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Tuning in great interesting radio in LA

I made my first ever trip to the home of the nation’s entertainment industry, Los Angeles, last week. It’s fair to say my expectations were muted given stories I’d heard of LA’s endless sprawl, over-emphasis on surface and glitter, and general vapidity. However, I was pleasantly surprised with my experience, from the great food, truly interesting neighborhoods and the radio.

A small pocket radio is my constant traveling companion to help me make every hotel room a little more homey, in addition to letting me check out the local radio scene. Whenever I’m in a new city I immediately check out the left end of the dial. In LA the first station I came to was the well regarded public station, KCRW in Santa Monica.

KCRW stands apart from most public radio stations in its commitment to music programming, in addition to the standard national news programs like All Things Considered. It was an unusual pleasure to listen to Morning Edition transition into the long-running Morning Becomes Eclectic from 9 AM to noon, giving me an opportunity to get both my dose of drive-time news and some nice indie-leaning musical sounds.

After noon through the evening drive KCRW goes back to news-talk programming, but again shifts to music at 8 PM most weekdays. The station’s music programming roughly fits the format known as Adult Album Alternative, or AAA. In fact, KCRW is one of the originating stations that can be said to have defined the format. But as Generation Xers enter their 30s and 40s, AAA stations like KCRW seem to be staying more current, playing more cutting-edge indie rock–bands like Best Coast or MGMT–that appeals just as much to 20-somethings.

Looking for something a little more challenging I tuned down a little more left on the FM dial and found KXLU at 88.9 FM, broadcasting from Loyola Marymount University. I found the station on Monday night and mostly kept my radio tuned there for the next two days. KXLU sounded like good college radio, with a very eclectic mix of musical genres and styles that nevertheless worked well together.

The program I enjoyed the most was Monday night’s She Rocks, featuring women in rock music. The night I tuned in the hosts were playing a tribute to Ari Up, vocalist for the pioneering punk band the Slits, who passed away on Oct. 20. The hosts had interviewed Ari a few years earlier and so replayed parts of that interview along with music from different stages of her career, including tracks from the Slits, as well as her many innovative dub projects.

The hosts of She Rocks were clearly touched and affected by Ari Up’s music and life, which came across so well on air that a listener couldn’t help but be drawn in and affected. To me this is the sort of programming that college and community radio do so well, and that is rarely heard on commercial–and even public–radio except in the case of very well-known celebrities, like Michael Jackson.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tune in clearly any other interesting college, community or public stations during my stay. Nevertheless KCRW and KXLU made for very comforting companions for my off-time in my hotel room. And that’s something which radio is uniquely suited to do.

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