A collaboration between the producers of KCRW’s UnFictional and Lost Notes podcasts, Bent By Nature is the distillation of hundreds of hours of recently-unearthed archival recordings from the late-night radio show “SNAP!,” which aired on KCRW from 1982 to 1991. “SNAP!” was a free-form music program hosted by the iconoclastic DJ, Deirdre O’Donoghue. And most of these now-legendary broadcasts haven’t been heard since they were originally aired ... until now.
UnFictional’s Bob Carlson, then a young recording engineer, mixed and recorded many of these live performances early in his career at KCRW. More than 30 years on, Carlson and co-producer Myke Dodge Weiskopf (Lost Notes) digitized and restored O’Donoghue’s personal archive, comprised of hundreds of reel to reel tapes, DAT recordings, and cassettes. As they worked, they found that the tapes began to tell a story. They formed a kaleidoscopic portrait of O’Donoghue and “SNAP!” which became an essential venue for alternative and independent music and culture in Los Angeles, and a beacon for the vast underground network of artists who appeared on it.
“She helped create the whole idea of live music on the radio, and this idea that music was a world of kindred spirits,” says journalist Robert Lloyd. “She was from that era where personality was part of the package.”
O’Donoghue’s love of music, combined with her commanding and alluring personality, attracted scores of bands and musicians to the show. They were invited to hang out for the night in KCRW’s dark and vibe-soaked basement studio. There, O’Donoghue was the den mother, offering tea or a nip of tequila hidden under the console. She encouraged her favorite artists to play long, wild, and meandering sets and improvisations live on the air. Among them were Syd Straw, Glass Eye, R.E.M., Vic Chesnutt, The dB’s, Concrete Blonde, The Dream Syndicate, Downy Mildew, The Go-Betweens, Blue Aeroplanes, The Jazz Butcher … the list goes on (and on). Many were still relatively unknown in the real world, but in the “SNAP!” universe, they were superstars.
“If she loved your music, it was like she had a crush on it,” Straw recalls of her.
Behind the scenes and off-mic, O’Donoghue was private and a little mysterious; she didn’t like her photo taken and was always hiding her face with a hat or a scarf. She was occasionally at odds with her bosses at KCRW. After management told her to stick to music and stop reviewing movies and “discussing the world situation,” she was fired by then-station manager Ruth Seymour — but re-hired not long thereafter.
“Deirdre was feisty,” says former KCRW Music Director and Morning Becomes Eclectic host Tom Schnabel. “She wound up being very hostile to me.”
O’Donoghue was also very protective of her show, and she refused to turn in her playlists to the music department, which created friction with staff. She held record companies at arm’s length, not letting anyone tell her what to play on her show.
“I hate categories for music, so I don’t like attaching it to things,” O’Donoghue said. “So the closest we’ve come to calling things here is ‘avant pop,’ which means nothing, or ‘bent music,’ which my general manager doesn’t like. But, it’s a quarter to midnight, what the hell? She will never hear this. Having said that, of course, she will be on the phone in two minutes.”
O’Donoghue kept her troubles private from almost everybody, and SNAP! was her own escape and safe haven — a place to share what she called “inventive, imaginative, and unusual new music” with her family of devoted listeners.