The old-school model of college radio has been on hiatus in Las Vegas since 1998, when UNLV station KUNV made the switch to a primarily jazz-based format, ditching programming such as the legendary “Rock Avenue” alternative rock show. Luckily, Donald Hickey, a former Rock Avenue DJ and fixture in the Vegas music scene, aims to fix this.
In 2008, Hickey and Mark Stoermer, bassist for The Killers, launched Neon Reverb Radio, a sort of spiritual successor to Rock Avenue that Hickey describes as “new music variety — indie or underground at its center, with a little underground folk, hip-hop, electronic, some classics from the ’80s-’00s that seem relevant today and, of course, some local.”
Hickey isn’t kidding. One recent playlist features tracks by Kanye West, current indie darlings Cut Copy and Ariel Pink, protopunk godfather Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and local 1980s cult heroes Sampson’s Army. Along with former producer and occasional guest host Ginger Bruner — herself a Vegas musician — and outgoing programming director Brynn Simons, Hickey is bringing some of KUNV’s former rock glory back to the airwaves.
But in an era of Pandora and Clear Channel domination, does Vegas really need an indie rock show? Hickey thinks so.
“The need for commercial radio to program to the ‘least common denominator,’ as well as public radio’s lack of responsiveness to changing culture in America, has driven the digital music revolution as much as digital music has hurt radio. Public radio stations need to cultivate modern music shows, in the same way they cultivate jazz and classical. The stations that do, tend to be very successful. Even in this economy.”
Neon Reverb Radio airs Saturday nights from 9-10 p.m. on KUNV 91.5 FM. Podcasts can be found on the show’s Facebook page.