As the voice of the world-famous KROQ from the hours of 8 pm until midnight Monday through Friday, Nicole Alvarez gets to live her childhood dream of spinning songs on a daily basis, but thankfully for LA Music Blog, she never seems to tire of talking about music. We were recently able to catch the DJ off-air and pick her brain regarding the state of modern radio, how she got her start in the industry, and why being a dork for music is never a bad thing.

Nicole Alvarez

So to start off at the beginning, what was your first album?

I don’t remember the first album I bought, but I remember the first album that my parents had that I fell in love with, the one that I held in my hands and opened up. It’s the funniest thing in the whole world. It was the first album that I ever thought was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I was a really, really little girl, and it was the Urban Cowboys soundtrack. After that it was Motley Crue’s Theater of Pain.

At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved with music as a career?

I must have been 10. There was a rock station called ZETA in Miami, which is where I’m from, and there was a lady on it. Her name was Kimba, and she just sounded like the coolest woman on earth. I remember sitting in the car, and I looked at my mom, and I said, “Mom, I’m gonna take her job one day.” She was like, “What? You want to be on the radio when you grow up?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” Years and years later, I took her job, so I have a very Cinderella-like story when it comes to radio. I always knew. I heard her at an Aerosmith show or something, and I just knew that that’s something I could do, so I did.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I was going to college in Jacksonville, and at that point my main goal was to get into radio, not just so much ’cause it’s what I wanted to do, but because I wanted to meet Pearl Jam. I was just dead set. I’m gonna meet Pearl Jam. I’m getting into radio.

I was in college, and I had a boyfriend at the time who ripped my heart out and broke it into 72 million little pieces, and because of that, I was so depressed and so I wouldn’t leave my dorm. My roommates dragged me out one night, and we went to a local club. The rock station was there, and I literally jumped on stage where the DJ was and I said, “What do I have to do to get an internship?” He gave me the name and the number of some lady to call at Clear Channel. I called her every day for two months until she finally called me in and hired me as an intern because of my “persistence,” quote unquote.

How did you end up getting involved with KROQ?

I was working in Miami, and somebody sent KROQ an air check of mine. The program director called me a few days later and asked me to fly out and audition, so I did.

KROQ

If you could choose a current top five set of singles, what would you say they are right now?

My personal five on KROQ right now…off the top of my head, I would have to say Phoenix, first and foremost. Both singles that we’re playing, “1901” and “Lisztomania” are still absolutely huge here on KROQ. The Dirty Heads’ “Lay Me Down” is also one of the hottest songs we’re playing, and it’s very LA, you know? Like it’s got that surfer culture built in. We are loving the new Stone Temple Pilots song like crazy, and I’ve gotten to hear the album. That’s gonna be amazing. The Deftones’ “Diamond Eyes” is another one that people are going nuts for ’cause there’s not a lot of rock coming these days that’s got heart. The new 30 Seconds to Mars is also humongous here.

The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition,” which is awesome because they’re more of an indie band, and they’ve taken flight here at KROQ. A lot of that has to do with my music director, who is amazing at picking the songs that they call indie and selling ’em here on KROQ. The Dead Weather’s “Die By The Drop” is probably my favorite song that we’re playing right now. It’s freaking fantastic. It should be illegal.

Who are some of your current favorite local groups?

Let’s see. As far as local bands, I love Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Absolutely love them. The Crash Kings are probably my very favorite though, ’cause of their gritty rock and roll sound. I love The Briggs ’cause they have this old school punk attitude that they bring to the stage. I love every time they perform this one song called “This Is LA.” They bring everybody from the audience up, and I love that. I do love me The Dirty Heads, so they’re probably my top ones. If I had to pick one, it would be Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, for sure.

What about your favorite national acts?

That I love now or of all-time? ‘Cause I have my two favorite bands of all time that never change.

Let’s hear your all-time.

Okay, I call them my yin and my yang. It’s my light and my dark. It’s Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. They are nothing alike, and I’ve loved them both since I was as young as I can remember for different reasons, and together they make me a whole person. Does that sound super cheesy? [LAUGHS]

I have a Nine Inch Nails tattoo on my spine, and the first Pearl Jam song I fell in love with is “State of Love and Trust,” and I wear a ring on my ring finger with those initials engraved. I’m a dork, but dork to me is not a bad thing. It’s great that I have this much passion for these things, because those two bands define me in every single way, and any time anybody even mentions one or the other here, they say, “Where’s Nicole?” I love that.

I love so many bands. I love Muse. I love Radiohead. I love the Gypsy Kings, for the love of God. I love Andrea Bocelli. I love anything that moves you. Just anything. It could be pop music, it could be rock, it could hip hop. I personally lean more towards rock, but there’s some music that finds you. It doesn’t have to be one specific genre. You should see my iPod. You’d probably be really impressed.

Nicole Alvarez Trent Reznor

You’ve been in radio for a little while now. What changes have you seen since you first got involved?

There’s so many changes. First of all, the music is a lot more tight and compact, which you’ve noticed if you’re a listener of radio. The record labels are kind of obsolete and whatnot—I don’t know how to explain it without sounding like I’m insulting the industry, ’cause I love this industry more than anything—but I would just say it’s more compact and it really is more about the dollar these days. It’s also less talk, a lot less talk, so DJs aren’t what they used to be back in the day. Especially when radio first started, DJs were more characters and they were more personalities. Nowadays we don’t talk as much, and it’s more about trying to please the listeners that radio does have. We talk less. We try to play more music, and it’s more about content, content, contests, concerts, so it just feeds into us as opposed to our egos.

Have the satellite stations affected terrestrial radio? Or has it just changed because the advertisers and, like you said, it coming down to the dollar?

It’s changed because of the ratings. We have a different rating system now in radio. Before it was Arbitron, the diaries. Now it’s just this little monitor that people wear called the PPM. It absorbs whatever it is that is being listened to. Whether you’re at a mall or at a doctor’s office or in the car, it picks up the signal of whatever is going on around you. It’s changed everything, and it’s given program directors a lot more to work with as far as what’s working and what’s not. That’s probably the biggest change. That’s why we do less talk and more music, more contests, just to keep the listeners there ’cause we know now when they change the station.

Is that something that you would change if you could?

You know, it’s not. I feel like I’m lucky and I’m blessed because KROQ is, to me, like an entity apart from every other radio station in the country, and I’ve worked at a few. It’s like at KROQ, the rules don’t apply. Here it’s still done as old school as possible, and my boss isn’t necessarily about the almighty dollar. Here it’s about the brand, KROQ. It’s got such a huge legacy here in LA, and it’s been a tastemaker for so long that working here at KROQ, there’s nothing I would change. I’m spoiled to death. I love it here.

Can you tell us a little about the KROQ Weenie Roast?

It’s possibly the coolest show that goes on in LA all summer long, and I’ve been here for seven years now. The lineup is consistently stellar. We always have a surprise, something up our sleeve. It sells out every single year the day tickets go on sale. It sells out within an hour. We’ve had Motley Crue. We’ve had Metallica. We had Kings of Leon last year. I did a very infamous drunk interview with them. That was fun.

It’s definitely the hottest show this summer. It really is. This year’s Weenie Roast is stellar because it’s got KROQ: past, present, and future. We’ve got Sublime, which was a band back then, but now they’ve got a new singer, new blood. We’ve got the ‘90s representing with Hole and Stone Temple Pilots. We’ve got a little bit of rock and indie with the Deftones, Temper Trap, and Passion Pit. We’ve got a little bit of electrodance. I would say this is our most eclectic lineup yet.

And when is the Weenie Roast?

It’s Saturday, June 5th at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.