“SNAP!” was a nighttime radio program on KCRW created and hosted by Deirdre O’Donoghue. The show revolutionized live performance on the radio for an entire generation of underground, independent, and "avant-pop" bands and their fans. Hundreds of artists, from Tom Waits to Two Nice Girls, crowded into KCRW's basement studio to commune with O’Donoghue and to play raw, unfiltered, and spontaneous sets live on the air.
"SNAP!" was a kind of center for alternative and independent music and culture in both Los Angeles and across the international network of artists it featured. For listeners, the program was a kind of extended community. Drawn together during the pre-internet era, they tuned in to listen to (and copy) Deirdre’s impeccable playlists. Musicians often stopped by to hang out on Deirdre's invitation, or to check out a band they personally loved. For O’Donoghue, "SNAP!" was her safe haven, a place of unselfconscious innovation to share what she called "inventive, imaginative, and unusual new music."
A place for "inventive, imaginative, and unusual new music."
By the late ‘80s, the show was a well-known hangout spot for artists both commercial and cult, from Glass Eye to R.E.M. And Henry Rollins himself will tell you that Deirdre gave him the space to become the radio iconoclast he is today. “SNAP!” also welcomed poets, filmmakers, actors, and whoever passed through O’Donoghue’s wide orbit of interest and influence, like Jonathan Demme and Harry Dean Stanton.
The show aired non-continuously from December 1982 to July 1991. Initially a Saturday-only show (“Saturday Night’s A Party”/”Saturday Night Avant-Pop”), it later expanded to three, then four, nights a week.
“SNAP!” is the show that solidified O’Donoghue’s reputation at KCRW, but it wasn’t her first for the station. “SNAP!” was the final iteration of a prior show, “Bent Music,” which itself began in January 1980 as “Music 101.” Her early shows on KCRW consisted mostly of witching-hour jazz and blues programs. But even then, she’d sneak Tom Waits and Kevin Ayers into sets otherwise typified by Ornette Coleman and Thelonius Monk.
Launched in December 1981, “Bent Music” may have been the most radical period of O’Donoghue’s career, as she freely skidded between dub and modern classical, glacial ambient and skeletal synthpop. She cast aside the dreaminess of her earlier 3 a.m. sets in favor of cutting-edge music from around the world. She mixed Material and Wim Mertens with King Sunny Ade and Brian Eno (her all-time favorite). The show’s abrupt tonal change may have played a role in KCRW elevating her from overnight Saturdays/Sundays to the prime 8 p.m. slot. That change also instigated the show’s final rename, from “Bent Music” to “SNAP!”.
“SNAP!” premiered on the evening of December 4, 1982, with a promo that promised “a danceable mix of modern music from the mainstream to the edges.” She launched with two back-to-back Soft Cell songs, “Entertain Me” and “Chips On My Shoulder,” and concluded with a brand-new track from Grace Jones, “My Jamaican Guy.”
In “Bent By Nature,” musician David Lowery describes how his band, Camper Van Beethoven, rose in stature alongside the broader growth of independent and underground music in the U.S. And Deirdre’s own playlists perfectly mirrored that expansion. She followed bands from demo tapes and self-released singles through indie record deals and the odd burst of mainstream recognition. Among her personal effects are hand-dubbed tapes from the likes of The Frames, Poi Dog Pondering, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Prefab Sprout, and even Lowery himself.
Eventually, Deirdre began inviting artists into the KCRW studios to chat and perform. Her first live guests, on January 9, 1984, were brothers Nels and Alex Cline, who helmed a modern chamber project called Quartet Music. That spring, a young Henry Rollins began hanging around at KCRW between stints on the road with Black Flag. He would become her most regular correspondent until Syd Straw appeared in 1986. (Rollins and Straw speak in depth about their friendships with Deirdre in their respective episodes of “Bent By Nature.”)
With the advent of KCRW’s new performance studios in January 1986, the station finally became equipped to handle live sets by full bands. Over the next five and a half years, “SNAP!” would become a living chronicle of the underground, much as Janice Long and John Peel’s shows had done in the U.K. These sessions heralded what many consider the “classic era” of “SNAP!,” and they would become Deirdre’s calling card to the broader world beyond KCRW.
From the Meat Puppets (1/16/1986) to Pere Ubu (6/14/1991), Deirdre amassed hundreds of appearances by artists from all across her personal musical spectrum. The show became a destination for what she called “avant-pop,” her catch-all term for “inventive, imaginative, unusual, and new music.” Her freewheeling spirit often coaxed definitive performances out of her guests, stripped as they were of the era’s studio gloss and meticulousness. A few of these sessions, like Robyn Hitchcock and the Go-Betweens, have been issued commercially, but most have remained vaulted by time, circumstance, and opportunity. (Until now.)
O’Donoghue left KCRW in June 1991, and “SNAP!” abruptly folded with a few artists still left on the books. (“Bent By Nature” guest Julian Cope was slated to make his KCRW debut that July.) KCRW producer and UnFictional host Bob Carlson, Deirdre’s former engineer and right-hand man, discusses the broad contours of this situation in the second episode of “Bent By Nature.”
Deirdre would go on to refresh the “SNAP!” brand with a new show called “Snap Judgments,” which aired in Southern California from 1992 to 1996.