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Hard ROQ 

Thursday, Feb 10 2005
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Mary Westphal was flabbergasted after watching the heartbreaking documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip about KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer.

"I couldn’t believe no one had ever done anything for Rodney. He helped all these bands and made KROQ what it is today, and now he’s banished to a time slot that’s so late no one knows he’s on the air. I mean, why hasn’t anyone given him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Rick Dees has one and Rodney doesn’t."

Westphal is a desktop publisher and old-school punk, who had a fanzine called Vague. Now she’s started an online petition (www.rodney.panopia.com) to get Bingenheimer into KROQ’s 7 to 10 p.m. slot on Sundays (currently, he’s on midnight to 3 a.m. Monday mornings). If all goes well, Westphal plans to tackle the Walk of Fame issue next.

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Since December, she says, she’s gathered more than a thousand signatures. Some of the groups supporting the petition include the Bangles, the Muffs, Franz Ferdinand, Keane, Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, and Redd Kross.

With no real relationship to Bingenheimer other than interviewing him once when she was 22 and seeing him around over the years at Denny’s and at rock shows, the 40-something Westphal has been promoting her cause by word of mouth, doing things like handing out fliers on the Sunset Strip when she has time.

"I feel like Rodney’s getting screwed," she says. "He is very valuable to the radio industry, whether they want to admit it or not. He is a quiet guy and a really great person. He will talk to anyone. If you’re a music fan, you can just walk up and talk about any album to Rodney, and he will tell you something you didn’t know. He’ll take time for anyone."

It’s true that over the years, Bingenheimer, who started at the station in 1976 and has been immortalized on episodes of The Simpsons and SpongeBob Squarepants, has launched a mind-blowing number of bands and played an undeniable role in making KROQ the monster Infinity Broadcasting station it is today. He’s been credited as the first to play the Clash, Coldplay, the Cure, the Ramones, No Doubt, Nirvana, the Strokes, the Vines, Oasis, Van Halen, Billy Idol and Hole, to name only a few. He also helped David Bowie get his first deal and, more recently, was involved in breaking bands like the Donnas and this year’s KROQ Acoustic Christmas headliner Franz Ferdinand.

"When KROQ first started," says Westphal, who lives in Norwalk, "the station had such a small pickup that we used to have to go into Whittier, to Rose Hills, where the cemetery was, to pick up the signal and listen to Rodney."

Before launching her petition, Westphal checked with Bingenheimer for approval. She located an e-mail address for Mayor of the Sunset Strip producer Chris Carter and wrote him. Carter, who spent seven years making his film, told Westphal that Bingenheimer couldn’t be officially involved, but the famous DJ wished her "good luck."

Turns out Carter’s original motivation for making Mayor of the Sunset Strip was also to inspire KROQ to give Bingenheimer a better time slot.

"One of the reasons I made the movie was I owed Rodney," says Carter, who hosts Breakfast With the Beatles on 97.1 and is currently producing a feature about the life of Edie Sedgwick starring Sienna Miller. Carter was also in the ’80s band Dramarama, which became a staple act for KROQ after Bingenheimer decided to champion their song "Anything, Anything."

"For me, and my band, all my good fortune has been spurred from the relationship I have had with Rodney. I was hoping that once the guys at KROQ saw the film, they might want to give him his weekend hours back — that was my main intent. We had a billboard on Sunset, he was on CNN and Entertainment Tonight . . . but nothing happened. Over the seven years it took to make the film, I talked to [program director] Kevin Weatherly, but I never thought it was my place to say, ‘Give him his old hours back.’ I just thought it would happen naturally. I mean, how many other DJs on KROQ have a movie made about them?"

Weatherly was unavailable for comment, but given that some other veteran KROQ personalities have disappeared from the station — where did Tammi Heidi go? — it seems notable that the freeform Bingenheimer is still on the air at all.

Since she started her online campaign, Westphal says, she’s talked to Bingenheimer directly a few times, just to pass along fan mail she’s received. Among his admirers are Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald (no relation), who thinks the whole Rodney situation at KROQ is pretty ugly and approved a banner for Westphal’s petition on the Redd Kross Web site.

"Rodney Bingenheimer personifies good taste in the field of rock music," he says via cell phone. "I would also say that Rodney’s contribution to the rock music community, and KROQ in particular, is immeasurable. KROQ’s decision to bump his time slot in favor of Adam Corolla’s mediocre lifestyle advice to teenagers is a great injustice."

"Loveline has to start at 10, so they had a slot from 7 to 10," Westphal says. "They could have put Rodney in there, but they put him in the graveyard."

So should he just change stations? Westphal says "a third" of the mail she receives is from fans urging him to move to competing station Indie 103.1. Carter adds that the DJs at 103.1 have even gone on the air asking him to make the move.

"Steve Jones and other DJs have gone on the air over the past few months and said, ‘Come over here, we’ll give you any hours you want.’ But Rodney is such a loyal guy, he doesn’t want to jump ship."

I ask if any official offers have been made.

"I don’t know if there’s been a formal offer from the administration or not."

Since he is a die-hard romantic, Bingenheimer’s personality might have something to do with the problem. Some former DJs with impressive track records have moved on to cushy executive jobs — Interscope’s Mark Williams and Chris Douridas, who was whisked away to Geffen, DreamWorks and now Apple iTunes after hosting KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Yet Bingenheimer appears to have never had ambitions beyond being on air at KROQ.

In this situation, his fierce loyalty, which makes him such a priceless champion of so many now-beloved artists, has held him back. It seems KROQ, a station he apparently considers home, may have, like his own family, failed to recognize or understand Bingenheimer’s finer qualities.

Have you asked Rodney about the possibility of moving to 103.1?

Westphal pauses. "He just said, ‘Then I wouldn’t be Rodney on the ROQ.’ "

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