[I was fortunate to interview old school KROQ icon Darrell Wayne for LA Splash.]
Best known to FM rock aficionados as “Insane Darrell Wayne” on L.A.’s world famous KROQ, Darrell Wayne is now an entrepreneur using modern media to find a new home for that classic FM format, founding his own successful station, KTHO. After decades of riding the airwaves, no one knows radio better than Darrell Wayne.
“I’m a radio guy through and through. Radio is in my DNA,” he assures.
“I started in radio at a very young age,” he says, “when I was about 15 years old. I had an interest in radio in junior high, and by the time I was fifteen I had an internship at KZY OC. It was supposed to last 2 weeks, but I stayed for 2 years: engineering, setting up remotes, assisting with live broadcasts from Disney and high school football games. I learned the ropes from the ground up, learned how it ticked internally.”
“I started at KROQ in 1976 as a transmitter operator and engineer, quickly worked my way up to assistant engineer, chief on-air program director, and then operations manager of the station.”
That era of KROQ was known for its on-air hijinx and Wayne reveled in those once-in-a-lifetime rowdy days of radio. “It was crazy! If you listened to KROQ at that time it sounded like a circus, a zoo! We were not a conservative bunch of people, and whatever it sounded like on the air, it was ten times that at the station. You only heard between songs!”
When Frank Zappa couldn’t make an in studio interview, Wayne went to him instead and spent two hours at Zappa’s home one afternoon. “He asked if I’d come to his house, so I ripped a reel-to-reel recorder out of the studio and put it in my AMC Gremlin! Frank Zappa was a very, very, smart man. If you asked a stupid question he’d call you on it, but the interview went very well.”
He also had the pleasure of sharing his time with the likes of George Carlin, The Clash, Oingo Boingo, Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python, and more.”I didn’t consider myself to be on equal footing with these guys, so it was a great experience to sit down with these guys and talk, having stars in my eyes.”
That type of unstructured format may seem too loose for modern corporate-driven radio. But Wayne has carved out his own niche of true devotion to rock again, amongst the red woods in NorCal’s resort community Lake Tahoe, at KTHO. “I’m doing it with a station I own in Lake Tahoe, creating some of that same vibe. I’m creating that feel musically and interview-wise. There’s room for it to exist because there are so many choices. We capture our share, we offer choice, and we create that alternative. It’s sort of a Field of Dreams: we built it and people showed up, from a listener’s perspective.”
He hosts the station on both AM and FM stations (590 AM/96.1 FM Lake Tahoe), as well as streaming live at KTHOradio.com. The format is both local talk and classic rock. Wayne describes it as” trying to program for the local community: getting involved with businesses, politics, the high school, college, the visitors bureau, etc. It’s giving the community a voice.”
“Weekends are taken up with celebrity hosts. Such as ‘House of Hair’ with Dee Snyder on Saturday, Alice Cooper on Sunday, Tower of Power and P-Funk’s Trey Stone with his old school hip hop/ R&B/soul show, and others. It’s very spontaneous, say whatever you want and do whatever you want.”
His approach to the rock n’ roll the station plays is diverse and inclusive as well. “Our classic rock is more widely defined than the same couple hundred Eric Clapton and Skynyrd songs. We’re playing Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Creedence, the Ramones, Talking Heads, The Clash, Duran Duran, The Pretenders, etc.”
Wayne’s newest offering is ‘The Latest From The Greatest’, launched both on KTHO and online atwww.latestfromthegreatest.com, giving musical iconoclasts a growing outlet to rock the masses with songs both old and new. The show’s mission is to keep music fresh long after rock acts have become household names in bygone eras, by providing a space to showcase new music from those established new wave and classic acts– rather than only playing their biggest hits. Listeners get to hear the growth and evolution in artists’ modern offerings, from legendary acts like Levon Helm, The Beach Boys, Neil Young (all of whom released new albums this year), and more.
The show is Tahoe based now, but poised to go nationwide. It can be heard Saturdays at 7p.m. on KTHO, locally and online.
His overhauled back-to-basics format is extremely well received in the region, Wayne says that over half of the Tahoe population are listeners, making KTHO number one in its market. “People are constantly coming up to me saying, ‘You’re playing music I haven’t listened to in ten/twenty/thirty years. We’re getting into people’s heads!
“You won’t get that from Pandora, your iPod, iTunes. The only way you’ll get it is from programmers and allowing the people on the air to tell those stories. We also try to play songs together that go together, whether it be from a subject standpoint, or songs that sound great together. Our library has over 4,500 songs, not 300. We’re not running the same ‘Stairway to Heaven’ into the ground every day.”
In addition to creating a faithful following in the area, Tahoe’s tourist traffic creates a separate demographic that expands his already large listener base even further. “From a visitor perspective, 2.5 million people pass through. Our advertisers realize that, that we’re using the radio station to stimulate the local economy.”
Pleased with KTHO‘s success in Tahoe, Wayne is eager to expand and share his ideals, given the right circumstances. “What I would like to do is expand the footprint we have formed in Lake Tahoe, Reno, San Francisco, Sacramento, and expend out like a web from where we are right now. I would be willing to help support and advise anyone else that’d like to do it, but I’m just one guy. It’s not a corporation like Clear Channel, or Cumulus. If we have a bad month, I write a check! [laughs] If we have a good month, I plow it back into the station to make it better.”
But above all, Darrell Wayne‘s radio station endeavor is about reach. “I’m just trying to expose as many people as possible; we’re hoping it will catch on.”