Milad Eskandari grew up imagining what it would be like to hear himself on the radio. But while many other devoted music-lovers have probably envisioned themselves taking over the airwaves as pop stars or rappers, Eskandari strived to share his voice as a radio disc jockey. In fact, some of his earliest childhood memories are of making mixtapes for his friends and family members. “When I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, I would take a little tape recorder and record myself saying some commentary, put music on it, and give it to my parents,” he remembers with a chuckle. “I’m sure it took a lot of patience from them.”
For the man now also known as DJ X-Hail, that passion never stopped growing. When he got older, Eskandari pursued a career as a radio host, but he quickly found that getting on the air wasn’t easy. “I started applying for all these radio stations, but there are only so many positions,” he says. “Unless you know someone or have your connects, you’ve got to really hustle. So after a while, I just got tired of it and figured, ‘I’ll just start my own’—nothing big, just something for my friends to listen to.”
That was in 2014. Now, Eskandari’s Hits101 Radio is one of the fastest expanding independent radio stations in Orange County. The Irvine-based station has provided hundreds of local musicians with a platform, welcomed some famous artists through its doors, and reached listeners all over the world with the help of a smartphone app.
“It all started in a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Costa Mesa,” Eskandari says. “It was literally a closet-sized room. There was one mic, and the DJ was right next to me. When we had guests, I’d get up and take a wireless mic with me out of the room so they could have a seat. Then I’d interview them like that.”
Hits101 steadily attracted the attention of more local artists, and as more DJs joined the station to host their own shows, the number of listeners tuning in regularly increased.
Eskandari attributes some of this growth to the station’s core values. “When we started, our motto was ‘We will support local artists, and we will never play commercials,’” he says. “I think the reason for our continued success and the reason why we’re still relevant in the radio industry is because we’ve stuck to our basics.”
The fact that Hits101 hasn’t played a single commercial in the past five years certainly sets it apart from the majority of mainstream stations that include 15 to 20 minutes of advertising per every hour of music. And its emphasis on local artists is refreshing compared to the Top 40, classic rock and hip-hop playlists that dominate the FM airwaves for weeks at a time.
As Hits101 is an independent radio station that only broadcasts online and via a smartphone app, it might seem impossible for it to gain substantial traction, but Eskandari has found these tools allow it to not only operate more easily on its own terms, but also foster more opportunities for expansion. Over time, the management team noticed an increase in listeners outside the U.S., including China, South America and across Europe.
Reaching international listeners also meant connecting with more artists, as independent musicians from around the world now submit music. Eskandari says he gets emails every day from artists in countries such as France and Russia. The station has even conducted interviews with acts on the other side of the world.
Hits101 has attracted a global roster of DJs and at one point hosted radio personalities from six different countries. Though all of its current shows are hosted by locals, the station remains diverse. “We started as a Top 40 radio station, but our more popular shows are hip-hop,” says Eskandari, who hosts The Jump Off as DJ X-Hail.
Other hip-hop shows include The Rodriguez Show and Sunday Skool. Plus, there’s Beyond the Bike With Big Lou, a talk show about cycling and beers; Fiesta Brava, which focuses on Latin music such as reggaeton, cumbia and salsa; and Artists’ Table, on which DJ Neal Hairston interviews local artists and showcases their music.
For Eskandari, Hits101 Radio is definitely a labor of love. “Most of the station gets paid out of my own pocket, so I do have a day job that keeps me going and stuff like that,” he says. Also helping to maintain the station is a new department, Kre8ive Productions, which hires out Hits101 DJs for weddings, retail spaces, amusement parks and more and offers photobooths, uplighting and other production elements. Eskandari’s plan is for Kre8ive Productions to become the station’s primary source of income.
So far, it seems to be working, as Kre8ive has been found everywhere from Downtown Disney to Coachella.
Eskandari hopes that Hits101 can continue to support its deejays and artists as it grows. “We all share the same dream, just a different perspective of it,” he says. “I want to share music with people—I want to broadcast it; I want people to know it. But some people want to be the performer. All right, cool: You’re the performer, and I have the platform, so let’s put it together and showcase your music. My dream comes true because you’re sitting here, and your dream comes true because you’re on the air.”