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Joe Escalante, Life After Indie 103.1 FM

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The Vandal, Joe Escalante | Photo by: Tommy / used with permission
It seemed the writing was on the wall for Indie 103.1 FM when the plug was pulled on Joe Escalante’s “Last Of The Famous International Morning Shows.” Two months later Indie 103.1's plug was pulled.

Entravision Communications had decided Indie was too independent for its purse-strings and ended a five year experiment. Goodbye was said to a rare high-quality station which featured fresh talent-driven programming. Indie's audience wasn't mainstream, but it was sizable and fervent. In 2008 Rolling Stone dubbed Indie 103 the nation’s Best Radio Station.

The frequency is now home to “El Gato,” a Ranchero music station. No word on if “El Gato” is in the running for Rolling Stone’s Best Radio Station of 2009.

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When Indie 103.1 tapped Joe Escalante to replace Dickie Barrett, the station brought in a man whose resume was full of feats -- though none in radio. Escalante played bass in The Vandals, and in 1996 he gave birth to independent label Kung Fu Records. He also received his bachelors at UCLA and earned a law degree from Loyola Law School.

“I considered it such a privilege to be a drive-time radio host in Los Angeles,” said Joe Escalante during a recent chat with LAist. “It’s something I never would’ve quit.” His breakfast-shift labor of love lasted only two-and-a-half years.

Early Days of Indie

“When I first got the job I was ready to follow orders, but there weren't any really,” Escalante recalled. “They kind of let me do what I wanted, because that was the idea.” Escalante’s bosses let the creative people do the programming and “didn’t worry about the ratings.” They believed they would come.

David Lynch and Joe Escalante
The hardest part of the job was the “shock to the system” of the 6 a.m. start time. Having spent the previous decade touring with world with The Vandals, Escalante said he “had gone ten or so years without needing an alarm clock.”

Great Contributions

“The best thing about doing the morning show was having David Lynch as my weather man, and Timothy Olyphant as my daily sports guy,” Escalante said of the contributions he received from the renowned film director, and the star of HBO’s David Milch-penned “Deadwood.” “I was really proud of those two.”

Both Lynch and Olyphant “remained somewhat of a secret bonus for those who managed to find the show," remembered Escalante. "It was a company policy that we were not allowed to send out press releases about our shows. I tried to make myself believe that it somehow made it even more cool that no none knew it was going on. I would have loved it if they [Indie] had marketed that.”

“When I would have an important guest on and they would find out the real David Lynch was doing weather, they would look at me with a changed level of respect, like they were doing the right morning show,” Escalante said.

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The Axe Swings Through The Morning

“I didn’t protest. The people at Indie took a chance on me, I’m a little strange. I thanked them for the time,” Escalante said of the news his show wasn’t to go on. “I didn’t think they made the right decision but that wasn’t my job, to figure out the right decision.”

Many listeners wrote Escalante to tell him their morning commute would never be the same. “The fans don’t have a duty to the shareholders of Entravision, but it told me they got what I tried to do,” he said. “That was satisfying.”

Escalante likens the run of his show to cancelled TV series “Arrested Development.” Both were products “that people loved, absolutely loved" but there weren't enough of those people to create financial hits. “That’s the curse of being into weird stuff."

“I enjoyed doing the morning radio thing, ” Escalante said, “but I’m not running around going ‘I’ve got to get another morning radio job.’” He doesn’t take interest in the life of a journeyman radio host, though the right offer may be out there. “If someone says ‘hey, do you want to be Adam Carolla’s new sidekick?’ -- I’ll wake up at three in the morning to do something like that.”

Barely Legal Radio Lives

Though the morning show wasn’t to go on, Entravision agreed to continue to broadcast “Barely Legal Radio,” Escalante’s weekly legal advice show. 103.1’s format change then moved “Barely Legal Radio” to Indie's online radio station.

Airing live on Fridays, from 11 a.m. to noon, Barely Legal Radio moved from a 9 a.m. because 11 is “a better time for Internet radio,” Escalante said. “ Drive-time is no longer preferred. You want to be on the air when people are on their computers.”

"Barely Legal Radio" will become a nationally syndicated show if Escalante and sponsor LegalZoom get their wish. “We are on a quest to get on a regular station, and on as many stations as we can,” he said. Internet radio is going to be a great place for this show “in a couple of years. Right now, Barely Legal needs to be on an over-the air station because it’s call-in talk radio.”

While Escalante hasn’t practiced law in six or seven years, he is able to give good legal advice because he remains involved with the legal community. He takes MCLE (Minimum Continuing Legal Education) classes, and is “a Pro Tem judge in the LA County court system.” Judge Escalante hears cases ranging from small claims to landlord-tenant.

Don’t expect Escalante to take a turn for the life of the suit-and-tie attorney. “I’m not really the law firm type,” admitted the bass player.

Music is Business

Escalante finds the music industry stuck at a fork in the road. “The worst thing about the music business is that people actually do buy CDs,” he said. With half of the consumers purchasing CDs and the other half buying music via iTunes, “it’s neither one nor the other.” Escalante feels the music business will continue to have problems so long as the market is split. “I wish overnight the CDs would go away.”

And if it’s good punk rock you want, Escalante thinks you need to dig into the Internet. “There are kids playing a really un-commerical style of punk rock,” he said. “They’re doing it for the energy and to make a difference. They know there’s money in punk rock but they don’t want it.” He compared them to his early days in punk rock. “That’s what drove us, that we would never be commercially successful with this music.”

If it's good music for your morning commute you want, “you might want to figure out how to get Internet in your car,” Escalante said through a laugh. “Otherwise don’t look forward to radio getting any better.”

"Lynch and Escalante" Photo by Jose Galvan | "Joe Playing Bass" Photo by Austin Brown / both used with permission

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