By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Will someone please buy this woman a silver watch already? Stella, the ever-serene host of KXLU’s Stray Pop, has been on the air for nearly 27 years, and in the world of L.A. radio, that’s far more than mere longevity. Stella’s taste-making three-hour thrill ride of punk rock — with pop, rarities, interviews and other weirdo stuff thrown in — is the place where rockers of every stripe still tune in each week as Friday night turns into Saturday morning, midnight to 3 a.m. Not only do they count on Stella to provide the most rollicking modern music on the air (sorry, Rodney), they depend on her all-important warnings: “The bars and liquor stores are closing!”
Who is this Stella? Almost anyone who has attended a punk rock show over the past couple of decades has stood in the same room as the dark-haired, fair-skinned Stella. She’s usually the one in some kinda red-polka-dot thrift-store dress and a swirly hairdo that barely contains her wavy locks. Her last name is Voce (which, appropriately, means “voice” in Italian), but many people can’t think of Stella’s name without tacking on her show’s title, as if it were part of her family tree. Stella Stray Pop.
Still, management at the Loyola Marymount station she helped put on the punk rock map have yet to acknowledge the contributions of their most famous DJ — her silver anniversary passed without even a crappy office cake — but then again, most of her colleagues weren’t even born when Stella started playing this newfangled punk rock.
No matter, Stella has her loyal fans. When she walks through the door in a faded Butthole Surfers T-shirt at Chocolat on Melrose, general manager Igor Nicolas bolts over, bestowing kisses on her as if she were royalty. Nicolas then beckons various wait staff over for a brief lesson in Stray Pop history, telling them how Stella “created such chaos and mirth by being the first person to play bands like the Germs and so on.”
Meanwhile, actor Robert Culp, sitting a few tables over, accidentally puts a shard of glass into his mouth, thinking it’s a piece of ice cube. Blood ensues. “How punk rock was that?” Stella later remarks.
Though she can be prone to tardiness — just ask the DJs who’ve hosted the shows before Stray Pop — Stella is on time today. She’s also not great on linear recollections, and often resorts to the stacks and stacks of playlists that fill the closets of the Fairfax-area home she’s dubbed “Punk Rock Gray Gardens.” This is how she knows that the actual date of her first show was February 5, 1980.
Born in Cleveland, Stella came to Southern California when she was 6 months old and grew up in Gardena, “not far from where Red Cross [before they became Redd Kross] grew up, and where Keith Morris’ [of the Circle Jerks, of course] mother lived, one housing tract over.” The youngest of three, Stella was “a good Catholic girl” who attended St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood. “I don’t know if they brag about punk rock DJs coming out of there,” she observes.
“I had strict parents. They had me chained to the house. It was so Italian. In fact, I blame them for the fact that I never got to see the Screamers perform.” Stella was a well-behaved, quiet teenager: “I read Creemand Circusand listened to Deep Purple, Aerosmith, T. Rex. I was just waiting for punk rock to happen.”
When it did, Stella dove right into the Hollywood scene. “[KXLU veteran] Reverend Dan asked me recently what the first punk show I went to was, but I don’t remember. Whenever there was a show and I could get a ride to Hollywood, I’d go.”
Continuing her Catholic education at nearby Loyola Marymount University was a logical step. While at the school’s orientation in 1977, she wandered into the campus radio station — but at this point in our narrative, the rest isn’t quite history yet. She was given a daytime show.
“I got into trouble for the music I was playing. The station was playing dinosaur rock at the time — people don’t believe me when I tell them that KXLU was playing Journey, but they were. The program director finally gave me a specialty show on Tuesday night so I could play whatever I wanted. He was always on my back looking for anything I did wrong, but the response from people was really good.”
Stray Popwas born.
A sampling of Stella’s early in-studio guests includes Stiff Little Fingers, the Fleshtones, the Stranglers, the Go-Go’s, X, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, Berlin, the Blasters, Psychedelic Furs. Before you say, “Hey, chump, those bands are so not punk!,” listen to Stella, who knows more than you: “I never viewed punk rock as being that aggressive or violent. I was always a pogoing, happy person.”
When asked how she prepares for her show, her reaction is typical Stella. “It’s freeform radio,” she responds in that tone of hers that is both haughty and nonchalant. “I’m good at spontaneity.” Copies of her hand-scrawled playlists read like obscure time capsules: the Bangs, Gleaming Spires, Eddie Angel, Leopard Society, Brainiacs. And who can forget Roach?