10 Questions with ... Bob Coburn
June 9, 2015
1. What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment?
There was no lightning bolt moment when I realized I wanted to be in radio. After I left Texas Tech University, I knew for sure I didn't want to stay at the insurance company I was working at, so I took a community college course in Radio 101. I met a student there whose dad was a radio engineer and he had the magic elixir, a functional five-watt transmitter. We even took requests from the neighborhood kids so we knew we were on to something. It lasted about three months until the FCC showed up with a cease-and-desist order and left with a homemade transmitter, but I never looked back. I got a map, traced a 100-mile circle around Dallas on it and drove south.
2. Can you give us a brief history of your radio career up to now?
A brief history for 47 years? Okay. Within that 100-mile circle was Corsicana, TX and I convinced the GM there I already had experience, just not exactly where it was, and he hired me at KAND. I quit two weeks later to go to my girlfriend's prom (I told them when I took the job that I wanted that one day off, but noooo). Next time, I drove north and landed at KPLT in Paris, TX, this time actually having had some real experience. Two weekends! Thank you, Mr. Jeff Methven. I've worked in Chicago (WLS-FM and WMET as PD) and San Diego twice each (KPRI and KGB), at six L.A. stations. I've had three stints at KLOS, which spans about half of my career. I also did morning drive for awhile at 107-7 The Bone in San Francisco, while living in L.A. I've been in L.A. continuously since 1980, but first moved here to work at the seminal rocker, KPPC in Pasadena, in 1969. KMET seems to be of particular interest to some. I was there in the mid-to-late '70s, did afternoons and served as MD, too. I also worked at Arrow, KLSX and at KZLA. And then there's Rockline, from 1981 to 1994 and then 1997 to 2014 when the show ended. I bought the show in 2002.
3. How does it feel to be back on one of the most iconic Rock stations in America?
It feels fantastic. I told some folks I finally got my shift back after 21 years, but I feel like I never really left. It's a Castaneda type thing, you always know where your real place is ... that certain spot where you're most comfortable. But it's not as if I wasn't already contributing to KLOS. Before PD Keith Cunningham moved me to middays, I was working 19 on-air hours a week, four days a week, now I'm working 20 hours over five days, they're just on consecutive weekdays now instead of Thurs-Sun at various times like I had been.
4. How do you view this battle for L.A .Rock listeners moving forward?
I guess I could give you some pithy quotes, but it's enough of a battle for me to do the absolutely best show I can possibly create each day, and so far I've yet to achieve a perfect show, so I still have work to do. I narrow my focus to that which I can control and believe the rest will take care of itself.
5. Are you doing any special features or benchmark music programming for the workforce checking out KLOS during the day?
Oh yeah, you bet! Keith was smart enough to ask me to bring Rockline to my show and we created the Rockline Replay, which airs at 11:35a and 1:35p. It's very fluid; one day I may feature the same exclusive live Rockline song for both time slots, or maybe I'll play two different songs in a day. Sometimes it's a choice excerpt from the show followed by studio versions of songs. I have the freedom to do it the way I feel is correct, so I mix it up and keep it interesting. I have a 95-minute commercial-free block every day and also the On Demand Lunch where the KLOS faithful select songs to be played. And there's the occasional specialty item; I just interviewed Robert Plant (again) and Randy Bachman dropped by recently. It's the Rockline stuff people seem to really love. It's the fastest four hours of my entire career. Each show feels like it's about a couple of hours, definitely not four. Lucky me, huh? In fact, I just had a woman call me to say she spoke with Robert Plant on Rockline when she was in high school and what a big deal it was for her not only back then, but still today. Now that's pretty cool.
6. How would you describe KLOS' Rock position in the market?
Our Rock position is we ARE the Rock. We're "The Rock of Southern California." That's how we identify ourselves. The old laid back So Cal stereotype is long gone. It's 2015 and the tempo of the station simply matches the tempo of today's Los Angeles. I know I wanna rock and at KLOS that's what we do ... we rock.
