I wrote this back in 2004 when a documentary was coming out about Rodney Bingenheimer. He’s leaving KROQ as of June 5th so I thought I’d post it again.
“This is Rodney on the Roq and tonight we’re gonna hear from a local band called….”
I have mentioned before that I am an L.A. baby. I’ve lived here almost my whole life (Those first four years in Florida hardly matter). I have an older brother, five years older. Older siblings can be very useful for bringing all sort of cool shit into the lives of younger siblings.
Mine was a great, great source for music and his source, eventually mine as well, was Rodney.
In 1978 I was a freshman in high school. KROQ was this little punk radio station that only a few really cool people, such as my older brother, were listening to back then. The big stations in L.A. at that time were KMET and KLOS.
But KROQ was….INSANE! I remember sitting out on the pool deck and listening to them tell dirty jokes on the air and then having to come back on and apologize so they wouldn’t get fined. The DJs were totally out of control but totally in control of the music that they played. Something unheard of today.
Most importantly they had Rodney On The ROQ. Rodney Bingenheimer. The little nasally, whiney voiced guy who did NOT sound at all like the 70’s era velvet voiced DJs we were all so used to back then. Rodney was punk radio here in L.A. even though he played tons of stuff that wasn’t punk. But he sort of personified the idea of punk…the idea of do it yourdamnself if you want it done…sound however it is YOU sound…and listen to everything.
Rodney was our lifeline out in the Suburbs. He told us what bands to go see and where to go see them. The Motels at Madame Wongs East, Elvis Costello and the Attractions at Fairfax High, The Naughty Sweeties at the Country Club, X at the Whiskey, The Germs at The Mask…it was crazy and wonderful.
Did I see any of those bands in 1978…HELL NO! I was 14…but my brother saw quite a few of them and brought the news from the front to us stuck behind in the trenches. Then we swarmed up to Lovells, our independent record store and bought all the albums we could find by those bands. We listened faithfully to KROQ….most faithfully to Rodney.
There’s a documentary coming out about Rodney called “The Mayor Of Sunset Strip”. Here’s the thing about Rodney these days. KROQ tried to take him off the air a few years ago but the public outcry was SO huge that they changed their minds… instead they gave him a shitty time slot. His show is relegated to the wasteland of Midnight to 4a.m. I think, on Sunday nights. The station is now such a fucking protected bunker that it’s almost impossible for an unsigned band to get a tape or a CD to Rodney (the only DJ allowed to play whatever he wants). Which is one of the reasons that for years now he always announces where he’ll be after his show or even just on a regular basis. I know tons of musicians who have walked up to him at diner counters where he was eating and handed him a tape or a CD and he has always been gracious and kind. Rodney has launched and supported the careers of countless famous musicians…but he lives in a very modest apartment in Hollywood. He’s not rich, I’m pretty sure from everything I’ve read over the past few years about him, he’s barely making it. But, seemingly, he’s still living the life he loves…a life that is only about music. He doesn’t seem unhappy, even if he is frustrated, like all of us, with the state of radio these days.
Just a few months ago a friend of mine got their CD into Rodney’s hands and he played it and said really nice things about them on the air. Then, knowing that midnight to 4a.m. wasn’t gonna get anyone going….he got their CD into the hands of one of the other DJs at KROQ and he played it.
Rodney Bingenheimer is one of those rare people who knows amazing music when he hears it and will fearlessly play it on the radio. There was a lot of brouhaha when Tom Petty put out the song, “The Last DJ” which many speculated was about another L.A. DJ who refused to kowtow to the Corporate Radio bullshit. But that DJ only plays music that is 20-30 years old, that DJ didn’t play Tom Petty and Heartbreakers back in 1978. Rodney played TP and the HBers back then, when they were new and dangerous. Today he plays music that is new and dangerous and NOT a guaranteed hit.
If anyone is the last true DJ in this town….it’s the guy with the whiney voice telling you about “The Randies playing at the Key Club tonight” from Midnight to 4AM.