Column: 91X’s ‘Loudspeaker’ turns 30, and San Diego throws a party


For a good chunk of its long history, 91X’s “Loudspeaker” weekly local-music radio show aired at midnight. After 30 years on the air, what started as an after-hours tribute to San Diego bands and musicians is getting its day in the sun. Literally and musically.

The literal part happens on Tuesday, as July 31, 2018, is declared 91X Loudspeaker Day in the city of San Diego.

In City Council chambers at the rock ’n’ roll-unfriendly hour of 10 a.m., Councilman David Alvarez will present the show with a proclamation of laudatory “Whereas”-es that serves as a timely reminder of this local show’s big-time influence.

It reminds us that the show launched by SDSU grad and former 91X DJ Marco Collins went on to become the longest-running program dedicated to local music in the United States.

It reminds us of the pivotal role that “Loudspeaker” played in the explosion of the San Diego music scene in the 1990s, when local notables like Jewel, Rocket from the Crypt, blink-182, Lucy’s Fur Coat and Louis XIV all made their mark on “Loudspeaker” before getting signed by big-name record labels and launching national careers.

It also reminds us that the show continues to champion local music, as the “Local Break” feature puts local artists in regular rotation on 91X, and current hosts Tim Pyles, Lou Niles and Andrew Rowley help book local acts in clubs throughout the county.

“It’s a show for San Diego that’s about San Diego,” Pyles said. “We’re lucky to be a part of this great town, and we just want to give these artists the chances they deserve. It’s not really about me or Lou or Andrew. We’re the torch bearers, and it is super-fun to get to know these talented musicians and hopefully help them realize their dreams.”

The proclamation does not say that “Loudspeaker” lives up to its name by giving San Diego bands a way to blast their music to the masses, but it doesn’t have to. That’s what the musicians are for.

“There is nothing like hearing your song coming over the airwaves. It really opened doors for us,” said Manny Cien, singer and bassist for the ska-influenced N-E-1, whose 1984 single “123” made N-E-1 the first local band to get serious airplay on 91X.

“When we started out, radio was really the only way you could get the word out about your music. You didn’t have Facebook or anything like that. People couldn’t just text their friends and say, ‘You’ve got to come see this band.’ It was all putting up fliers and hard work and promoting yourself.”

Thanks to the airplay on 91X, N-E-1’s audiences got bigger. At the end of 1984, “123” ranked 64th on the station’s Top 100 most-requested songs of the year. Then came high-profile gigs opening local concerts by Madness, Oingo Boingo, UB40 and the Clash.

Now, N-E-1 is returning the musical favor.

On Tuesday, the Casbah will host a “Loudspeaker” 30th Anniversary concert bash featuring the Low Volts, Rob Crow (Heavy Vegetable, Pinback); Pall Jenkins (Blackheart Procession, three mile pilot); Chris Coté (Kut U Up); and Pony Death Ride. If you want a bit of the spotlight for yourself, there will be all-local singalongs with Scotty Pants Karaoke in the Casbah’s Razzmatazz Lounge.

The concert will also feature a set by the reunited N-E-1, which features the original lineup of Manny Cien, his brother Tim on guitar and vocals, lead guitarist Rob Glickman, and saxophonist Eddie Croft, along with new drummer Miles Clowminzer.

And in the middle of it all will be three of the guys who kept “Loudspeaker” cranking for all of these years. Niles hosted the show from 1990 to 1996, Pyles was behind the microphone from 1998 to 2004, and Rowley was the voice of “Loudspeaker” from 2007 through 2011. In 2014, Niles, Pyles and Rowley began hosting the three-hour show together.

“Loudspeaker” now airs on Sundays at the more listener-friendly hour of 7 p.m, but the spirit hasn’t changed. It is still dedicated to introducing San Diego listeners to San Diego bands and hoping that one song on the radio will be the start of a beautiful musical relationship.

“People in San Diego have a lot of choices about what they can do, and it can be hard for bands to rise to the top,” said Pyles, who grew up in La Jolla and has been listening to 91X since the alternative-rock station launched in 1983.

“Local music has always been my passion, and I just want to push the young bands and give them hope in what they are doing. Sometimes, I will get a video from somebody in a band showing the radio in their car with 91X on the screen, and we’re playing their song. That is a real fun one.”

Twitter: @karla_peterson