by Alex Cosper
Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is Michael Halloran, the Program Director and afternoon radio personality at 91X in San Diego. It's been one of the longest running and most successful alternative radio stations in America and Halloran has been there for many years, not only playing new bands, but breaking them, interviewing them and even getting some acts record deals. Michael, thanks for joining me for this chat about your career in radio, the music industry and beyond. You originally came from Wisconsin then Michigan. Tell us how you first got into radio.
Michael: I fell into radio because I hated it. I was used to John Peel when i lived in England. I was sick of Fleetwood Mac, sick of Boston, sick of 99% of the artists that were played on Detroit radio in the mid 70s. Detroit radio forgot about the Stooges, the MC5 and the early punk scene. But "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac was on constant repeat. Not good for a 16 year old boy. I needed to rock. I had recently left school in England. I started in the UK in 1970, witnessed the birth of glam, glitter and then punk.
Michael: I played in a band in England. My old drummer eventually formed the band called JoBoxers. The guy who replaced me in the band eventually joined the Clash during the "Cut the Crap" era. So in short, I used to call radio DJs and b*tch at them about the lack of cool sh*t on the radio. Eventually, John O'Leary told me to f*ck off and go to broadcasting school if I really wanted to make a change. So, I did. Then many stations later, here I am.
Alex: When did you arrive at 91X and what was the station like back then? You also worked at KROQ in the late 80s under Rick Carroll, who is considered the architect of modern rock radio.
Michael: I arrived at 91X in 1986 for what I thought would be a short stay. Thought Detroit would come a calling. That didn't happen until it was too late. I worked here for 2.5 years, went to KROQ in 1988. I was the last hire by Rick Carroll, his influence is still with me today. 91X at the time of my arrival was already iconic in SD. I just watched and learned as Max Tolkoff showed me some of the ropes, but not all of the ropes. Between those two guys I learned plenty to add to my arsenal.
Alex: I know you're a musician yourself because I've seen you talk about chord progressions for guitar. To what degree has your own musicianship knowledge played a role in your radio programming decisions?
Michael: Thanks, but my knowledge is just enough to get me into trouble. I can write songs, I have released 7" singles with buddies, I have produced and recorded B-sides with touring musicians (Juliana Hatfield) done plenty of remixes, but in the end, I need to fall in love with a song before it gets added. I understand how hard it is to write songs, especially the simple ones. The first Jewel hit was four chords repeated over and over with lyrics in a story form with very little difference between verses and the chorus, but it hit me hard. We played it, it went massive, she wrote it when she was about 16. And still to this day it rings true. This was released 20 years ago, the song is 25 years old. Well before reality TV. Dig this ...
Alex: I've seen several of your video interviews with artists who come through San Diego. Who have been some of your favorite interviews?
Michael: George Clinton, Del Amitri, Dwight Yoakam, Iggy Pop, Matt Schultz from Cage the Elephant, Ken Andrews of Failure, Jonathon Richman, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Brian Wilson, U2 in 1980, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Steve Earle, Tim Booth, Paul Buchanan, Jeff Buckley, then Joey Ramone and Eddie Vedder (at the same time).
Alex: I met you in 1993 on the weekend that Iggy Pop, Social Distortion, Living Colour and Big Country did the 91X 10 year anniversary concert. You shared insightful knowledge about programming that I took back with me to KWOD in Sacramento where I was PD. That's one example of how you influenced radio and music beyond your own market. What are your thoughts on 91X having an influence beyond San Diego?
Michael: Considering it was (Kevin) Stapleford and myself that launched The End in Seattle in 1991, and before that I launched 89X in Detroit in 1990, I would say a huge influence. But to answer that question better would have you ask Lazlo. He will fill you in more.
Alex: You've helped the San Diego local music scene in many ways, partly from managing acts and also helping get some acts signed. Jewel is the first artist who comes to mind. What did you hear in her music that inspired you to bring her to the attention of Atlantic Records?
Michael: See above, she was wise beyond her years, still is. She has a great soul. It's almost as if she knew she was going to sell 15 million albums, I offered her many times to buy her guitars, give her a place to stay etc. She always politely refused.
Alex: Who are some other acts in which you've helped give early airplay or deals?
Michael: Blink, Mraz, POD, Pinback, ICP, Beck, Sublime, U2, Beasties, too many to list.
Alex: Tell us about your innovative project called Sound System.
Michael: It's on a temp hold. It's basically a tv show with live performances from local artists .. it's well shot, well mixed.
Alex: On top of programming, you're on the air in afternoon drive at 91X. What do you like about being on the air and what is your philosophy about jock talk?
Michael: It's active, thru all forms of social media. I try to keep it about the songs or artists I am playing. Otherwise it's all about nip slips and booty shots, oops that's not me, that's iheartradio.
Alex: What do you consider to be the ingredients of great alternative music?
Michael: Knowing the difference between real alt pop and NOT the BS pop that labels are trying to get you to break so they can cross it over and cash in. That sh*t needs to end now.
Alex: Two things that stand out about 91X to me - that probably aren't true of most major market alternative stations - are that you're independently owned and you throw in musical surprises that some might consider breaking your own format. How important are those components to 91X's success?
Michael: It is what sets us apart. The iheart method may work in podunk, but the folks in SD have skaters/surfers as CEOs and CEOs are skaters/surfers. It's pretty much the soundtrack for San Diego.
Alex: Michael, thanks for giving us deeper insight on your career and 91X. Any closing thoughts?
Michael: Last thoughts? Don't believe the hype. The labels are not on your side. They have one job, yours is different.
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