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But with Entravision’s stock recently dipping below $1 a share (it’s currently being threatened with delisting by the New York Stock Exchange), the corporation opted to chase the much larger Spanish-speaking audience. (Entravision declined to comment for this article.)
The station’s fate was sealed, in hindsight, this past October, when what Sovel calls a “perfect storm” hit the station. First, of course, was the economic collapse, which resulted in many advertisers cutting back. And second, Nielsen/Arbitron changed the system by which it counts listenership by introducing a device called the Portable People Meter. The company claims the innovation more accurately measures the number of people listening to a radio or TV station at any given time.
When the PPM Arbitrons arrived, however, the results were far below what they had expected, says Sovel. “We saw the first numbers and we were like, ‘We’re fucked.’” It showed Indie as 39th in the market, with a 0.6 share of the Los Angeles radio audience.
Sovel thinks that the PPM’s methodology extremely underrepresented its L.A.-basin listenership. Regardless, in October, program director Max Tolkoff, who replaced Steele in 2007, eliminated some of the evening specialty shows in hopes of improving the numbers, and moved Rollins’ “Harmony In My Head” to Saturdays. The playlist also began tilting more toward the center, with more commercial alternative choices.
The wondering and whispers intensified. (When I was there the Friday before it shut down, the minifridges were bare and the receptionist was no longer validating parking tickets.) “Recently that threat had been there,” says Revell. “Definitely over the past two or three months we felt it stronger.”
Revell was finishing up his 7-to-midnight show the night before Entravision pulled the plug. “Jonesy was upstairs cleaning out his office around quarter to 10, and I put two and two together. I saw Jonesy up there and so I decided I’d play whatever I wanted for the last two hours I was on the air. I wish I could remember everything I played, but there was so much emotion going through me, and I was so upset because I knew we were going away, at that point. It was devastating. I know I played The Cure’s ‘Disintegration,’ and the last song I played was the Sugarcubes’ ‘It’s Oh So Quiet.’” (Jonesy was unavailable for comment on the shutdown.)
The next morning, after the first farewell announcement, the phones starting lighting up. Some people thought it was an April Fool’s joke — except that, it’s January. The Indie message boards bounced with missives of outrage and despair, blogs buzzed, and Saturday host Tedd Roman Twittered his layoff. He snapped a picture of the locked studio door, which was affixed with a Xeroxed “Do Not Enter” sign. Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and Slim Jim Phantom, ex of the Stray Cats, were left standing in the lobby, unaware that their appearance on that day’s “Jonesy’s Jukebox” had been canceled.
Within the day, fans had created online petitions and “Save Indie” MySpace pages. Later that night, when Revell was spinning records at the Good Luck Bar in Los Feliz, he was bombarded with condolences and thanks. “People were just coming up and hugging me, and crying, and bringing me to tears, too, really. Just totally overwhelming.”
“We had a very active audience,” says Sovel. “They were not passive. We could put on a show at the Hammer Museum with two really good local bands and there would be a line around the block of a few thousand people — a thousand of which couldn’t get in.”
Among that active audience, he continues, are artists and industry types interested in somehow keeping the Indie 103.1 spirit alive. He says that over the weekend he and others brainstormed options of moving the station’s former talent en masse somewhere else on the FM dial. “There’s a lot of activity going on,” he confides. “There’s a vigorous effort to put Indie back up on the air in Los Angeles, and there’s a lot of people offering their support, both individually, as listeners, and artists who have come forward to offer their support, as well.”
Of course, if Indie survives, it will have to be with a different name. Indie 103.1 is owned by Entravision (Clear Channel stopped booking ads in 2005), and the station’s Web site is continuing to stream the music library. It’s part of the company’s attempt at moving the station’s avid fanbase online, where there’s much less overhead. Programming such as Indie’s, Entravision explained in its on-air farewell announcement, “could only be done on the Internet, a place where rules do not apply and where new music thrives, be it grunge, punk or alternative — simply put, only the best music.” (“We would never abandon our listeners like that,” stresses Sovel, who was frustrated with the announcement looping over the station he helped build. “I want listeners to know that that was not our decision.”)