Farewell to Indie 103.1, Los Angeles’ Alternative Radio Station

01.15.09 9 years ago

Goodbye Indie 103.1. Today, Los Angeles lost one of its few outlets for alternative music when 103.1 went off the air. It will continue to broadcast on the internet but without DJs and, we presume, without the vast majority of its audience.

I know radio stations flip all the time (the rumor is that 103.1’s owners, Entravision, will switch to a Spanish station), but usually they don’t leave the void that will be felt by 103.1’s departure.
The station posted a notice on its website that read, in part:

“Because of changes in the radio industry and the way radio audiences are measured, stations in this market are being forced to play too much Britney, Puffy and alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge. Due to these challenges, Indie 103.1 was recently faced with only one option — to play the corporate radio game.

We have decided not to play that game any longer. Rather than changing the sound, spirit, and soul of what has made Indie 103.1 great Indie 103.1 will bid farewell to the terrestrial airwaves and take an alternative course.”

Indeed, as the note hints, in what now was clearly an effort to save its own skin, 103.1 had veered closer to mainstream rock over the last few months and it hasn’t worked. It was neither fish nor fowl-not indie enough for its original fans and not mainstream enough to woo folks away from KROQ. Indie 103.1 was far from perfect, but it was the closest LA had to the idea of a station that didn’t play the same 20 songs over and over and attempted to expose listeners to good, fresh alternative music with a healthy dose of classics like the Ramones sprinkled in.

I heard so much new music or classic stuff that I wasn’t familiar with on Indie that I made sure I had a pen and piece of paper in the car with me so that I could write down the name of a great song I’d heard for the first time on Indie 103.1. If that wasn’t handy, I’d try to remember around what time I heard the song so I could look it up later on 103.1’s website.

I can’t even remember all the artists I heard first on Indie, but I remember the one that made the biggest impression-it must have been shortly after its launch in December 2003. They played a song that was sinewy and eerie and so damn sexy that even though I arrived at my destination long before it was over, I just sat in my car mesmerized. That song was “Destiny” by Zero 7 and it turned me on not only to the band, but also to Sia, who sang lead on that track.

Artists liked Indie too. Prince leaked music from his forthcoming album on 103.1 in December, confident that anyone adventurous enough to listen to 103.1 was probably a Prince fan. (although it strikes me as sad that 103.1 was considered adventurous or out of the mainstream in any way- it was just not boiler plate and boring, but those are liabilities in today’s world.)

The jewel in Indie 103.1’s crown was “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” a mid-day program hosted by the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones. At first, I admit I thought he was horrible. He clearly wasn’t used to doing radio, his accent was so thick at times that it was nearly undecipherable and his comments about women (or “birds” as he called them in his broad British accent) were often sexist. But then, as I listened to him more, I grew to love him. For someone who was unschooled at interviewing, he knew how to get great comments out of people whether it was the cast of “Mad Men” or Peter Noone from The Herman’s Hermits (who knew a Pistol and a Hermit had so much in common?). Indie 103.1 also had great specialty programming including “Watusi Rodeo,” a Sunday morning roots and Americana music block, hosted by my former Billboard colleague Chris Morris. I was fortunate enough to sit on a few times as guest co-host on Sat Bisla’s Saturday morning program, “Passport Approved,” which highlighted music from around the globe that had yet to be released in the U.S. His show was my first exposure to Lily Allen long before “Alright, Still” came out on Capitol Records.

I fear there’s not a place on terrestrial radio anymore for a station like 103.1. Despite a devoted fan base, its ratings were terrible. According to the LA Times, in the last Arbitron book, Indie was 38th in the Los Angeles market. But at least it got in a parting shot: the last song played on Indie 103.1 this morning before it signed off: “My Way.” And in classic Indie style, first the station played Frank Sinatra’s version and then, perhaps in a last tip of the hat to Jones, closed with the Sex Pistols’ cover.

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