Late Thursday morning, when Gene “Bean” Baxter says goodbye to Los Angeles, millions of morning commuters will lose a longtime companion. After nearly 30 years as one half of drive-time’s “The Kevin & Bean Show” on famed modern-rock station KROQ-FM, Baxter will hang his headphones on the mike stand one last time.
Baxter and Kevin Ryder have hosted “Kevin & Bean” continuously since New Year’s Eve 1989. As freshmen in one of the most competitive radio markets in the country, the pair had never hosted a morning show. Initially considered a failed experiment, “Kevin & Bean” worked its way up the Arbitron ratings one decimal point at a time and first landed the coveted No. 1 ranking in the market in 2003. Along the way, the show has boosted the careers of “Kevin & Bean” alumni including late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, comedic nerd Chris Hardwick, Fox Business News host Kennedy and podcast giant Adam Carolla.
The two have interviewed some of rock’s biggest stars, from Billie Eilish, the Foo Fighters, Jack White and Radiohead to Tori Amos, Arcade Fire, Green Day and U2.
“The most surprising thing about the hundreds of emails that I’ve gotten in the last few weeks,” says Baxter, “is how many people have been listening for all 30 years. It’s extremely humbling and extremely gratifying. And it makes leaving hard — hard for them and hard for me to give up that relationship.” (The show, which ranked 15th among morning shows in the L.A. market according to the October Nielsen ratings, will continue with Kevin as host; the station has not announced if it will appoint a new cohost.)
Baxter, who will turn 60 next week, actually left Los Angeles a long time ago. Since the late 1990s, he has done the show remotely, via audio and video link, from various locations, an island off the coast of Seattle, Las Vegas and, currently, New Orleans.
He spoke to The Times from New Orleans a few days before his final show.
You’ve said that when you and Kevin started doing mornings on KROQ, a lot of listeners hated your show.
Kevin and I both came from Top 40 radio. I was a fan of alternative music, but I certainly was never an album-rock DJ. So it was a real adjustment.
We were coming to a radio station that had Richard Blade, Jed the Fish and Rodney on the ROQ, people who were already legends in Southern California. We were the new guys. We were out-of-towners and out of our depth. We had never done a morning show, together or separately. So there was a very steep learning curve. The first few years were difficult. All we got was negative feedback, and this was pre-internet, so people would literally put letters in the mail to tell us how we had destroyed their favorite radio station.
Why did they hire two unproven Top 40 DJs?
I think they felt that our attitude and sense of humor was compatible with the mood of the station. We weren’t doing broad comedy. We were doing specific, silly comedy.
So you’re in this huge L.A. market, every on-air personality’s dream, but the market isn’t sure if it liked you or not.
It was hard to get any kind of traction. There were a lot of great radio shows on the air in our early years, too: [KLOS-FM (95.5)'s] Mark & Brian, [KIIS-FM (102.7)'s] Rick Dees, [KPWR-FM (105.9)'s] Jay Thomas, [KQLZ-FM (100.3)‘s] Scott Shannon. [KPWR‘s] Baka Boyz came along. There were always good shows.
You guys nearly lost your jobs that first year when, during a segment called “Confess Your Crime,” you pranked the audience by having a friend call-in and anonymously confess to a murder that never happened. After media outlets started reporting on the confession in earnest, you, at first, denied that it was a prank, only to acknowledge it once the police were well into their investigation.
When it comes up, we always talk about that terrible thing that Mark & Brian did. [laughs] But the reality is, it was a spur-of-the-moment, stupid decision that we made as desperate young DJs who were trying to make any kind of an impact. In that first year we expected to get fired at any time. Our show wasn’t very good, and the ratings weren’t going in the right direction. So how can we get people to talk about us? We thought it might generate some chatter, but it just ballooned out of control. We never stopped long enough to think about whether it was morally wrong. We ended up reimbursing the Burbank Police Department for whatever hours they put in, which, as an aside, never even included interviewing us. That’s how quote-unquote thorough their investigation was.
As someone who has played records on FM radio for decades, what are your thoughts on the state of the modern-rock format?
Personally, it pains me that radio is not leading the way in new music anymore. I hate to shoot my own station in the foot, but it appeals to an older demo that would much rather hear the Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers songs that they grew up with than too much new music.
Radio isn’t the go-to for discovery anymore, and rock music has been going through a fallow period for a long time. Like any other form of music, it goes through phases. We’ve been on KROQ so long that we remember the grunge period, but we also remember the Lilith Fair period. We also remember the ska period. There was a time when we were playing Save Ferris and the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. There were the early 2000s, when everything was Korn and Limp Bizkit. So it ebbs and flows. I’m not super enthusiastic about it right now, but that doesn’t mean we’re down for the count.
What about the state of terrestrial radio in general?
Broadcast companies have to play to Wall Street rather than to their own listeners.
I think that it’s insane that they haven’t addressed the proliferation of commercials on radio at this point. [Broadcasters] are so short-sighted and they feel like they can’t afford to not sell 12 minutes of commercials an hour. They don’t understand how ridiculous that is for the consumer in 2019. These are the same people who go home and fast-forward through every commercial, if they’re even watching something on a platform that has commercials, and then expect listeners to sit through five minutes, and then a song, before they get back to “Kevin and Bean.”
I would also like to see them figure out a way to make the KROQ brand pop more digitally. To me, it’s a big mistake to make us one of 50 stations on the Radio.com app when we’re big enough to carve out our own thing. I think that’s a missed opportunity.
You and your wife are moving to London. What will you be doing there?
Hoping to find a job. A lot of people have mistakenly wished me well on my retirement. I am nowhere near retiring. I love radio. I’ve been on the air for 42 years continuously. And I feel like I’m doing the best work of my life. I can’t wait to get behind the microphone in London, but I know I’ve got a couple of things working against me. There’ll be a certain amount of ageism against me. I also have a dumb accent.
Any parting shots at station management?
No, not at all. We’ve worked at KROQ a long time, through [owners] Viacom, Infinity, CBS and, now, Entercom. In general, I’d give them a B-minus, which isn’t terrible.
Now that you’ll no longer be under FCC jurisdiction, can you say whether you’ve ever been in a radio control room with lines of cocaine and an independent radio promoter?
Yes, I have. It’s been a long time. You’re taking me back to the ’80s now, but I worked in Washington, D.C., at a radio station that will remain nameless. I saw cocaine delivered, and ingested from the control board.
Have you ever accepted payola in exchange for spins?
No. Believe it or not, I’ve never broken an FCC rule. I’ve never been fined by the FCC. I’ve never gotten in trouble with the FCC. And I’ve only sworn one time on the air in my 42 years.
What was the context?
We had on the producer of an NFL special, and he mentioned that Jon Hamm was its narrator. I said something about, “Well, we can all agree how hot Jon Hamm is, right?” The guest laughed on the phone, and I said, “He really is so f— hot.” It completely came out of nowhere and surprised me so much because there are a million other opportunities I have had to swear. I was riled up about something.
It seems like it must have come from the heart.
Apparently. I mean, look at him.