“Rodney on the ROQ” is history, and not even its legendary host, Rodney Bingenheimer, is sure why. “I have no idea. They have new owners. They are going through a lot of changes right now,” he says of his former employer, KROQ, where he hosted his iconic show for more than 40 years. “But I was totally shocked. I went to a meeting and I thought it was with everyone, but it was just me. They said it would be better for me and I might not be happy there anymore.”
But Bingenheimer will be rocking the airwaves once again. Yesterday SiriusXM announced that the veteran DJ will host a new weekly music show on the satellite radio service’s popular rock channel, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, starting Sunday, July 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. PT. The new show promises to keep alive the eclectic mix of new bands and classic artists that made him a staple on Los Angeles radio for decades.
Bingenheimer, speaking by phone immediately after the SiriusXM announcement, said he was “bummed out” after KROQ ended his show but appreciative of the loyal fans who stood by him. Many (myself included) directed their anger at the station for not valuing him the last several years, which became evident when it moved his seminal Sunday night broadcast to the graveyard time slot (midnight to 3 a.m.). But Bingenheimer seems to harbor no ill will. He apparently was happy at KROQ while it lasted, mainly because he enjoyed creative control of his show the whole time.
“They always let me play whatever I wanted,” says the DJ known for breaking punk, new wave, Britpop and women-driven rock of all genres in Los Angeles. “I could get away with more being on later, at least. Some songs might say a bad word real fast and it wasn’t a big deal at that time, because it was safe harbor hours.”
Still, he admits that he “never really liked it” that late. “It was always a lot of stoners calling in. And truck drivers. The loyal fans tried to stay with me no matter what, but a lot of them had to go to work or school the next day so they missed it.”
Bingenheimer says he noticed KROQ getting more commercial over the years, but he kept his show pretty much the same as when it started. He recalls that no one got paid in the station’s early incarnation, back when he would carry crates of vinyl to spin at the Pasadena headquarters. But his fondest memories were always about connecting with bands.
“People would just show up and give me tapes … Social Distortion, The Dickies,” he recalls. “They’d give me their new stuff to play and then go in their car to hear me play it, right there. I know that feeling. I recorded ‘Little GTO’ with Debbie Harry for Bomp [Records] and one time I was at 7-Eleven and KROQ was on. They played it. All of a sudden I heard myself singing, and I realized how the bands I’ve played must have felt. “
The list of songs that Rodney championed before anyone else is massive, but when asked about standouts, and specifically tracks that KROQ snagged for its regular rotation, Bingenheimer is quick to remember a few of the biggest.
“Dramarama’s 'Anything Anything.' Blondie’s 'Call Me.' And Toni Basil’s 'Hey Mickey' was a big one. The program director stopped me in the hall and asked what was that catchy song,” he says. “Oh, and Nena’s '99 Luftballons'! I had Christiane F — the real girl, who wrote the book [We Children From Bahnhof Zoo] — on and I asked her what was popular in Germany at the time. She had a tape recorder of the song and held it up to the mic so we could play it. I got so many calls about it, I ended up getting a copy and playing it regularly. Then KROQ started playing it all the time, too. “
Bingenheimer says he’d actually been approached before by SiriusXM and Little Steven's Underground Garage creator Steven Van Zandt, but wasn’t ready to leave his longtime radio home. “I’ve known him for a long time,” he says of Van Zandt. “I’ve bumped into him at Canter’s. And he invites me to Bruce Springsteen shows when he’s in town. “
Van Zandt called again personally after the KROQ firing announcement, inviting Bingenheimer to come onboard, and this time he was ready. He got a manager and contracts were signed. Now all he needs is a name for the show. Though he says it’s not 100% confirmed yet, the main contender right now sounds pretty familiar: “Rodney on the Rock.” “It would be the easiest, and I could still play the theme song Brian Wilson did for me,” he says.
Though he is known by his show name first to local fans, many also know him as the “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” thanks to the 2003 bio-doc about his life as a nightclub owner, DJ and friend to the famous. But Bingenheimer says the film portrayed him inaccurately. “I didn’t like it,” he says. “They made it into a sad movie. I’ve been at all these amazing recording sessions. Met so many amazing people and done so many fun things. But it just didn’t capture what it was like.”
Clearly, Bingenheimer is anything but sad right now. “I’m so happy to do my new show on Sirius, and to be on when more people can hear me,” he says. “I’m going to keep playing new stuff and old stuff, different styles, like I always have, from Annette Funicello to Black Flag. And I’ll be focusing even more on new bands I like, too. It’s the biggest thrill.”