Talking Alternative Radio, Career Dynamics and Impending Motherhood With KROQ’s Lisa Worden

As APD/MD of L.A. Alternative-radio flagship KROQ, Lisa Worden has been integral in the development of the format. During the last two decades at the CBS station, she, PD Kevin Weatherly and OM Gene Sandbloom have helped pilot everything from ska-pop to nu-metal to neo-folk into the mainstream—while always maintaining KROQ’s distinctive voice and brand. But after sitting down with us, she’s probably longing for a bout of silence.

What’s your perspective on the Alternative format and how it’s evolved over the last 25 years? What artists have stood the test of time?
For KROQ, if we’re going back that far, we have to cite bands like Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even though Nirvana is not a current band, the library is still respected; it still holds up whenever we do an auditorium test. But speaking of bands that still make current music, I have to say Red Hot Chili Peppers are still a huge band for KROQ. They were [huge for us] back in the day, and they’re still loved, still making really relevant music that does well. Obviously, I would cite newer artists, but if you’re asking me to name artists that are making great music that still works, Muse have been around for 10-15 years at this point. Linkin Park is still making music that will get a shot—and get the nod—at Alternative radio. Even though it’s not the currently popular style, the band still means something. But that said, the format’s evolved a lot. What’s currently popular for us right now is not those sounds.

What is “Alternative” now?
Good question. I think everyone would say the lines are really blurred. What’s Alternative, what’s Pop, what is what anymore? The way people consume music—especially the younger generation—I don’t think they see lines, and that’s something we talk about in our music meeting all the time. You go to a festival like Coachella, and you can see an artist like Halsey on there; you’ll see Tame Impala; you’ll see The Weeknd; and then you’ll have Skrillex, and then something purely Alternative like Grouplove. It’s a mixture—everyone’s watching everything. So what is Alternative? I could name a number of bands that are all incredibly different that we play on this radio station—Mumford & Sons to Muse—who represent rock right now, in my opinion—to Lorde to The Killers and beyond. They all have a place on the station. So I don’t think there’s a definitive Alternative sound anymore.

How does the core team of KROQ, who have been together for two decades now, maintain the position of being the station on the panel that sets the tone for the format?
Kevin, Gene and I have all been together now for so long. We all have different takes on music and come from different places, but we each possess a really clear vision of the radio station—what works and what’s right. At KROQ, the bar is incredibly high. But people know that when we love something, even if there’s nothing going on, we will put that record right on. You can bring in data and all kinds of research and sales and streaming numbers and Shazam stats, but if we don’t love the music, it has to prove itself. I think people respect it and just kinda go, “All right, KROQ keeps us guessing.” Because there’s no formula; there are no rules.

The landscape is changing rapidly, with digital and various streaming services. How does that impact KROQ?
It’s not like it’s impacting KROQ in a direct way, but we’re fully aware of the changing landscape. In a new world, KROQ can’t just be a radio station. It’s already a content brand that people are passionate about. We need to acclimate to how people are consuming music, and how things are changing, to remain relevant. I want to grow within CBS. My passion is KROQ and the Alternative format. However, I can see myself doing more than that—I have a marketing degree and my passion is creativity, so I’m excited about seeing where this brand can go. We had our President, Andre Fernandez, in town this week, and he gave a really inspiring speech to the building. He said we can’t look at this like it’s just radio; our product needs to be more than what comes out of the speakers.

Where did you get your start?
25 years ago, I was the radio promotion intern for SBK Records, where I got my start. Daniel Glass was the Head of Promotion at the time, and Greg Thompson was one of the Nationals out of Chicago. I interned for two years, working for free. Then I got my college degree, did college-radio promo for SBK Records, working for Hilary Shaev, then segued to RCA Records to be the West Coast Regional Alternative rep. I did that for about a year before I went to radio. I really thought that was going to be my path until I took the U-turn into KROQ.

Are there any lessons that you’ve learned from promotion that you’ve carried over to radio?
For the first five years I was at KROQ, people would say to me, “You get it! You did it! You know what I’m up against!” But they don’t say that anymore, because now they know those days are long gone. When I first segued to radio, though, I got to bring those few years of experience. I did understand where the reps were coming from, and I was able to apply what I learned on that side and relate it to radio.

Is there a story that stands out for you of a band that you loved and helped break and later thought, “I was part of that”?
In the time that I’ve been at KROQ, there have been several bands we’ve been fortunate to start at the ground level and see become big. At the top of my list is No Doubt. They’re our little hometown heroes. That band has such a special place in our hearts. They were these kids from Anaheim. I remember when we put on “Just a Girl” and it blew up, and then we played five or six singles off that album. They were our band, and we were absolutely instrumental in breaking them. The Offspring is another, also from Orange County. Then there was Sublime, a local band out of Long Beach. No one knew who they were when we put on “Date Rape.” So many bands have been a part of the experience over the years.

This being the Karen Glauber 25th Anniversary special, do you have a memory you can share about Karen and her role in Modern Rock and the Post Modern section she’s ruled for so long?
I’ve known Karen the entire time I have been in this business. When I was at SBK, she was the one who told me about the RCA job and was instrumental in me going there. She and I have a business relationship and a friendship. I enjoy conversations with Karen, and love her unfiltered honesty and the quirky things she says. It’s charming. Plus she’s a huge music fan. She’s seen me through some really funny times. It’s kind of cool when you’ve known someone through your whole career; you see the person grow. I’ve seen her grow into a mom, which is freakin’ amazing. Karen is always the person in the conversation where you go, “Wow, not a lot of people would have the guts to say that,” but she does, and she will. I look up to that.

Speaking of mommyhood, you have a major life change coming—how is this next chapter going to be for you?
I’m so excited. The beginning of October is when our girls are due, and Garrett and I—I’m getting all flushed, because I’m getting so excited whenever I talk about it—we just couldn’t be more thrilled. I love my job and I love music, and I don’t see that part of my life changing. I’m excited to add the element of being a mother. Ask anyone who knows me—I’m a big-ass multitasker, and I can take on a ton of different stuff. This is just going to be another huge part of my life that will integrate into the other things that I care about. I want the girls to grow up on music. I want to take them to shows, and have that be a part of their lives. I didn’t know if I’d be a mom, so the fact that it’s happening is just amazing.•