Friendly Competition

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cain and Abel . . . Capulet and Montague . . . Hatfield and McCoy . . . Giants and Dodgers. . . .

Don't add Rodney Bingenheimer and Chris Carter to that list of historic rivals, though these two close friends find themselves on opposite sides in a war of the airwaves.

Bingenheimer, of course, is Rodney on the Roq, the longest-tenured on-air figure at KROQ-FM (106.7). His Sunday night showcase of what's cool and what's next in the rock world has been the station's constant in its 20-year rise from rebel upstart to national rock radio leader.

Carter co-founded the band Dramarama, which is one of those that Bingenheimer championed most enthusiastically. The band even moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles at the deejay's urging and became enough of a fixture in town and especially on KROQ that, even several years after it broke up without achieving any national success, its "Anything, Anything" finished No. 1--ahead of songs by such KROQ giants as the Cure, Depeche Mode and Oingo Boingo--in the Labor Day weekend countdown of the station's top 500 most requested songs of all time.

In the process, Bingenheimer and Carter became best friends and confidants. Carter is even writing and producing a documentary film by director George Hickenlooper (best known for "Heart of Darkness," the story of the making of "Apocalypse Now"), looking at Bingenheimer's remarkable life from his '60s days as the "mayor of the Sunset Strip" on up.

But just before Labor Day, Carter broke ranks with the KROQ fold and took a weekly spot as a deejay on upstart modern-rock KLYY-FM (107.1), which has made its name largely by mocking KROQ. And the time of Carter's show: When else? Sunday nights--the very territory that has always belonged to Bingenheimer.

"When I told Rodney, 'I have a radio show where I can play Oasis B-sides and Mott the Hoople and music I think is cool,' he started freaking out," Carter says. "But I said, 'I won't go up against you.' "

What Carter did was take advantage of a situation forced upon Bingenheimer recently. His show used to follow the special 8-10 p.m. Sunday "Loveline" session, going from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. But when CBS/Westinghouse bought KROQ owner Infinity Broadcasting a few months ago, the new bosses felt that the frank sex talk of "Love-line" wasn't suitable for the earlier evening slot and insisted it run 10 to midnight, as it does on weekdays. Bingenheimer was then given a split shift of 9-10 p.m. and midnight to 2 a.m.

The simple solution: Carter took the 10-to-midnight slot on Y107, and encourages interested listeners to switch between the two stations.

"Boom, you get five hours of interesting new music," he says. "And that's great. I don't care about KROQ versus Y107. It's all about music to me. More interesting, I told Rodney, 'They were gonna hire some specialty guy for that show anyway. The fact that it's your best buddy is great. We can talk to each other, share tips about what's good to play, not make it a competition.' It's not like Leno versus Letterman."

Help Wanted: Perhaps Chris Carter and Rodney Bingenheimer's friendship would be even stronger if Carter worked at KROQ--there's an opening for the nighttime shift vacated when deejay Carson became the latest in a lengthening line of jocks moving from the station to MTV.

And in a move highly unusual for a station of this stature, KROQ's executives have actually put out a call for anyone interested to send in tapes, whether they have radio experience or not. It's made for good fodder, with some of the tapes getting played on the "Kevin & Bean" morning show, but program director Gene Sandbloom insists this is no stunt. He's really hoping to find new talent this way.

"I felt that people who live in L.A. and actually listen to KROQ and get what it's about have a better shot at being what we're looking for than someone from Lincoln, Neb., who may have done a lot of work in radio but never actually heard the station," he says.

He also points out that experience has often been of little concern in KROQ hirings.

"We've hired a homeless guy ["Kevin & Bean" sidekick Gil]; the Poorman was an intern before he went on the air," he says. "And even Kevin & Bean had never done a morning show before."

Wake-Up Call: Speaking of morning men, Joe Benson's rich tones were long associated with the late evenings of L.A. rock radio, first at KLOS-FM (95.5) starting in 1980, then briefly in 1995 at KLSX-FM (97.1) and then back at KLOS for the last year.

Now, though, he finds himself on morning drive-time duty at classic-rock station KCBS-FM (Arrow 93.1), getting up at 3:30 a.m. every weekday to get to work--and loving it.

"At this point in my life I don't mind at all," says Benson, 47, especially because it allows him to spend prime daytime hours with his baby girl, his first child.

But then, those hours are nothing special for a morning jock. There is, however, something that sets him apart from most of his competition.

"I'm the only one, at least the only one on an English-language station, playing music," he says. "At least this kind of music."

The show bucks the trend in the morning airwaves, where wackiness has become the norm for music stations. Program director Tommy Edwards, instead, wanted something different, and picked Benson because of his reputation for being highly knowledgeable about rock history.

He's written a series of "Uncle Joe's Record Guides" covering various realms in detail; he's currently reprinting Beatles and progressive rock volumes and is readying an edition covering the '80s. (Information can be found on his www.unclejoe.com Web site.)

One thing he isn't doing at Arrow is "The Seventh Day," a longtime Sunday block in which he would play complete albums and share history and insights into their making. But he's been given room to continue its spirit.

"They've given me a showcase to do a featured artist at quarter after the hour," he says. "And that's what Uncle Joe is known for."

Flashback: With Jim Ladd, Raechel Donahue and other veterans of the KLOS-KMET rock radio glory days now back on KLOS, fans of the past can also hear another familiar voice again--that of B. Mitchel Reed, the co-founder and anchor of KMET from its 1968 inception, who died in 1983. The DCC Compact Classics record label has just released a CD re-creating a "typical" slice of Reed's programming as part of its "The Golden Age of Underground Radio" series. The set features Reed's distinctive, sometimes provocative patter, vintage commercials and news bits and a selection of songs from the era (the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Spirit).

Among the highlights: Reed musing about a then-twentysomething Mick Jagger being hampered by a sacroiliac at the advanced age of 41, reading a cease-and-desist notice from the Beatles attorneys concerning airing of the bootlegged "Get Back" sessions, and concurring with The Times' own Robert Hilburn for his essay questioning Vice President Spiro Agnew's condemnation of rock songs as promoting illegal drug use.

Future releases in the series will cover L.A. jazz deejay Les Carter and Wolfman Jack's days on renegade border radio XERB.

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