On The Dial: How Rodney Changed Radio

By Rick Hall from Hollywood, CA (Red Carpet Crowd Uploaded by gohe007) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For as long as I have been in an automobile, the radio has been the driver for adventure.

On V&R, I talked about the past and present of radio broadcasting with an automotive context. While we feed our infotainment systems with other forms of entertainment – music files, podcasts and recorded books, there are still two basic bands of radio broadcasting, along with satellite and app-based broadcasts to choose from.

V&R still believes in the radio. When we explore topics "on the dial," we will get deeper into the state of radio – from the AM dial to SiriusXM to app-based services that bring the world closer to your commute. Of course, we not only listen to radio broadcasts in our automobile. Our phones have been giving us the same entertainment even as we ride the bus or bicycle somewhere.

Where should we begin? How about something something from my past.

Rodney Bingenheimer was a longtime radio icon in Los Angeles. He was to New Wave, Punk and other kitschy music as Art Laboe was to early Rock N' Roll. If you did not grow up in Los Angeles, the comparison might be somewhat meaningless.

As the ageless svengali of music not heard regularly on the radio – the "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," at one time – he worked from being a publicist in the music industry to running his English Disco on the Sunset Strip onto his Sunday spot on KROQ inside their old studios on Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena.

“Rodney on The ROQ” was must listen radio for those looking for different sounds than what was prevailing on Los Angeles radio. Between KMET and ABC-owned KLOS, your dose of Album Oriented Rock was covered on the FM dial. Pop radio was big, along with soft rock, light rock, country and a rotation of trendy radio genres that housed disco to whatever floats the station manager's ears. The AM dial saw seminal R&B stations taking on another new musical genre – Hip-Hop. You could hear them clearly, if you stayed in the city within the mountain ranges. But, they would soon emerge over the Santa Monica Mountains and on the FM dial in due time.

Only a few people were listening to KROQ in the 1970s and the dawn of the 1980s. No one understood what Jed The Fish and other DJs were playing. On Sunday evenings, Bingenheimer brought a deeper set of music. This was the music that bridged the industry's underground and its wanting listeners.

Think of the bands that knocked on Bingenheimer's door to get played on his show. The entire Southern California Punk scene got airplay – Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Vandals…to name a few. He was the first prominent Southern California DJ to play seminal bands, such as the Sex Pistols. Blondie, Van Halen, Nena, Duran Duran, Nina Hagen, the B-52s, The Go-Gos, The Clash, The Jam…and so forth. Eventually, these artists would make up the bulk of KROQ's playlists in the early years on Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena.

The timing for "Rodney on the ROQ" couldn't be perfect for someone exploring all sorts of music from my streetside bedroom in Reseda. Binghenheimer not only introduced the previously listed artists to me…he opened the door for me to explore punk and new wave. I would have not known about Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics, along with the new wave of Ska (in the UK, this was known as Tutone). There were many acts that Bingenheimer opened my ears and mind to – a lot of it can be still heard on SiriusXM's 1st Wave channel and Radio.com's KROQ-2 station.

Even as KROQ was bought by Infinity Broadcasting in 1986 and they became a part of their corporate structure, they kept Bingenheimer on his usual Sunday spot. He was the station's soul. If it weren't for him breaking bands that would become part of the so-called Alternative Music lexicon, Bingenheimer would be just a footnote in popular music.

After 40 years in the business, Bingenheimer was unceremoniously let go by CBS. It was driven by economics leading to staff cutbacks. A dropkick lead by a spreadsheet to silence one of the most influential voices in broadcasting at a time when new genres of music needed that important piece of airplay.

On Sunday, June 4, 2017, "Rodney on the ROQ" made its last broadcast. But, word has it that it would not be his last. Former fellow KROQ DJ, Richard Blade of SiriusXM's 1st Wave, posted on Facebook that he could not comment on where Bingenheimer might be heard next. A lot of coverage of Bingenheimer pointed that it would probably not be on regular old terrestrial radio.

Though it sounds like "the end," it is not. Bingenheimer offers a lot of relevance even in the face of today's music and broadcast media scene. I recall a video that Playboy posted that had Dave Grohl and Pat Smear riding around in an old Ford Bronco following David Bowie's L.A. Life in the wake of his death last year. Along for part of the ride was Bingenheimer, who worked with Bowie in the 1970s.

There is one important piece in Bingenheimer's story to parse out here. Though he was revered in Southern California, his impact was felt across the country and around the world within the world of broadcast media. KROQ might not be the first radio station to play Punk, New Wave and all of the genres making up today's Alternative music genre. Because of Bingenheimer's influence and connections within the music business, KROQ was put on the map as a pioneer in programming these forms of music and fostering their growth in terms of record/album sales and radio ratings.

Soon, there would be similar stations to KROQ popping up across the country. Using a transmitter in nearby Tijuana, San Diego's 91X echoed the programming of KROQ giving Losangelinos and Orange County tourists something familiar to groove to up and down Interstate 5 towards Mexico. In the Bay Area came The Quake, leading to Live 105. In almost every major market across North America, the same artists and their songs could be heard from a blaring radio or stereo set somewhere within listening distance.

Over 40 years, Rodney Bingenheimer gave us what was next for our music collections. He opened the door for Punk and New Wave to become part of the mainstream – whether these artists liked it or not. It wasn't just the 1970s and 1980s where he flourished. He kept going, receiving new songs from artists hoping to make it in a tough music marketplace. In later years, that meant breaking No Doubt and Oasis on the air in America. Radio has never been the same since Bingenheimer's arrival off of the Sunset Strip.

We hope it continues moving forward with Rodney Bingenheimer wafting through our speakers into the future.

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  1. Having been fortunate enough to move to LA in the latter part of Rodneys heyday in the mid 1980’s, and hearing his live show often, may I suggest that a petition be circulated to promote Rodney’s inclusion in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. It is almost criminal, and without a doubt at least unfair, that a person with such a monstrous influential on punk, new wave and all of rock, get so little credit on a national level.

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