Unless you’re deeply involved in the music world, and even then it might be a stretch, you probably wouldn’t know much about radio DJ’s from around the country.
There's one you should know about though. I mean, when you’re the first DJ in the country to break artists like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Blondie, Nirvana, Van Halen, The Clash, Green Day, Oasis, Devo, Cheap Trick, X, Duran Duran, The Smiths and tens of thousands of others; you deserve some recognition.
For 41 years, Rodney Bingenheimer has hosted a radio show, “Rodney on the ROQ” on LA’s KROQ-FM. First cracking the airwaves in 1976, Bingenheimer has been the most important channel for breaking new artists in the world. No one in radio, media in general, or the music industry has done more to expose and suggest more important new artists like Rodney has during his time on air.
Prior to all the radio and industry involvement, he was just a passionate fan. He grew up a pop music fan in the 50‘s and 60‘s, collecting magazines with his favorite artists in them. He listened to a transistor radio at his home in Mountain View, California. When he was old enough to get out of the house, he sought out the artists he followed, wanting to be close to all that was going on. He became friends with many of his favorites and even doubled as Davey Jones in a Monkees movie.
Some felt the young Bingenheimer was nothing more than a groupie, but what people don’t understand is that this was a person overtaken spiritually, emotionally and physically by all the excitement and appeal of pop rock music and Hollywood. He was drawn into it all.
As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, Bingenheimer’s involvement and contributions went beyond the fan clubs and became more substantial. With stints at records labels, working press and promotions for artists like Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart to name a few, Rodney’s contacts were growing and his ears were resolutely pointed toward the LA music scene.
After a trip to England (where David Bowie’s manager stole Rodney’s girlfriend) our radio titan would head home alone with his head hung low, but with an arm full of new records from overseas. Love works in mysterious ways. Upon his return, he would open the legendary music venue, “The English Disco” which introduced the LA Sunset Strip to the world of glitter and glam rock. Artists like Sweet, Bowie, T-Rex, NY Dolls and Iggy Pop played weekly at the club. It was the place to be.
In the mid 70’s, Bingenheimer found an open slot on the radio at the LA rock station KROQ. His show couldn’t have debuted at a better time. Between punk, glam, power pop and new wave in his first four years on air, Bingenheimer became the gateway to all that’s cool and all that you would soon bow to in the world of music.
He gave a shot to unknowns and local acts too. During the show, he fed listeners what they weren’t getting. He debuted Oasis off a demo cassette sent to him. Now and then, David Bowie might call up the show. Brian Wilson recorded the theme to Rodney’s show! There’s simply no one in radio since 1976 more important. When we include those before him into the conversation like Wolfman Jack, Alan Freed, Cousin Brucie, Murray the K and others; Rodney is still in the top bunch.
Bingenheimer’s handprints are all over each of us in terms of the music and culture that has shaped the last four-plus decades.
Last week new management at KROQ announced changes were being made to its lineup and Rodney would no longer be needed to host his show after 41 years. Was the show by the now 69 yr. old really in the way? His show started off in primetime but has resided at the disrespectful time slot of midnight to 3 am on Sundays for a while now. According to a post on Bingenheimer’s Facebook page, he said “I didn’t leave KROQ, in fact, KROQ is really leaving me. I may be done with KROQ, but I am not retiring.”
I’ve been lucky to have Rodney as a guest on the phone for my show, Spinout on WCYY. I gave him a full hour on the show in which we played some artists like the Ramones, Devo and Cheap Trick. He still remains my favorite guest to this day. At the end of every show, I thank him. I was planning to have him back on again soon, then the news broke that radio lost again.
There’s a terrific documentary about Rodney you can find on Netflix called, “The Mayor of Sunset Strip”. I’ve watched it easily 15 times, but fair warning it’s as heartbreaking as it is mind blowing and inspiring.
In the film, KROQ DJ, Jed The Fish (no longer on air) gave a quote that always burned my ass. He says, “It’s unbelievable that someone could be in the music business this long and help so many people... and just be in it because they love the music.”
That is why you are in it, because you love the music! You’re on a boat because you love the sea and fishing. Your arms are elbow deep in malts and grains because you love making beer. You have a massive collection of first editions because you love to read or write books. This world needs to stop questioning those who are passionate about things and start embracing them instead. Because passion nurtures creativity.
Rodney’s last show is this coming Sunday night from midnight to 3 am. You can listen live at kroq.com