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Music

Meet Anne Litt: KCRW’s new music director is the first woman in the influential job

Anne Litt
Anne Litt is the new music director at KCRW.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Over the course of her career in Los Angeles FM radio, DJ and music supervisor Anne Litt has scored listeners’ midnight drives through the Malibu canyons, their bumper-to-bumper stasis on the 110, club-hopping jaunts through West Hollywood and bumming-around-the-house weekend afternoons.

Last month Litt realized a longtime goal when Santa Monica-based NPR affiliate KCRW announced she would become the station’s next head of music programming. A veteran of commercial and public radio who relocated to Los Angeles in 1991, Litt, 53, will be only the fifth person to hold the KCRW position since it was created in 1979. She landed the job after Jason Bentley stepped away from the position at the end of last year. She will also be the first woman to oversee music programming at KCRW, which is no small feat in a historically — and notoriously — male-dominated industry.

Officially, Litt’s title is program director of music, and those who have followed her sets and segues can get a pretty good sense of her aesthetic by checking her playlists. As the interim host of “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” the station’s flagship music show, Litt mixes contemporary indie rock and international sounds with singer-songwriters, post-punks and electronic music producers.

“I’m excited to have Anne become our next music director,” KCRW president Jennifer Ferro says. “She holds the history and culture of KCRW in her heart and has ideas to take us into the next era. She’s also really fun to work with and knows how special KCRW is.”

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Litt, who lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and 13-year-old son, sat down in her home studio to talk about her new job. The conversation (and follow-up email interview) have been edited for length and clarity.

Anne Litt
Anne Litt, the new music director of KCRW, inside the station’s studio.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

How did you get your start in radio?

I started at WXYC in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was a DJ there for most of college and continued to work in radio while doing promotions for Mammoth Records [early home to Blake Babies, Joe Henry, Squirrel Nut Zippers and more] as an intern when I was in college. On the side, I was working in commercial radio, waiting tables, whatever — but mostly in radio as my side hustle.

I moved out here in 1991 and worked in commercial radio. I was part of the Morning Show at alt-rock Y-107, which flipped to Spanish language after the year that I was there. Also Channel 103.1, which became Indie 103.1. I started at KCRW in January 1996.

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Over the last few months, engineers at left-of-the-dial radio station KCRW-FM (89.9) have been testing systems and training programmers in advance of a landmark moment.

The great thing about working in commercial radio is that it’s boot camp. When you’re doing a five-day-a-week morning show, you work out the kinks pretty quickly. Commercial radio is by no means my first love, but as a radio lover from childhood, it was a great experience to have. And there are lessons I’ve learned that I’ve brought back to KCRW, which is my first love.

What’s your job description?

To work with our incredible music team DJs to create an ethos of music sharing and to really collaborate with them. I mean, I look at myself as the ambassador to the rest of the station for music. We have so many places we can put music. I want to work with the digital team, our video team and our social media team to make sure we’re sharing as widely as possible. That’s what I see as my job. I’m the link, the conduit for the rest of the station.

You’re the first woman to hold the music director role at KCRW. Have you ever worked with a woman music director in your radio career?

Never. Commercial radio is all dudes. And that was tough. Even at the independent record label I worked at — all guys there. I was the only female, and a lot of the music business stuff — we all have our stories, you know? And I used to be terrified to go into Aron’s Records on Highland because they were so mean. Like, what if I buy the wrong thing?

Anne Litt
KCRW music director Anne Litt’s first concert was the Doobie Brothers.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

But KCRW is an organization run by really strong women, and I am so proud to be counted as one of them now. And I’m super honored to be in the company of the great music directors who have come before me, all of whom I have deep respect for, and I’ve learned so much from all of them.

You’ve also done music supervising, most notably for the film “Little Miss Sunshine.” What have been some of your highlights, and can you talk a little bit about your work in that space?

As a music supervisor I’ve worked in films, TV and commercials. Commercials are my favorite medium for music supervision. I love the rapid-fire pace and I have agencies and commercial producers I love working with. I’m definitely doing far less these days as my real love is radio and public media — all aspects of it. So it’s a gift to be able to focus on KCRW.

What are your desert island discs?

Lord knows I’ll leave a bunch off — and this is a very mean question. The Beatles, “Revolver”; Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, either “Lost Treasures” or “Whipped Cream and Other Delights”; Prince, “Purple Rain,” and Milton Nascimento, “Milton.”

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Since your job requires you to listen to a lot of music, is it ever difficult to separate work listening and pleasure listening?

I like to think it’s all the same. But sometimes when I’m driving home from the station in my car, I have to have silence, just to cleanse my palate that way. Sometimes when I’m listening to music to get ready for a show — if I’m hating everything I’m listening to, then it’s not the music, it’s me. I have to go take a lap, get a cup of coffee, you know? Change the scenario.

For the last decade, fans of indie rock, left-of-center electronic music and experimental pop have soundtracked their mornings with DJ Jason Bentley.

But there are things that you need to listen to because, you know, you have to listen to. And I do feel a responsibility now that I have this job to listen to everything. It used to be that if I didn’t get to it, I didn’t get to it. But I feel these musicians are giving you their art. I want to honor that, right? It’s like if you miss a gallery at a museum. I’m like, I have to see that.

What was your first concert?

My first concert was the Doobie Brothers at Kings Dominion. I won tickets from Q-94 — probably the KISS-FM of Richmond, Va. My parents took me, and I got to take a friend. But the first concert I took myself to probably was Gwar, which is so horrifying. I’ve seen Gwar a million times, I think. We learned quickly that you don’t stand in the front. That was so crazy when they chopped off heads [of celebrity and politician effigies].

You’re currently the interim host of ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic.’ What is the status of the search for a new host?

First off, we have incredible candidates inside the organization, each of whom would be fantastic, but we’re also looking outside. Most important, we are looking for the perfect person to round out our team of music DJs. The KCRW DJ [crew] is unlike any creative group I’ve ever been a part of. Their specific areas of expertise surprise me daily, so we’re excited to welcome the best voice to our team — from wherever they come.

How much of your role is to serve the musical tastes of KCRW members versus pushing them in new directions?

I believe that I can play anything on KCRW as long as I play it in context. And I think part of our duty is to share new music and to challenge our listeners. [Former station manager] Ruth Seymour said sometimes KCRW challenges me so much I have to turn it off. I feel like if somebody has to turn it off, then we’re getting somewhere. But if I play a brand-new song from an artist you’ve never heard of, maybe then I play it alongside something that gives it historical perspective. If it’s a punk rock song, maybe play another different kind of punk rock song.

I don’t want our top 20 to look like every other noncommercial or Triple-A [format] or whatever public radio station out there. I want ours to be uniquely KCRW, uniquely Southern Californian.


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