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Where you can hear bands you haven't heard of yet

L.A. radio, though largely unadventurous, does offer a few programs that showcase unsigned acts.

September 10, 2003|Jon Matsumoto | Special to The Times

Every Sunday night at 10, Samm Brown kicks off his KPFK-FM (90.7) show by stating: "The record industry is a worldwide $50-billion-a-year business. Los Angeles is its capital."

But you wouldn't know that by listening to radio here. Station playlists are notoriously narrow, usually reserved for hits and new releases from only the biggest names.

There are a few oases, however, where unsigned artists have a shot at getting their music heard.

"Samm Brown's For the Record," for example, is primarily a talk show featuring guests who dispense valuable information about various aspects of the music industry and the art of making music. But approximately every five weeks, Brown plays nothing but music by local unsigned artists. He claims to present a track from every artist who sends him a broadcast-quality CD that doesn't violate FCC edicts about foul language.

"Over 97% of the people who spend tons of time and money trying to make it in this business never do," says Brown, who has worked as a producer, songwriter, arranger, orchestrator, artist manager and teacher. "And not only do they never make it, but they never even get the satisfaction of hearing their song on any radio station. I want to give people that satisfaction. I remember the first time I heard one of my songs on the radio, I felt like stopping the car and telling everybody to turn their car radios to that station."

KLOS-FM (95.5) and KROQ-FM (106.7) have two of the longest-running shows featuring new musical talent. Rodney Bingenheimer's "Rodney on the Roq" program, which airs every Sunday night from midnight to 3 a.m., has brought some gifted new bands to light during the last two decades. KLOS' "Local Licks," airing for an hour Sundays at 11 p.m., has been featuring Southland artists since 1981.

"Los Angeles just has so many musicians, because so many people come to L.A. to make it in this business," observes Kelly Cox, the host of "Local Licks" for the last eight years. "There's a lot of good music out there to draw from for this show."

"Local Licks" normally doesn't stray too far stylistically from KLOS' usual menu of mainstream and classic rock, says Cox, but there's a bit more variety. Country- and jazz-accented rock, a larger dose of female artists and some alternative rock sounds have been featured on "Local Licks." This year, one show was even devoted to Latin rock.

"Local Licks" only features three artists a week in order to give each of them more in-depth exposure.

"The first band is our featured band and we might play four or five of their songs," says producer Bill Hartew. "The second artist might get three songs and the last one two songs. I want [to give listeners a better idea] of what each artist is about."

At public station KCRW-FM (89.9), Nic Harcourt says he plays a steady diet of unsigned, local acts on his "Morning Becomes Eclectic" program, which can be heard weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon.

In the last two years, he says, several Los Angeles artists featured on the program have landed significant recording deals: Ramsay Midwood with Vanguard Records and Eastmountainsouth with DreamWorks Records.

At Loyola Marymount University, KXLU-FM (88.9) has aired a program called "Demolisten" since 1984. The weekly show, which airs Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m., plays unsigned artists, the vast majority of whom are local.

"We'll play any kind of music: punk, metal, pop, Latin, blues, classical, jazz, avant-garde, country, hip hop, electronic.... We do listen to every submission for at least 10 seconds and we play what we like on the air," says Devin Valtesuso, who hosts the show with Fred Kiko. "We even played a children's song by a singer-songwriter named Gwendolyn. It sounds like what you would hear in kindergarten during music time. It's educational. We gave it a couple of spins and decided to play it."

Two or three times a month, Valtesuso and Kiko also invite a musician or band to perform live in the studio.

Also at KXLU, "We Came From Beyond," airing 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday nights, is largely devoted to recorded hip-hop music outside the mainstream. Host Mike Nardone, who has done the show since 1988, says up to 25% of the rap he plays is by independent artists.

"It's easy for a rap artist to make a demo because there's not a lot of instrumentation generally," Nardone says. "It's sample-based. It's probably easier than getting a good rock demo together."

Valtesuso says it's a mistake to assume that most of the music featured on programs such as "Demolisten" is inferior to what is being made by popular artists.

"Most of the music being released in the [mainstream record] industry is pretty bad," he argues. "A lot of these bands are completely interchangeable with one another. When [a commercial radio station] does play something good, do they really need to spin it 35 times a day? People need to make the effort to seek out music that is interesting. If you listen to something like 'Demolisten,' you will see that the state of music [in the underground] is amazing."

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