By Benjamin Leatherman
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It happened quickly. On August 27, KUKQ-AM program director, Valley alternative radio veteran and longtime indie music maven Jonathan L. announced on his weekly Virgin Vinyl program that he was leaving the station, "effective almost immediately." He made good on his word the next morning, passing the torch to music director Larry Mac, L.'s heir apparent, and Allison Strong, who was promoted from assistant music director to take Mac's place (it was domino promotion time--KUKQ studio mascot Uncle Fryday stepped into Strong's shoes).
L. was skimpy on the details of his sudden decision, saying only that he was moving to Los Angeles to work as a senior editor at a music magazine. Sources in that city say L. has been hired by the Album Network, a group of five trade publications, which he would neither confirm nor deny.
After the on-air transfer of command, L. quickly became a hard man to find, changing his phone number and leaving Phoenix three days later. I tracked him down the afternoon before he split. The moving truck was scheduled to arrive at an ungodly hour of the morning, but L. took a break from his last-minute packing blitz to offer some more insight into his surprise announcement, a look back on two decades in the music industry, his take on Phoenix radio, and an answer to the question, "Have you sold your soul?"
New Times: How's life after Q?
Jonathan L.: I'm freaking out right now. I'm not at the station anymore, I'm saying goodbye to a lot of great people, and I'm boxing up my life to drive it across the desert. I'm peeing three different colors, I'm going so crazy. I know my leaving is a shock to many people. A lot of people in the industry thought I would never, ever uproot and leave Arizona. NT: Including you?
L.: Yeah, including me. I'm definitely in shock.
NT: So what happened?
L.: The person I'll be replacing left about two months ago, they needed somebody fast, and they made me a great offer for a job that will make me an even louder voice in the music industry. The catch was, I had to take it right now.
NT: And what exactly will you be doing?
L.: Primarily writing and editing alternative-music articles and reviews. I don't plan to stay off the air forever, though. It's in the works for me to put together a nationally syndicated version of Virgin Vinyl. That would be exciting. I don't know that it will happen, but the possibilities have been seriously discussed.
NT: Looking back on your tenure at the Q, what do you see?
L.: Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: I had my cake and ate it, too. In other words, I finally got the opportunity most radio programmers (or anyone that's ever worked in radio, for that matter) desire, want, lust after--the opportunity to do a radio station the way I wanted to. But I won't say I got everything I wanted. I never got my FM.
NT: Could anything have kept you here?
NT: Not even if KUKQ went FM?
L.: No. Well, maybe. I don't know. Let me be truthful. I shouldn't say no, I should say I didn't see any real potential for a move to FM anytime soon. Plus, the thing about this particular offer is that it's not just the money and it's not just for the sake of my career. That's part of it, sure, but I've been in Arizona 22 years, and it's time to go. It's been a fun year, but it's not enough to keep me here. I needed a new challenge, basically, and this job is it.
NT: So you were planning to leave before you heard about this gig?
L.: Let's just say I'd been thinking about other things than what was here. I saw this thing on TV a few weeks back about how people in their 40s now are not considered middle-aged. They're no different than they were in their 20s, they've got the same "so whatta ya wanna do when you grow up" attitude. They're willing to make more gambles and take more chances than people their age two or three decades ago. Back then, by the time you were in the your 40s, you were paralyzed. You didn't do anything different with your life, or at least not many did. That's not the way it is now, and that's not the way I am. I'm going off to Los Angeles. I might not like it and come back in three years. But at least I'm affording myself the gamble. Also, I'm leaving the station in very capable hands. I see a lot of myself in Larry, and both he and Allison have worked very hard. They know my mindset, and I feel confident the station will remain fairly much the same. For instance, the Ramones thing will keep going.
NT: Glad you brought that up. What's the deal with playing an hour of Ramones every day?
L.: I'll take the blame for that. I'm very close to the Ramones and I wanted to do something for the band. A lot of Q listeners may not have even been around in 1974 when the Ramones came out, but I was. And that was punk fucking rock, you know what I'm saying? I grew up on that. I wore the same clothes as them: jeans, leather jacket, tee shirt and sneakers. There's been little variation in music, but they always made me laugh. They finally got a gold record about a year and a half ago, and I'm one of the few people who has a copy on my wall. So, it may seem weird to hear 30 minutes of music by the same band twice a day five days a week, but that's what I wanted to do.