life in SoCal without the sound of her voice. Mornings will kick off with the iconic voice of Freddy Snakeskin. He’ll spearhead the 6 am to Noon shift. Ironically, Freddy grew up in the Phoenix area, and as a kid, he worked at a small Country station. He eventually came out to L.A., and a star was born! Freddy has been there off and on since 1980, his distinctive voice and delivery has earned him the status of being one of the Titans of L.A. Radio. It’s a mystery how he’s not in the National Radio Hall of Fame.  

If you’re ready to revolutionize your ears again, check out KROQ HD 2 – ROQ of the 80’s. You can hear the songs you expect, and the extended re-mixes and rarities that made them WORLD FAMOUS. The new revolution has begun, and it airs conveniently at RADIO.COM.

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