The Swarm

January 16, 2009

An Exclusive Interview with Indie 103.1's Music Director Mark Sovel...

Andy Gensler

Yesterday came the shocking news that Los Angeles’ beloved independent music station INDIE 103 was being yanked off the air by its corporate owner Entravision. For the last five years, the station has nurtured countless music careers and entertained legions with independent music and DJs like inimitable Steve Jones and Henry Rollins. The station’s loss leaves a huge void on SoCal radio dial and an even larger one in the Los Angeles music scene. The Daily Swarm caught up with the station’s Music Director Mark Sovell (a.k.a. Mr Shovel), to explain what happened.

The Daily Swarm: What a shock. What happened?
Mark Sovel: Pretty crazy days. It wasn’t out of the blue. I knew it was going to happen. There had been a back and forth struggle to keep the station going. But to our employers’ credit, they allowed us to go on air and say goodbye to everyone.

So now the station will be web-based only?
None of the primary DJs or music programmers at the station are involved in the website – There is one person from the station running the web-stream. I don’t know what their plans are but I’m sure he will do the best he can given the situation. My concern is that people are confused. They are running an ad on the air saying we couldn’t play the corporate radio game anymore and that we didn’t want to change our format to be more mainstream and that we decided to play music on the web, but the staff of Indie had no control in the decision to shut down the station. I guess they had some success with the web and want to keep it going. But I don’t want the listeners to be confused.

I played the stream and there was no DJ, just kind of down the middle Sex Pistols, Clash, Dead Boys but without a DJ.
That’s pretty much what it’s going on now; it’s like playing an iPod of the music we left on their computers. It’s just ironic they have a loop running on the radio station talking about how we don’t want to play the corporate radio game and they play the Sex Pistols and Black Flag… and the funny thing is they just kicked Steve Jones and Henry Rollins off the air.

How did Steve Jones take it?
He was disappointed, but I don’t want to speak for him. I helped him clean out his desk. He said, “It’s weird, I’ve never done anything for five years.” His wit is unique. I’m really gonna miss Jonesy. KROQ had tried to hire him away in the past, but they would never let him on the air and do what he did at Indie.

How do you think It’s going to impact the music scene in Los Angeles?
It’s become part of the culture for a lot of people. There was the Coachella crowd, professionals, creative types, all sorts of people. I’ve heard from a lot of bands who we had helped in the past, band like She Wants Revenge, Submarines, Giant Drag, Great Northern. People are bummed.

What about the ratings and the controversial Portable People Meter (PPM)?
I’ve seen the ratings and I know we didn’t do very well on PPM, but the kind of people who listen to our station are not the kind of people who want to carry around a device to measure what they’re doing. But they are the kind of people who show up to our events in droves. Our signal didn’t cover the entire city. We have transmitters in two places – Santa Monica and Newport – and our signal didn’t reach the Valley where the proportion of PPM is very high. Take for instance the entire area from Echo Echo Park to Beverly Hills to Wilshire, yet they said we had no listeners there. We know we have core listeners in Los Feliz and Silver Lake, but we supposedly had zero listeners there – it is just ridiculous. All stations with eclectic programming don’t register well with PPM. PPM is not even certified in Los Angeles but Arbitron pushed it through early because they make more money from it.

How were the finances in general?
Advertising in the market as whole is down—just like the overall economy. We were straddling the line of profitability and in the last few months we dipped below where we weren’t making a profit. We suffered from the bad economy.

Since [Indie 103’s owner] Entravision owns a bunch of Latino radio stations, will they turn Indie 103 into a Spanish channel filled with syndicated programming from their other stations?
They’ll put up something that requires little or no overhead and they won’t have to hire. They can just use a format that is all ready running in other cities.

What do you say to people who claim the station had started becoming increasingly more mainstream and major-label oriented in recent years?
A lot of that is a direct result of the PPM ratings, which definitely had an effect on the station. But I didn’t operate that way. I put the Amazing Baby record in heavy rotation – which was the highest requested record when the station went off the air – and they don’t have a label. Indie 103 has a strong history of playing unsigned bands.

Talk about your show.
It was called Check One Two, it was a local L.A. music show two hours a week that nurtured local L.A. bands. We also do a live weekly showcase that started out at the Viper Room but recently relocated to the Echoplex. It’s every Tuesday and called Check One, Twosday. This Tuesday, January 20 we have Earl Greyhound and the Castledoor; then the week after we have IO Echo and ZaZa; and the Bronx in February.

You know Prince brought us up to his house because he’s releasing his record without a label. It was just him in a huge house talking to us for like three hours before he let us hear the new album. It’s a great record. And he’s another unsigned artist we support.

What did he say?
All sort of things. He said we “need to change music’s gate-keepers” and then let us have some of his music to play on the air. We premiered it on Jonsey’s Jukebox. He had met with KROQ but didn’t even let them hear the music. He gave it to us instead.

Any plans for a future Indie 103?
There are people who are making an effort to bring the station back on the air with the same people, but I can’t say specifically.

What can people do who really want to see the station back on the air?/
They can start by emailing the people at Entravision who were involved with the decision. Walter Ulloa (, the CEO, and Jeffrey Liberman (, president of the radio division—who was actually a great guy in a tough situation.

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