Surfing the Airwaves with Tyler Russell of Laguna’s KX93.5
Tyler Russell, founder of KX93.5 has given Laguna Beach a unique voice, one that encapsulates the sophistication and rebelliousness of this sandy town’s art culture. Through its heterogeneous playlists, 1960 El Camino promo-mobile, and its proactive Daily Headlines on Laguna news, this station has proved for the past six years that it’s right where it should be.
Russell, From Tucson, was only 17 when he started working in radio, pulling odd jobs for multiple stations in SoCal as an intern. It wasn’t until he was 21 when, as a college senior, Russell submitted his first application for a paid position in Palm Springs at a rock station called KCLB ROCKS. “To my (and everybody’s) surprise I got the job!” Russell remembers with a smile.
The aspiring student began commuting nightly from Orange’s Chapman University to Palm Springs to fill the desert airways with alternative rock as the night DJ from 7pm to midnight.
After two years he was well on his way to making a name for himself, scheduling promo deals and commanding more and more airtime. However, while all seemed to be going according to plan on the surface, inside Russell had already begun contemplating how much he truly loathed what radio stood for.
“It wasn’t what I dreamed of,” Russell admits, “it was too homogenized, robotic, and syndicated. It didn’t feel very human to me.”
Unhappy with the mundaneness of it all, he rebelled against the statistical profitability of specific songs and despised survey-enforced entertainment. To him this was what bastardized radio’s true potential -- and he was simply unwilling to stomach it all.
It was at the height of this growing distaste for the industry that he sought guidance from his father whom he knew to always give ample honesty.
“I told my dad, ‘I don’t know if I like the radio industry as much as I thought I would,’” Russell remembers confessing to his father. “And he replied simply, ‘Well then, why don’t you go start your own radio station?’”
Russell confesses he initially took the advice with a shrug and some sarcasm. However, something tickled him about the idea just enough to get him to do a little Google searching. What he found, funny enough, was Jesus... kind of.
The curious and budding entrepreneur found a small, severely neglected radio station licensed and owned by a church in Laguna Niguel. A short phone chat revealed that the 85-year-old English pastor who had purchased the license had done little over the air due to lack of know-how.
“So I asked the pastor, ‘Would you have any interest in me getting it on the air for you?’” Russell recalls. “Sure,” the pastor replied, “I’m not doing anything with it.”
That synergy reverberated over time as Russell furthered the development of the station before the church eventually lost interest in their radio project and handed the reins over. “They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” Russell explains gratefully.
In October of 2012, the transmitter switch was forever flipped on and Russell was officially the owner of the certified non-profit, promising his pastor buddy one hour of airtime every week for his Sunday sermon (which eventually phased out).
The DJ now had the liberty to run his own station, and aimed for it to be the exact opposite of all that he detested about radio. “I knew I didn’t want to play the same music as everybody else,” Russell says. “I wanted to be progressive and different and I didn’t want to get into the loop of playing the same 40 songs over and over again like every other radio station.”
Rather, the music connoisseur sought after the eclectic sounds of indie alt-rock, and in doing so, thought up the idea to champion smaller bands on the air. He handpicked musicians that he, his friends, and his staff personally enjoyed -- bands that were at the bottom of the Coachella lineup, bands they considered too good for mainstream.
“We didn’t even consider if Laguna would like it,” Russell shares. “But, it turns out they do! This quieter community connected with the progressive stuff because they liked discovering new music, just like the rest of us.”
Growing up astute to the epic whaling’s of classic rock, Russell saw a window to weave in the genre by playing famed bands of the past… under his specific guidelines, of course.
“I wanted to do this combination of playing the B-sides, like if we play The Doors, we’re not going to play “Baby Light My Fire,” or if we play Led Zeppelin, we’re not going to play “Stairway to Heaven,” Russell admits. “If somebody else plays this song all the time, we’re not touching it.”
Today, KX93.5 plays their own interpretation of truly great broadcast radio throughout the town Russell now calls home. He is proud of what he has created with the station and loves receiving comments and suggestions from listeners through the station hotline. For him, as well as his fellow community members, the station adds the perfect amount of creativity to Laguna Beach that, like any great piece of art, is harmoniously dissimilar to its predecessors.
KX 93.5, as they self-proclaim, is truly radio crafted for humans.
Born and raised on the salty sands of California’s coast, Manny Frausto is a staff writer at Laguna Beach Living and has adored the power of writing (much like he adores crafting playlists for road trips) for publications such as the LA and OC Registers, OC Home Magazine, and beyond. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by: Tanner Chergosky