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Tom Petty on lending a hand to underdog radio station KCSN-FM* [Updated]

October 12, 2011 |  4:16 pm

Tom Petty Tom Petty

“Even the losers,” Tom Petty sang in his 1979 song by that title, “get lucky sometimes.”

That tune could become a theme song at radio station KCSN-FM (88.5) at Cal State Northridge, where Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Petty, a longtime champion of underdogs of every stripe, and his band the Heartbreakers will play at an Oct. 29 benefit for which tickets will be sold as part of the  station’s fall pledge drive.

Tiny KCSN lost federal funding last year because it wasn’t able to meet minimum fundraising requirements set by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Enter a new program director, radio industry veteran Sky Daniels, who has landed Petty to play the benefit show, and also has lined up some primo donations from U2, Coldplay, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and others as outlined in a story appearing in Thursday’s Calendar section.

“I feel like they’re the underdog in this,” Petty told me Tuesday. “They’re trying to do something different and that means a lot."

Daniels, who championed Petty’s music early on, said he’s trying to build KCSN into a station with a broad-based format closer to the way FM radio existed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where formats were less rigidly compartmentalized than they are on today’s commercial stations. A big emphasis, he said, will be discovering and developing new talent: “To find the next Tom Petty and evangelize for that artist to the Los Angeles market,” is how Daniels put it in his open letter seeking Petty’s support. “And to continue to evangelize the new music of artists like you. Who else will in L.A.?”

The idea clearly struck a chord with Petty, who quickly agreed to be part of the show in the university's 500-seat Performance Theater. Tickets will be offered up during the pledge drive that starts Friday. (Details are available at the station’s website.)

“I come from a time when young musicians knew that new music could be heard on the radio,” said Petty, who also has his own satellite radio show, "Buried Treasure," each week on Sirius XM. “Now there is college radio, but even that’s gotten a bit predictable. Public radio is about the only thing left -- the last man standing.”

He was echoing one of the key themes in his 2002 album “The Last DJ,” in which he raged against the dying of the light in the record and radio industries, but also held out hope for better days.

“For them to try to go forward with this concept of playing new music is great,” he said. “There’s a lot of great new music still being made. So we look forward to playing this show. We like to play small theaters -- I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Update Oct. 13 at 6:17 p.m.: An earlier version of this post  referred to the reissue of Petty's first two albums in conjunction with National Record Store Day in 2012.  They were reissued last spring for the 2011 event.

Tiny KCSN radio station attracts star power

KCSN to air 'smart rock'

Tom Petty's got his 'Mojo' working

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Tom Petty at his home in Malibu in 2010. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times.