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Ken Roberts, Who Nursed KROQ Into Radio Behemoth, Dies at 73

Ken Roberts, a concert promoter who oversaw the remaking of Los Angeles’ KROQ-FM into a musical trendsetter influential throughout the country, died May 22 in New York City. He was 73.

Roberts had been in poor health since a heart attack in February, according to his former wife Harriette Craig, who only recently announced his death.

Under his ownership in the late 1970s and early 1980s, KROQ helped acts such as Prince and Culture Club break through, and the station itself went from a bankrupt Pasadena, Calif., outfit to one of the most important modern-rock stations in the country. DJs such as Richard Blade, Freddy Snakeskin and Jed the Fish championed alternative music in the “ROQ of the 80s” format, which was widely copied.

The station helped introduce bands including Duran Duran, the Clash, U2, R.E.M., the Go-Go’s, Devo, the Police, the Pretenders, Billy Idol, Oingo Boingo and the Eurythmics.

In the 1980s KROQ saw its ratings jump, and the FCC awarded the license to Roberts in 1985. A year later he sold the station to Infinity Broadcasting for a record $45 million.

Robert acquired his initial stake in KROQ indirectly and inadvertently. He found that he was more experienced in radio than any of the other owners and essentially took over — he was elected president of the station. He took the station off the air for a while and soon bought out the other owners and paid potential bidders for the debt-ridden station to go away.

He hired Rick Carroll as program director in 1979. Carroll was generally seen as the person who defined KROQ’s new-music signature, but Roberts oversaw his efforts. (Carroll died in 1989.)

KROQ, at 106.7 FM, is currently owned by CBS.

In 1991 he returned to radio with his purchase of stations in Santa Monica and Newport Beach that shared the 103.1 frequency. A techno-rock format was simulcast on the outlets under the name MARS-FM; Snakeskin was program director. But it failed to find an audience and after a year the format was switched to smooth jazz.

Born in Hoboken, N.J., Kenneth John Roberts attended Seton Hall University in New Jersey. The connection he made working as a page at NBC helped him arrange an on-campus concert featuring singer Jack Jones. He then booked Della Reese.

After graduating in 1963, he started a business arranging college concerts featuring performers including Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, the Supremes and the Temptations. By the early 1970s his company was representing Frankie Valli and Sly and the Family Stone.

He shared his 112-acre Mandeville Canyon estate for fundraisers for charities such as the Pediatric Aids Foundation and the American Cancer Society, raising millions through the years, before he had to give up the estate due to financial reversals.

Divorced in 1981, Roberts had no children.

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