|Photo by Larry Hirshowitz|
Three things in life used to be certainties: The sun rises in the east, everyone dies someday, and commercial music radio in L.A. is overwhelmingly atrocious.
The former are inevitable conditions of nature, the last a result of corporate consolidation, tighter-than-a-streetwalker’s-jeans playlists and the played-out state of most musical forms — there’s nothing much to get excited about on the airwaves today.
One rare bright spot on the dial, though, has been the amazing “Indie 103.1,” an unpredictable outlet whose format changes have run every conceivable gamut, including that of the late and much-lamented ’90s MARS-FM. With babbling-idjit hawkers replaced by endlessly exhumed rarities and out-of-left-field segues (X’s “Devil Doll” following Them’s 1966 take of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” one recent Saturday morning almost caused me to rack up my wheels), Indie harks back to the great days of early FM and the AM of the pre-clampdown ’50s.
And 103.1’s game just got raised into Valhalla: Welcome Jonesy’s Jukebox. One of the oddest additions to the L.A. airwaves ever, Jonesy’s is a lunch hour of vintage punk, accompanying stories, wry asides and absolute genius from a rather unlikely source, Mr. Steve Jones. The Sex Pistols guitarist has never been an on-air personality, and it shows in the best way imaginable: He’s fresh, absurd, conversational and listener-friendly — a natural.
“I never went to broadcast school,” he says with a slight smile, as if anyone would ever accuse him of such a crime. He’s sitting in the corner of his tiny Mid-Wilshire studio, leaning against the wall, ribbing his producer and various station employees as they drop in and out. “All I wanted was a steady job, and I love to spin records.” As it happened, Michael Steele, the station’s program director, was looking for a non-DJ with a reputation as a straight shooter. “So here I am.”
Jones’ one-hour turn constitutes some of the greatest rock & roll radio ever. Unconstrained by experience, he turns every potential disaster into an asset. When he screws up the station’s formatics (as in repeating the call letters at the top of every block), he goofs on the idea: “Do I have to say it the same every time?” He announces commercials (“my favorite part of the show”) with a heavy dose of sarcasm. He plays whatever he wants whenever he wants. And occasionally he even does the unthinkable by slopping over into the next hour — as happened on a recent “Fun With a Face on Friday” with star guest Johnny Ramone. The fact that these gaffes would be career suicide anywhere else only reinforces the obvious: Punk-rock radio can be performed punkily, by a punk.
And the music! Kicking off his on-air career with “threefer Tuesday” blocks (a mock on rock radio’s “twofer Tuesday,” and besides, he’s absent on Mondays), Jones threw down three vintage Bowie numbers that seldom see the new-millennium light of day: “Jean Genie,” “Drive In Saturday” and “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.”
“I saw Bowie recently, and he was tellin’ me he don’t get played on the radio no more,” says Jones. “So I did it for him.” Considering the legend that a heist of Bowie’s PA gear back in the early ’70s kick-started the Pistols’ career, it’s the ultimate amends.
Bowie carries more star power than most Jukebox selections; Jones never neglects former radio untouchables like the New York Dolls, Status Quo, the Saints or offbeat reggae. “I have no boundaries on what I can play,” he says. “The only thing I can’t do is swear — I’ve done enough of that already.” (One of Jones’ promos features his heretofore most famous moment, the string of curses on English TV that got the Pistols kicked off their first label, EMI, in 1977.)
Anything this wackily eclectic could disappear quickly. Jones, however, has an undeniable appeal; he’s the radio equivalent of a great reality-TV show, an everyman who loves his music.
“I’m turning kids on to stuff they’ll never hear,” he says of punk rock’s first wave, the meat of his hour. “I’d like to make this thing happen, to syndicate it — I mean, why the fuck not?” He laughs and rolls his eyes. “Sorry, mate, there I go again.”