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Roll Over, DJs

karen o
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"I was just disgusted with everything on KROQ. It's just so…corporate," complained my editor one afternoon, and I couldn't help but agree. He summed up why alternative rock fans are changing their pre-set station dials from KROQ's 106.7 to L.A.'s newest addition to the airwaves, Indie 103.1. In a sea of repetitive playlists, obnoxious DJs and endless commercials, Indie 103.1 offers relief. Playing primarily "alternative gold" like Elvis Costello and the Cure, as well as up-and-comers like Modest Mouse and Gravy Train, the station's popularity is spreading like the news of a vaccine to an epidemic of cookie-cutter rock.

I listen to music whenever I can. Even if that means enduring a slew of nü-metal and pop-punk on the radio just to catch one or two decent songs. But recently even I found myself turning off the radio in disgust. While I pride myself on having a high tolerance for diversity, in the past year or so I've found myself actually cringing when KROQ would play Linkin Park yet again. What happened to the KROQ I listened to in middle school, that got me hooked on bands like Weezer and Nirvana? I was further appalled when I realized that the overplayed rap-rock had been so hammered into me that I unwillingly knew all the lyrics. Now, I'm not trying to bash bands like Linkin Park or Papa Roach; I believe that all music should be respected. But in between the trite rage of nü-metal bands like Chevelle and the why-don't-you-tell-me-something-new heartbreak of the Ataris, I began to sense that people who wanted to hear something else weren't getting much of it.

What's This New Station?

the cure
Robert Smith of The Cure

Around the end of December, I was on my way to swim practice, once again frustrated by the radio. I tried five stations and they were hopeless. Then I remembered this new station a friend had told me about and I rushed to change the dial. They were playing The Faint and The Shins back to back. Since then, Indie 103.1 has had my musical heart.

Before Indie 103.1, it seemed like radio was becoming blocks of commercials with a few songs in between. I had been tuning in to KROQ, which promises "L.A. and Orange County's only new rock," for exactly that, not so I could be reminded that "Sit N' Sleep will beat anyone's advertised price, or your mattress is freeeeeeee!!!" So, one could not even fathom my joy when I learned that Indie 103.1 has commercial-free Mondays. The station's explanation: "We know your Mondays suck." The other six days of the week, Indie's commercials average, I've found, about half the time (and annoyance) of L.A.'s big stations.

the shins
The Shins

Since my freshman year, I've turned away from mainstream rock and explored bands from generations past and newer, more underground, independent bands that I read about in magazines or were recommended by friends. I love the cold, unusual sounds of newer bands like Interpol and The Postal Service. Those bands led to my discovery of their dark, new wave forefathers like Joy Division and The Cure. When I prefer a more upbeat sound, I listen to the acoustic melodies of The Shins or synth-packed hooks of Motion City Soundtrack. And when I just need some good, intense rock, there are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Datsuns. But while I love discovering these up-and-coming bands, I definitely still enjoy well-known bands like Weezer, Audioslave and Blur (the only reason I kept listening to KROQ in the first place). I just wish someone would tell them that these bands have other songs besides "Hash Pipe," "Like A Stone" and "Song 2."

Unable to find a happy marriage between indie and mainstream rock on the radio, I retreated to my mp3 player. This past year, I've noticed that what my peers and I listen to and what KROQ calls "modern rock" have diverged.

Fifteen-year-old Willy Alden of Harvard-Westlake School said that independent music has a more authentic feel. "I don't like the over-processed mainstream music that you hear on stations such as KROQ or KIIS," he said. "I'm attracted to indie music because the bands are not controlled by the will of the public or some rich label. They can write whatever they want however they want."

joy division
Joy Division's album "Unknown Pleasures"

While some turn to Indie 103.1 out of musical attraction, others turn out of frustration. "KROQ has gotten more into Chevelle and that nonsense. And they play System of a Down waaaay too many times in one day. I practically want to shoot them. It's just old stuff they keep repeating," complained Shea Sullivan, a 16-year-old who also goes to Harvard-Westlake.

Indie, formerly a techno station, was started just after Christmas. The huge media corporation Clear Channel sells the advertising and many of the Indie 103.1 devotees that I know are afraid for the station's future. Clear Channel already owns eight stations in Los Angeles, including KIIS, KBIG and KOST, so even though they don't own Indie, it makes you wonder if the station will survive or become overrun with endless commercials and annoying puppet DJs.

Rather than cater to big record labels and Top 40 charts and spend millions researching what they think the targeted audience likes, Indie 103.1 gets back to radio's original ideals. It starts with a wide variety of old and new indie and mainstream music. And they even take requests. Their motto is "Respect the Music," which they do beautifully.

Andrea Domanick is a 16-year-old student at Harvard-Westlake School.

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