January 17, 2009

Yesterday, 103.1 FM was the home to Los Angeles’ hope for independent radio, but today, it’s El Gato, a spanish-language music and talk station whose takeover of a popular English-speaking one is a sign of the city’s increasingly important “Latino market.” When Indie 103.1 started in 2002, I was but a wee high schooler from the San Fernando Valley listening to Brighteyes and Saves the Day. Although the lackluster reception range of the station’s broadcast prevented me from receiving the sweet sounds of an underground revolution on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, it did not stop the rumors that there was finally something on the radio worth listening to.When I did finally break free of the suffocating suburban regression, I found that Clear Channel–a corporate powerhouse that holds no interest but their own–was running a music broadcast with such unconventional DJs as Joe Escalante, Dave Navarro, Henry Rollins and Steve Jones spinning tunes from The Buzzcocks to Elliot Smith to Prince.

So I—like other fellow Angelenos—enjoyed the nice change of pace, but with it came the awareness of the money and forces behind it and the knowledge that nothing is really independent or underground if its very existence was built  with the benefits of Clear Channel’s capitalistic gain.

Yes, Indie 103.1 was the Diet Coke of underground (just one calorie, not independent enough), but it sure as fuck beat Limp Bizkit block parties on KROQ and Fall Out Boy singles on KIIS. Their all-local Sunday program helped local bands like Cold War Kids, Silversun Pickups and Darker My Love get some airtime and the concerts they sponsored gave independent music listeners a reason to get their asses to Hollywood. It helped bring the Eastside music scene into a national spotlight (The Happy Hollows, Henry Clay People) and–although the layout slowly slid out of touch–it proved that there is definitely a market of listeners who are into the college-radio format.

Indie 103.1 officially signed off at 10AM Thursday, playing both the Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious versions of “On My Way,” before launching into a loop of Clash and Black Flag songs interspersed with the message that “due to changes in the music industry and how ratings are calculated,” they are being forced to go completely online. Basically faced with the decision to turn into “one of them,” or go off the air, the station held to its last sliver of integrity and ceded. While I respect them for holding to their independent ideals and refusing to play more “Britney and Puffy” (what is this 1999?), I wish that they had put their foot down before the whole thing started and not played so much Soundgarden and Oasis. Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Regardless of pretentious definitions of “underground.” “alternative” and “independent,” Indie 103.1 did a shitton to help Los Angeles local music and it’s a damn shame to see it forced off the air. The Ataris were right: the radio still sucks.


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