There was nothing happening at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was a nothin' goin' down at all, not at all
Then one fine mornin' she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started shakin' to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll”
“Rock & Roll,” The Velvet Underground
Are you a rock music fan frustrated trying to find a good radio station?
A few months ago, I saw a billboard for a new rock radio station I should check out. I’ve usually been disappointed listening to new radio stations, but what the hell, I gave it a shot.
Listening to the new station on a given day, I would hear an impressive list of songs, such as “The Joke,” by Brandi Carlile, “Everything Now,” by Arcade Fire, “Up All Night,” by The War on Drugs, “Once in My Life,” by The Decemberists, and “Baby I Love You,” by Ryan Adams.
Then I might hear some classic oldies interwoven within the new song playlist, like “Love Is The Drug,” by Roxy Music, “One Time, One Night,” by Los Lobos, “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen, and “For No One,” by the Beatles.
Two of the station’s slogans describe its philosophy as: “Smart rock for passionate music fans,” and “You deserve better radio.”
If you’re in the Los Angeles and Orange County area, tune into 88.5 FM. You can also listen to it anywhere when you download the station’s app to have it streamed into your phone or tablet; or you can stream it through iHeart Radio.
For a rock music fan like myself, it’s tough to find a radio station worth listening to. The very idea of being a rock music fan has changed quite a bit since I bought my first 45 records and 33 albums in the 1970s.
These days on LA radio, you can find targeted, limited channels. You’ll find alt-rock stations like KROQ or ALT 98.7; or Top 40 pop on KIIS-FM; or classic rock oldies stations like K-EARTH 101; or urban hip hop like Power 105.1; or country music like Go Country 105; or Christian pop like 100.3 FM, which used to be The Sound playing classic rock from the ’60 and ‘70s.
There’s also music apps like Spotify and Pandora. I usually listen to Thumbprint Radio on Pandora, will consolidates songs based on my favorite artists and most listened-to songs. The problem is the repetition. I’ve been getting burned out on Iggy Pop, Death Cab For Cutie, the solo careers of the Beatles, and “House of the Rising Sun,” by The Animals.
When listening to 88.5 FM, you’re going to hear a broad spectrum of styles — Folk/Roots, Rock, Blues, Alt-Country, Classic Rock, and more. What we call rock music has evolved in recent years into an amalgamation of music genres that you can hear on the new FM station. It’s playlist reflects a revival of singer-songwriter acoustic tunes and raw, earthy blues from bands like Alabama Shakes; the latest from established artists like Beck and Coldplay, and newer ones like First Aid Kit and Mondo Cozmo; and forgotten gems like the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” or “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” by Fairport Convention.
One thing I love about radio is being surprised. Not long ago, I heard a huge hit on 88.5 FM from 1988 that became a radio standard in the 1990s — “Orinoco Flow,” by Irish pop star Enya. We remember it most with the “Sail away,” refrain. It wasn’t the greatest song, but it was a joy to hear it again.
Since the 1990s, I’ve heard radio stations failing when going this route — mixing tracks from established artists’ classic albums with new songs in the “smart rock” spectrum; and I’ve heard variations in recent years on Sirius XM, Pandora, and cable TV music channels.
Former MTV veejay Mark Goodman has represented this trend well over the years. I used to hear him in 1989 on a short-lived FM station called The Edge, which is similar to Sirius XM’s The Spectrum channel where he’s been working as a DJ in recent years. Goodman might tell you, in between songs, all about why he’s just played the latest from Black Keys, Dawes, and Mumford & Sons.
Radio station 88.5 FM has a good chance of surviving and thriving. It’s a win-win where I get to hear music I love and find out about upcoming concerts. You can also catch in-station live interviews and performances by artists such as Moby and Jack White. Weekend programs are hosted by radio veterans who share their favorite songs and perspectives on artists. Sometimes, the artist is in studio to talk about their latest album and to play a couple of songs.
88.5 FM is simulcasted by two college public radio stations, KCSN at Cal State Northridge and KSBR from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif. You can find it on your FM digital dial, and you can also download and play the mobile app; or listen to it on iHeart Radio. Having started up in late 2017, the station is looking for listeners through billboards and online ads. Being a public radio station, it’s also looking for donors to support the station. It is nice to not have to listen to commercials.
The challenge is getting to hear the music consistently. For some reason, the FM broadcasting signal can be occasionally weak unless you’re somewhere near the Northridge or Mission Viejo stations. As for digital streaming, the 88.5 mobile app can suddenly cut off for some reason and then start playing five-to-10 seconds later; only to repeat itself a few times. That might have to do with connectivity issues on my iPhone with Sprint phone service. The good news is that you can go on the iHeart Radio app and pick up the station clearly and consistently.
Another challenge is not hearing a wider selection of music that truly represents the joys of being a music fan and the diversity of the song selection. Why don’t I get to hear Prince, or Sly and the Family Stone, or Kanye West, or Rihanna, or Justin Timberlake, or Madonna, or other great songs on 88.5 FM that make you want to get up and dance?
When I was a kid, you could listen to the KHJ top 40 AM station and hear a broad selection of hits. The hour might have started with Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” and then you might have heard “Fox on the Run,” by Sweet, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War, “Hello It’s Me,” by Todd Rundgren, “Shining Star,” by Earth Wind & Fire, and “Fame,” by David Bowie. It made for a better day, especially when you got to sing along. It also exposed me to all types of music and talented artists, not just one limited style.
I felt like Jenny from the Velvet Underground song. My life may or may not have been saved by rock ’n’ roll, but it got a lot better.
That broad song selection started changing on pop music stations and video programs in the late 1980s and 1990s. It started becoming segmented and separated. So you might hear some really good new music coming out in rap and hip hop, post-punk alternative rock, country music, heavy metal, electronica and techno, and classic rock. But you had to spend a lot more time listening to different radio stations and researching what was out there.
There’s a lot of new music I’m missing these days, but I do want to listen regularly to a quality station like 88.5 FM. Its playlist might include songs off albums from years ago I’d never heard; or hadn’t heard in a long time and had forgotten how great it was. I love to hear songs that can be captivating from new artists and established ones I might have missed; or great songs I hadn’t heard in years — not for the nostalgia but to tap into the goldmine of great rock music.
That forgotten treasure could be “Cleaning Windows,” by Van Morrison; or “Mandinka,” by Sinead O’Connor; or “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” by Warren Zevon; or “Nick of Time,” by Bonnie Raitt.
There's also a few scheduled programs you might want to check out on the new station. One of my favorites has been “80s Experience” on Saturday nights from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Pacific time. Not only will you hear something like “Fascination,” by The Human League, or “King For a Day,” by Thompson Twins, JJ (the DJ), will also play colorful tracks like a TV comedy title song (remember “Different Strokes”?), and maybe a TV spot for Coca-Cola that’s easy to remember. That show definitely taps into the nostalgia, which is alright by me once in a while.
The deejays do a very good job. My favorite is Nic Harcourt, who I used to listen to years ago on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Some of the contributions Harcourt and KCRW have made to quality music programming has carried over to 88.5 FM.
Here’s to the radio station continuing to play great music for years to come. I have to get around to joining the donation list, but at least for now I will champion the cause — as my life has been enhanced over the years by hearing new songs and singing along to favorites. Now I have a radio station I can count on. It makes driving and being stuck in traffic much more tolerable.