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As KROQ DJ Kat Corbett Exits, She Reflects on Two Decades at the Station and the Struggles Facing Alternative Radio

·7-min read

Longtime KROQ DJ Kat Corbett is the latest voice to exit the iconic L.A. alternative radio station — and although she’s not ready to reveal her next stop just yet, she hints to Variety that several possibilities are on the horizon.

“I am talking to some folks that I can’t say just yet,” said Corbett, who also continues to host a daily show on SiriusXM’s Lithium channel. “I think the audio sound space is so amazing right now. Podcasting, fiction podcasting, this stuff is blowing my mind. How I would love to put some of my stories in that arena.” Corbett also hopes to release her debut novel before the end of the year: “They’re rough drafts but I wrote two books during COVID. I was like, what else am I gonna do?”

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Corbett had most recently served as a weekend and fill-in DJ for KROQ, in addition to her signature, weekly show “Locals Only,” featuring unsigned and up-and-coming L.A. bands. From 2005 to 2020, Corbett was KROQ’s midday DJ, following the famed “Kevin & Bean Show.”

But “Kevin & Bean” ended its run at the end of 2019, following the departure of Gene “Bean” Baxter. Co-host Kevin Ryder continued until March 2020, when KROQ fired him and co-hosts Allie Mc Kay and Jensen Karp over the phone, in the middle of a pandemic.

More recently, Ted Stryker, co-host of the current morning show, “Stryker & Klein,” also departed the station. The loss of KROQ’s signature stars, coupled with a dramatic shift in the station’s music mix over the past year, has led to several pieces — including one in Variety — dissecting the station’s current choices, ratings plummet and its future.

Corbett, however, had been pondering an exit at KROQ for some time, even prior to the recent departures and changes. She had actually planned to leave, with another show lined up, last year until the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

“I was ready to go then because, frankly, I reached the top of my game, and I never thought I’d be somewhere for 20 years — like that’s crazy, let alone KROQ,” said Corbett, pointing to the decision to leave the midday gig. “I’m somebody who really likes to work, I like being creative, and again it’s like, what else was there for me to do? I was never one of those people where I was, ‘I’m going to retire at KROQ.’ That’s not a thing. You grow out of the demo. I knew that there would always be a time. It was definitely happening right before COVID. And then, obviously, everything fell apart and so I already had a home so it was kind of like, [why not ride it out] while I was still there.”

What KROQ now faces is bittersweet, Corbett said, and it’s not just KROQ struggling to maintain relevancy.

“Right now I think alternative radio in general, and not just KROQ, I’m talking across the board, every single outlet is in a state of they don’t know what the hell is going on,” she said. “I think they’re deluding themselves if they think the kids are coming to radio. Kids don’t know what radio is, and they don’t care. And so now you’re alienating your audience by getting rid of all music. Also there’s this big thing, and again across the board in all alternative, where they’re, frankly, pushing hip-hop and pop as alternative, because those two genres, that’s where the money’s at. But the genre is just demolished. I don’t know how to fix it, but it’s just not its own thing anymore.”

Corbett added that she’s not knocking the idea of mixing or evolving genres on alternative radio. She began her career at another legendary modern rock station, Boston’s WFNX, and remembers when outlets like that would mix Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., De La Soul and Prince with music by the Clash or Dinosaur Jr. The problem now: There’s very little new rock to mix in the other stuff.

“Who’s the next Green Day, who’s the next Nirvana or Rage Against the Machine, where’s that?” she said. “I think rock is in a hard place right now. And the lack of that to mix in, like, current rock is really the problem.”

Of course, the demo that grew up on alternative rock is also the demo still listening to radio, and it’s the struggle of maintaining that core audience via gold-based records — yet attempting to evolve the sound to stay fresh and bring in a new generation — that has put the format in such crisis.

“A lot of times people get mad and they yell and go, ‘KROQ sucks’ or ‘I haven’t listened in years,’ and the reality is, it’s because you’ve gotten older,” Corbett said. “We’re not programming to you, we’re programming to 18-to-34. You’ve literally outgrown the demo, so of course it’s not going to resonate with you. It’s not that the place sucks, it’s just not your thing anymore. Frankly, it’s like I’ve outgrown it. I have other desires and passions. But for all of the time that I’ve been there and the family that I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had, it’s been an incredible place to be.”

Corbett first joined KROQ in the early 2000s from crosstown rival KLYY “Y-107,” a small radio station that attempted to take on Goliath KROQ, but eventually flipped formats to Spanish adult contemporary in 1999.

“Everybody was like, ‘There’s no way you’re getting hired at KROQ, especially not after you worked at Y-107,’” Corbett recalled. “So I hounded [then-program director] Kevin Weatherly until he finally gave me an audition. And the audition was the worst. I hadn’t even seen the studio, and everybody was like, ‘Don’t worry, KROQ, they’re so broke, the studio’s like an old college radio station, you’ll be fine.’ I get in there and they had just gone digital. Which I had never used before. So I got a five-minute lesson from the board op at ‘Loveline’ on how to use Audio Vault.

“I was like, are you kidding me? Is this really how I’m going to try to get a job here? By going on air at KROQ with a system I’ve never seen before? It was an absolute nightmare. I actually cried on the way home after my overnight shift. But you know, thankfully, they heard something.” Corbett began working various shifts until eventually replacing Tami Heide in middays.

And now, although most of her former KROQ colleagues have already left the building, Corbett said she has fond memories of her two decades at the station, including breaking artists like Local Natives, Silversun Pickups and Fitz and the Tantrums on “Locals Only,” and working with a staff she described as “absolute mad geniuses.”

“It was the ‘Island of Misfit Toys,’” she said. “You often hear that phrase about when baseball is working, how it’s just magic. It’s like music. It’s very much like that in radio and we had all known each other for so long. You didn’t have to think about anything, you knew people were gonna get the job done. It was a handoff, like in the middle of chaos, we made it all work. It was a beautiful thing, and it was really exciting and fun and we laughed so much. But little by little, you start losing pieces of the band, and then it doesn’t have that feel anymore. That’s just a natural progression, especially if you’re together for such a long time.”

[Photo: Kat Corbett with Bono, from her Twitter feed.]

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