"When you're music director at KCRW," Jason Bentley says, "you're kind of music director of Los Angeles."
This may sound a bit presumptuous on its face, but it's basically correct. For many listeners, KCRW is a community as real as any actual physical location in the city, its personalities the first friends of many transplants. Bentley's is its most famous voice, and thus most everyone here has a relationship with him. He's your morning commute companion, the hand pushing the button that plays the perfect song, the mastermind behind many music-related events and the shepherd directing the station's sonic focus.
"Part of me or my identity belongs to a large group of people," he says. "People feel a sense of ownership."
See also: Our extended Jason Bentley interview
KCRW's flagship music program, Morning Becomes Eclectic, is a long-standing indie-rock incubator, having helped break hundreds of acts since its 1977 debut. A station DJ since 1992, Bentley took over as director and MBE host five years ago, and since then the show has experienced steady growth and an expanded digital presence.
On this Thursday morning at the station, located in a somewhat cluttered basement at Santa Monica College, Bentley, who is 42, rolls his chair back and forth across four feet of floor, making tracks as he oscillates between a trio of computer screens. He guides the vessel that is MBE with Jedi focus, playing music, giving away concert tickets and dropping in service announcements with military precision. (He doesn't do dead air, he'll have you know.) When the show wraps each weekday at noon, he's tired and famished.
A handsome man with a tidy appearance and close-cropped hair, this morning Bentley wears a black polo shirt, black pants, aviators and dress shoes. On his right upper-arm, a cluster of tattoos peeks out from under his shirt. At the station's Masquerade Ball last October, Bentley's Roman guard costume consisted of little more than a helmet, a cape and some underwear, effectively displaying the fit physique he diligently maintains. Crushed on by legions of Los Angelenos, Bentley is single, having been married for six years and now divorced for three.
Through his 20-plus years on the air in L.A., he has developed an impeccable ear for what's good, what's better and what's likely to trend in the indie-rock world.
But if curating playlists for the public radio-listening, upper-middle class is his day job, it is the nighttime world of electronic music that holds his fascination. Launched in 1992, Bentley's first show on KCRW, Metropolis, helped popularize underground dance music in L.A. and beyond. He retired it when he took over as music director in 2008 but recently decided to bring it back, much to the delight of his global EDM fans. His upcoming sets at Coachella are the latest in a long line of festival-circuit DJ gigs.
Bentley admits he is a control freak. Friends and colleagues call him precise, detail-oriented, meticulous and unflappable. But if being music director is about the strategy of programming, Metropolis and electronic music are what make his heart beat faster.
Most days, Bentley is up at 7 a.m., at the station by 8:30 and on the air from 9 until noon. Then he eats, goes to meetings, answers calls and emails from his house in Venice and is at the gym by 6. He doesn't miss a workout. He says he doesn't go out as much as one might think, preferring to stay home and watch the Clippers. At his house there is a room containing 20,000 pieces of vinyl and 10,000 CDs. Sometimes Bentley goes there and loses himself in listening and mixing. Most nights he's in bed by 11.