In what has become the soap opera of the radio industry, Kevin Weatherly, the former program director at Los Angeles’ KROQ, who helped build the station to become a leading arbiter of alternative rock music nationally, is returning to the frequency as senior vice president of programming.
He leaves Spotify, where he held the position of head of North American programming, after a little over two years, starting officially at the Audacy station on June 6.
In March, Variety reported that Mike Kaplan had stepped down as program director at KROQ, the station he revamped after joining in 2020. KROQ had weathered major changes under Kaplan, who initially steered the station away from its rock and alternative roots towards more new and pop-leaning alternative acts.
But in targeting a younger audience, which doesn’t traditionally listen to the radio in great numbers, the station lost a significant portion of its core audience, and was trailing behind competitor KYSR-FM (“Alt 98.7”), an iHeartRadio station, in the ratings. (Worth noting: Alt 98.7 is programmed by Lisa Worden, a protege of Weatherly’s who spent 20 years at KROQ.)
In his new role, Weatherly will oversee KROQ’s content strategy, talent, operations and branding and also serve as format vice president for Audacy’s portfolio of alternative stations across the country — a position previously held by Kaplan.
“We’re so excited to welcome Kevin back to KROQ to oversee the iconic brand he was instrumental in building,” said Jeff Federman, regional president and market manager for Audacy Southern California, in announcing Weatherly’s return. “KROQ is a pillar in the SoCal community and not many people understand the bond between this station and its fans like Kevin. We look forward to him returning and evolving the brand even further.”
“KROQ is one of the most recognizable and iconic brands in all of radio,” added Weatherly. “I’ve had the privilege of spending the majority of my career programming KROQ and I’m energized and ready for the next chapter. We have a lot of work ahead of us to return KROQ to its rightful position in the hearts and minds of longtime listeners and partners, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Weatherly’s departure in early 2020 prefaced the series of changes made at KROQ by Federman that set into motion a listenership collapse at the station. That included the firing of morning show hosts Kevin Ryder, Allie Mac Kay and Jensen Karp, as well as the arrival of Weatherly’s replacement, Kaplan. Kaplan revamped KROQ’s sound in an attempt to attract a younger audience by programming
But longtime listeners departed, mostly because of the void by the departure of the morning show. But rock-leaning fans used to KROQ’s harder-driving sound also exited. When Kaplan stepped down from KROQ in March, the station had just returned to the more gold-based, rock-oriented alternative sound that had been championed by Weatherly.
Weatherly has been rightfully lauded over the years as one of the architects of KROQ’s dominance in the 1990s and 2000s. But as the station became successful, it arguably also struggled to evolve its sound, and by the 2010s, was criticized for being stuck in place as its core playlist, led by overplayed tracks by bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, began to sound stale. Weatherly was also still at the station when some of its most iconic jocks, including Rodney Bingenheimer and Jed the Fish, departed.
The challenge for KROQ is not unlike the problem facing the alternative music format at radio across the country, as aging listeners stick to the tried and true — which means no room for music discovery or new audiences. In Chicago, Cumulus’ alternative WKQX recently reacquired the “Q101” brand in the hopes of attracting listeners who remember the station in its 1990s-era heyday. (That station flipped formats in 2011 and sold off the “Q101” name to investors; Cumulus revived an alternative format on the 101.1 frequency in 2014, but couldn’t regain the “Q101” name again until last month.)
Recent attempts to revitalize alternative include San Diego’s heritage XETRA-FM (“91X”), which has shifted to a 1980s/1990s heritage modern rock format. In Portland, former KROQ operations manager Gene Sandbloom has evolved the sound of KINK-FM into a hybrid modern rock/adult album alternative format to solid results.
Now, the onus will be on Weatherly to figure out how to right the KROQ ship, both in figuring out the right music mix, but also in building a stable of talent that perhaps reflects the glory days of the station.