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“It was so unorthodox,” Sovel says. “There was all this dead air and pausing, smacking his lips, and I was in the background thinking, ‘Oh my god, what have I done? This is a train wreck.’ And very quickly people started going, ‘This is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard.’ Suddenly people like Johnny Ramone were coming to be on his show.” Over the next five years Jonesy created this weird, awkward, anti-interview show. His guests may have come on to plug their new movie or album, but they’d end up talking about some non-sequitur topic and laughing hysterically. The first time I was on, about a year ago, he only played one song — and belched into the mic a half-dozen times — over the whole two hours. The second time — which, it turns out, was part of the final “Jukebox Jury” segment on Indie — we talked about the service industry and proper tipping etiquette, the mysteries of Nickelback, coffee, Brian Wilson’s mental struggles, and, oh yeah, we judged a few songs.
The moments are too many to mention. Patton Oswalt and the Comedians of Comedy guest-hosting “Jonesy’s Jukebox.” Former bandmates John Lydon and Jonesy talking Sex Pistols. “When Robert Plant came into the studio,” recalls Sovel, “it was Jonesy, Plant and me in there. They started singing some old ’50s song, and in the middle of it, Plant starts singing, ‘You need cooling/baby I’m not fooling’ and as he’s doing that he looks at me and winks. I’m thinking to myself, that’s Robert Fucking Plant singing ‘Whole Lotta Love.’”
Sovel also created and hosted “Check 1-2,” which dedicated itself to highlighting the best L.A. local rock bands. More shows arrived. Henry Rollins’ “Harmony In My Head,” “Complete Control” with Joe Sib, “Neon Noise” with Paul V, Darren Revell’s “Big Sonic Heaven.” Joe Escalante’s “The Last of the Famous International Morning Shows,” which ran from 2006 to 2008, featured David Lynch as its weatherman.
These specialty shows were mixed with a consistently adventuresome rotation of new indie rock, punk and dance, songs from tiny labels and big majors, a bunch of tracks added into rotation based not on a band’s marketing budget but on the merits of the song. Everybody knew that the Pixies’ “Debaser” was a classic, but few radio stations played it as much as it needed to be played. Daft Punk sounds great on the radio next to the B-52s and Tokyo Police Club. Countless bands received airplay on Indie that otherwise wouldn’t have stood a chance.
When you were stuck in traffic and had no future and no exits before you, Indie was there. New York City has so many newspapers and magazines because citizens take the subway and read while they commute. In Los Angeles, you listen to the radio. And, sure, there are CDs and iPods, but for that segment of society with janky cars, jammed-up CD players and dinky rock & roll speakers (i.e. the young creative class) — and for the desperate music supervisors looking for a song in a pinch just as the Go! Team jumps across the airwaves — Indie 103.1 was a central part of our daily lives.
“When I landed on Indie,” recalls DJ Darren Revell, “radio had become sour over the years. I never imagined to be working at a radio station like Indie. I remember the first time I ran the board for TK — I think it was Cinco de Mayo and he was playing ‘Jealous Again’ by Black Flag. And I was like, ‘Holy shit! I can’t believe there’s a radio station playing Black Flag during afternoon drive time.’”
The station not only played Black Flag, but in ’04 snagged its former lead singer. When Henry Rollins negotiated his two-hour spot, he was typically blunt. “I said, ‘I bet you can’t pay me anything,’” Rollins recalls, “and they said, ‘Correct!’” He said he wasn’t looking for money, but freedom: “I will abide by the FCC rules, of course, but you can’t tell me what to play.” They agreed. “They’ve given me 120 percent freedom. No one ever told me to cool it.”
Great radio, however, doesn’t pay the bills; advertising does, and the station’s Arbitron numbers never matched its listeners’ enthusiasm. “Our ratings were never good,” admits Sovel. “We’re on a signal that doesn’t cover the entire city. But they were good enough to generate advertising. They wouldn’t have let us stay there if we weren’t making money.”