7. How do you keep the station sounding fresh, playing 30 and 40-year-old music?
That's been a challenge for awhile now. I'm blessed to have so many stories about the artists we play that there's not enough time in the remainder of my career to tell them all and now that I'm culling through about a quarter-million minutes of shows looking for great Rockline clips and songs it reminds me of things I may have forgotten. I stay current, too. This music is still relevant, much of it timeless, and it still fits with today's societal pastiche. Plus, many of our artists have plenty of newer things happening, too.
8. Give us the history of how you became involved in Rockline.
My good friend and mentor, B. Mitchell Reed, was the original host from May of 1981 when the show first aired, but shortly after he became seriously ill and I took over for him (with his blessing, of course), in October of 1981. He passed away in March of 1982. I learned later I had five shows to make it or break it, and I guess I did pretty well. I remember in that first group were Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart and Neil Young ... trial by fire. The show grew very rapidly and before long we had something like 48 of the top-50 markets, hundreds of affiliates and it was must-listen-radio. The owners at the time, the Global Satellite Network, had an A+ team in place and they actually made it all happen, it didn't just fall out of the sky. Some real pros in disparate fields pulled together to make radio history.
9. What were some of the most memorable interviews or moments during Rockline's historic run?
Memorable moments? There are more than some; there's hundreds of them ... thousands really. The famous George Harrison show from 1988 was fascinating and deep, cosmic even. Van Halen in Atlanta in 1984 was outright insanity, strippers, Schlitz Malt Liquor, Jack Daniels, a few "other" things and David Lee Roth's boom box of drop-ins. Wow. The 1000th Rockline at the (then) Museum of Television and Radio in New York City with David Bowie and about two dozen superstar guests, some of whom heard it on the radio and just dropped by, including Ronnie Spector together with Joey Ramone showing up was downright amazing. A half-dozen or so shows each with Paul McCartney and Robert Plant and several with Keith Richards come to mind, and I can't forget shows with, Black Sabbath, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jimmy Page and Elton John, plus multiple appearances (over a dozen each) with Rush, Ozzy, Judas Priest, Paul Rodgers and Def Leppard and more.
There were great live, electric performances by everyone from Buckcherry to Queensryche and Puddle of Mudd to Dave Mason and acoustic performances from far too many guests to mention. Green Day played live, electric and the next day we got a call from their management asking if we knew where drummer Tre Cool's pants might be. Now, that HAD to have been a great show! Mike Mills of REM married a Rockline employee named Holly. Creed actually broke up after a Rockline appearance and Travis Meeks of Days of the New decked his band mates before a show and left them behind to ultimately form Tantric. Contrary to some reports (Wikipedia), it was on Rockline that Pete Townshend first let it be known that when it came to sex, his door swung both ways. Alice In Chains did their last show of any type with all four members participating just before Layne Staley passed away. Izzy, Duff and Slash from GNR came on the show absolutely smashed and a ridiculous feud broke out between the band, the label, KLOS and anyone else within earshot, including the L.A. Times. That led to a show where halfway through, Axl Rose confessed to me he came to Rockline listening to NWA on 11, parked in a median on Cahuenga Blvd. and was going to kick my ass for messing with his "Boys." He didn't, he said, because I was too nice and "a lot bigger" than he is. The dust on that fiasco settled long ago. We even did a show with Bill Clinton and Al Gore for Rock the Vote at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. George H.W. Bush passed on rockin' the vote and then proceeded to lose the election. We had comics, too, big names, like Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Mike Meyers, Denis Leary and loads more. If they had a comedy album out, we invited them. It was 33 & 1/2 years of magic, madness and priceless memories. I can tell Rockline stories for days, but I won't here. There's just so much that happened.
10. Is there someone you never had a chance to interview, but wish you did?
Quite fortunately, I did get to interview B.B. King a few years ago, but not for Rockline. Still, what a momentous occasion that was, I really loved B.B. For those artists who passed away before the 1981 show start, I would say John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, for sure. Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison too. For those alive who actually could have done the show, only Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen have been holdouts among the A-List superstars. But, what a run it was! I just happened to be at the tip of the sword, which catches more attention. There are so many people who were involved with Rockline over the years who helped make it all happen. I wish I had the space to mention everyone, but you know who you are and huge thanks to each of you.