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It's a Man's World at KROQ

The rock station is No. 1 with listeners in the Southland, but where are the female artists both old and new?

January 21, 2002|KATHLEEN CRAUGHWELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

KROQ-FM (106.7), the radio station that's been playing on my clock radio for the last 21 years and on my car radio since I was 16, is, for the third quarter in a row, No. 1 in the Southland radio ratings. Hoorah for KROQ!

So why don't I feel like celebrating? Because every time I turn on the station and listen to new music by Linkin Park, Staind, System of a Down, Travis, the Strokes, Weezer, Gorillaz and P.O.D. or classic KROQ hits by Nirvana, U2, the Clash and R.E.M. or even Flashback Lunch nostalgia schlock by Oingo Boingo, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, I'm left with one question.

Where are the girls? When did this town's only alternative rock station become an all boys' club?

KROQ was my best friend in high school. I listened to Ramondo and the Blade on the way to school in the morning and Jed the Fish as soon as school let out. When my 10 p.m. curfew prevented me from going to all-ages punk-rock shows at Perkins Palace in Pasadena or the Paladium in Hollywood, it was OK because Rodney "on the Roq" Bingenheimer gave me my punk fix on Saturday and Sunday nights.

But the absolute best thing about KROQ in the early 1980s was that there was no end to the irreverent, witty, angry female voices coming across those airwaves. Great bands and artists like the Pretenders, the Go-Go's, the B-52s, X, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, the Bangles, the Sugarcubes, Siouxsie and the Banshees; New Wave acts like Missing Persons, Romeo Void, Berlin, the Waitresses, Slow Children and Bananarama; and even downright silly one-hit wonders like Josie Cotten, Toni Basil and Moon Unit Zappa.

It was, truly, revolutionary. At the time, the other rock stations in town, KLOS and the now-defunct KMET and K-WEST, were playing nothing but "dinosaur rock" like Blue Oyster Cult, Journey, Van Halen and Foreigner. And KIIS-FM still didn't know that disco was dead.

The late 1980s (i.e., the college years) were even better. Although there were fewer female acts, the music was more substantial: Sinead O'Connor, the Cowboy Junkies, Lone Justice (led by still-teenage Maria McKee), 10,000 Maniacs.

But the 1990s were, for female rockers, a golden age. Women-led rock bands like Hole, L7, Veruca Salt, Babes in Toyland, the Breeders, Throwing Muses, Garbage, Belly and the Cranberries as well as singer-songwriters like P.J. Harvey, Julianna Hatfield, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple proved that girls could write, play and rock with the best of them.

KROQ, which in the last two decades has become a bellwether for radio stations across the United States, helped lead the movement, adding these women and bands to the playlist and inviting the distaff acts to play at the station's end-of-summer Weenie Roast concert and the Almost Acoustic Christmas.

Which makes the station's current near-exclusion of female artists all the more baffling. Currently the only two female-led bands in rotation on KROQ are the lightweight Orange County group No Doubt and the Scottish band Garbage.

Even more startling is the fact that on the station's annual New Year's Eve countdown of the top 107 songs of the year, only one song by a female artist made the list: No Doubt's "Don't Let Me Down" came in at No. 57.

Can a revolution really crest, peak and crash that fast? And why isn't a music industry leader like KROQ doing more to support female artists?

In an interview last fall, Stryker, the station's popular weeknight deejay, said the reason behind the testosterone-fueled lineup is that many of the female-driven rock acts popular in the 1990s either have disbanded or have simply not produced any new material. "In the entire time I've been at KROQ, Hole hasn't released one album," he said.

And though there's truth in that argument--many bands, including L7, the Breeders, Veruca Salt and Babes in Toyland, have broken up at least temporarily or, like Hole, are caught in legal battles--the amazing songs that made these bands KROQ listener favorites have been all but dropped from the rotation, while songs from the same era by male-led bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilot and Pearl Jam are heard daily.

*

As for the lack of new female-led rock acts, it's true that 2001 was not a stellar year. But the albums that did come out, like the sophomore release from the Canadian death-metal band Kittie and records from more familiar artists like Garbage and Tori Amos, apparently failed to make an impression on KROQ's new generation of listeners.

And listeners, at least the ones tracked by Arbitron, are the final arbiters of what music makes the cut. Clearly, the new testosterone-fueled rock format is working, given the impressive ratings.

But I can't help but wish that the powers-that-be at my favorite radio station would make a more concerted effort to foster female artists. Surely there is a new crop of female performers who would benefit from being "discovered" by KROQ the way the Go-Go's were by Rodney Bingenheimer years ago.

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