Back when KROQ was known as the “Roq of the ’80s,” it wielded the power to make or break music artists like no other radio station in town — or the entire country. It was the new wave era, and some exciting sounds were being made, especially in England, where dancey, synth-driven, androgynous fellows were having a real moment in the clubs and on radio. Rodney Bingenheimer, who joined the station after hosting a successful glam rock nightclub, began to play many of them on the station — but another well-known DJ was breaking these bands, too, and playing them in the clubs, and turning L.A. on to so much new music, we could barely keep track.
For listeners, a bond was formed with the jocks we let into our homes every day, filling our ears and imaginations with flamboyant music makers, wanton nights and distant lands. They were like family. If Rodney was the shy and unassuming punk-rock uncle, then Richard Blade (who joined the KROQ team in 1982) was the passionate, attention-grabbing big brother, touting his favorite music with infectious enthusiasm that he also brought to clubs and eventually to TV as well.
But Blade’s adventures started way before he became a household name at KROQ. He cut his teeth in the clubs in England as a disco DJ, going by the name Dick Shepard. His vivacious personality and good looks took him to exciting places and put him in many wild situations, even before he was interviewing and hanging out with Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, INXS and Wham! Blade’s new book, World in My Eyes, chronicles every fascinating moment, providing personal perspective, raw emotion and great detail that fans of ’80s music in particular will eat up.
As a music-obsessed native Angeleno, I grew up listening to both Rodney and Richard religiously, and while I consider Bingenheimer a pal now, I didn’t meet Blade for the first time until earlier this year, when we were both in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, waiting to chat with Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. Blade was interviewing the band for his Sirius/XM show 1st Wave, but he was also there to ask for permission to name his book after the Depeche hit. Gore, who writes most of the band's material, agreed, and later told me he credits both KROQ DJs for his band's success in the United States.
“The title is so appropriate because I really wanted to take the reader on a trip,” Blade tells me, after making an appearance on my internet radio show in Glendale on Nov. 5. “I take them on the highest mountains of Norway and to the depths of the deep blue sea, which was when I got into scuba diving and left KROQ to teach it in the Caribbean, living in St. Martin.”
Blade started DJing in college at Oxford University, and soon became an international club DJ traveling across Europe, eventually moving to radio with an on-air gig in Austria. He moved to Southern California in the early ’80s, first as a jock at KNAC (which was a KROQ rival before changing to heavier rock) and finally to the Roq itself, after popping by the station to do promo for a club appearance and filling in for Jed the Fish. Jed had scheduled two famous names to fill in for his later shifts and when neither showed up, Blade saved the day. The famous no-shows? Danny Elfman and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. By the end of the ’80s, Blade would become as well known in L.A. as both of them.
Blade devotes a lot of space to the decade of decadence in his book, but it's a proper autobiography that starts at the beginning of his life, putting it into context and sharing intimate details that go beyond name-dropping rock stars or tell-all sex tales (though he doesn’t shy away from those). His story is filled with big names, fateful occurrences, love, death and redemption — everything an engrossing bio should have. But most will enjoy it for the nostalgia and flashback to a simpler time when radio DJs could choose their own playlists, and music video was an exciting new medium that provided narrative to the music we loved and gave us an eyeful of the colorful characters making it. MV3, a sort of new-wave version of American Bandstand with Blade as Dick Clark, is still fondly remembered by Gen X L.A. natives, as are its followup shows, Video One and Video Beat.
“It was only around for nine months,” Blade says of MV3. “I explain why it went off the air so quickly in the book. When it came back as Video One, I got to interview so many artists, like The Police, Culture Club, INXS, Morrissey. ... It wasn’t about who I got to interview but who I didn’t. Madonna was the only big one we never got.”
More than any other radio DJ of the era, Blade parlayed his position on KROQ into club gigs on the decks at venues like the Palace, 321, Perkins Palace, the Country Club and even the Roxy, where he had his own “KROQ Night at the Roxy With Richard Blade.” He became a bona fide pop culture personality and had nearly as many groupies as the bands he was championing. (He makes a point of assuring me, however, that he “never, ever” jeopardized his citizenship by fooling around with underage fans.)
In his book, Blade chronicles not only backstage antics with some pretty big bands and their model gaggles but stories of true loves lost — one of whom fronted a band he helped break.
“When I was working at KNAC, I went to a local record store in Long Beach and found this single called 'Tell Me Why.' The girl on the cover was incredible-looking,” Blade recalls. “I played the record and then I played the B-side, which I liked a lot better, a song called 'The Metro.' The band was Berlin.”
When Blade went to KROQ about three months later, he started playing the song there and the object of his adoration, Terri Nunn, called in. She soon came to one of his DJ appearances and a romance bloomed — but as Blade reveals in his book, it didn’t have a happy ending. Still, the relationship did produce one of Berlin's hottest tracks, “Sex (I’m a ...),” which Blade says is about his and Nunn's relationship; she was into roleplay but he wasn’t, and he'd often protest by saying, "I'm a man!"
Blade says he checked with Nunn and all the book's subjects before sharing their stories. He was most wary of getting his facts straight when it came to KROQ's head program director, Rick Carroll, the guy who gave him his start. For Blade, Carroll is the person most responsible for the heyday of radio and the new wave era. He died of drug-related complications and HIV in 1989, and Blade says the record companies clamoring to get their artists played on all-powerful KROQ were to blame. "They wanted to get their records on KROQ so badly that they would give him massive amounts of drugs, even when they knew it was killing him. They helped kill rock on radio. When Rick died, corporate radio came in."
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Of course, radio is a whole different game these days. Blade left KROQ a long time ago and has been a staple on Sirius/XM's 1st Wave channel for years (and was instrumental in getting Bingenheimer his new gig there when KROQ let him go). Blade also can be heard weekdays on Jack FM for the Flashback Lunch, and he still regularly makes club appearances around Los Angeles and the world. He obviously still really loves what he does, and the book seems a long time coming for someone so immersed in the music industry for so many years.
"I was always a geeky fanboy," Blade admits. "Still am. I saved everything, so when I wrote the book I just put everything in front of me. I've also been telling these stories on the air and then I'd see people out [and] they'd ask me about them, so they're ingrained in my brain. I've had an exact timeline for everything. All the stories come in a linear way and I think they show how my career and [the] music itself evolved. "
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.