When they first hear it, folks with a high degree of prissiness in their blood tend to cringe and blink. "Bone Mama?" The term has the ring of a sordid nocturnal adventure down on Van Buren, or the chick who took on the frat house.
It refers to deejay Mary McCann. Although her voice has been all over the radio dial in the Valley, McCann is currently morning-drive jock on KUKQ. Found at 1060 AM--Wait! This isn't AM as you know it!--KUKQ is an alternative music station. That means no Top 40, no AOR, no computerized playlists and no Mariah or Madonna. Just white indie guitar noise, the kind that made R.E.M. famous. It's not the blues, but it's not the C&C Music Factory either. And McCann's personality is what makes the morning show go. But what about that name, Bone Mama?
"I went to see the Bonedaddies the first time they were in Phoenix and I fell in love. I said, `This is my band,'" McCann explains. "My friends started calling me that and then the guys at work found out. It's been a double-edged sword, though. Some people think the worst, of course," she says, batting her eyelashes in mock horror. "I'm such a wholesome Midwest girl, how could they think such things?"
In a business filled with jive-ass egos, McCann comes off as a real human being who actually knows and likes good music. When she steps out from behind the microphone, this tall, red-haired woman in the circular, Lennonesque shades is much the same as the on-air personality--earthy with a tinge of raunch; abnormal, but in the right ways. Fortunately for her fans, McCann loves her job.
"I'm a jock. I'm a music freak. I'm a fan," she nearly shouts. "Right now, I genuinely like half of what I play. Usually you don't get that kind of percentage in radio."
What McCann plays falls under that mushrooming cloud of music known as "alternative." "Alternative to what?" is the first question usually asked.
In the late Seventies, when so-called alternative bands first appeared, the term connoted underground bands with arty names that recorded for indie labels and played strains of rock 'n' roll unheard of in the mainstream.
These days, however, the mainstream has co-opted the word and parts of the concept, so "alternative" now covers everything MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 from major-label groups like R.E.M. to dance tracks and what's left of the punk wave. The result is that a lot of what gets played under the alternative banner these days is indistinguishable from the mainstream.
It is instructive to hear Phoenix's most visible alternative music spokesperson, a woman who considers Muddy Waters her "patron saint," define alternative.
"They used to call it other things," McCann says. "When I was a kid and buying Traffic albums, it was called `progressive' music. Now U2 and R.E.M. are what everybody knows. I think of it as stuff that other radio ignores, or the alternative to what gets played to death. It's not corporate. It's not Madonna, the New Kids or Guns n' Roses."
Part of the reason KQ has been successful is its more adventurous attitude toward programming. Although it was glorious while it lasted, totally free-form radio died in the Seventies. Community radio and commercial stations like KQ are about as interesting as radio gets these days.
"There are no computer lists that tell me what to play. It's current intensive, which means new stuff right out of the box," McCann says. "The other day I was playing the Charlatans U.K., and all of a sudden it hit me that what I was hearing was Deep Purple. So I ran down the hall and got Deep Purple's `Hush' and slapped it on. The bottom line is, I'm lifting needles whenever I want."
But what can't you play?
"Anything from Social D to Depeche Mode is fair game. And despite what everyone thinks, we haven't changed the amount of dance tracks in the mix."
After music, the other ruling passion in McCann's life involves gears and grease and black leather. Motorcycles. Big bikes. Hogs. Harleys.
McCann is the proud mama of a hi-fi purple 1972 Electra-Glide FLH. It took years to find the bike, but only one weekend's ride to Canyon Lake to name it.
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"Right after I bought it, I went up to Canyon Lake and there were these hard-core biker types there. This one guy came over and started looking at my bike. This guy was bad. Rubber bands in his beard, cobweb tattoos, `Fuck Off' in nine languages on his jacket, the whole thing. After looking it over, he said, `That looks like something Elvis would ride.' The week Col 3, Depth P54.02 I9.03 general manager of KUPD rang up and wanted her back for mornings on the station's new AM outlet KUKQ. After telling them she'd think about it, she returned, sans a contract, and has been KQ's morning mama ever since. But McCann can't be defined simply by her presence on the radio. In New Times' 1990 Best of Phoenix supplement, she was responsible for three separate awards--Best Deejay, Best Local Release (357 Miles East of L.A.) and Best Concert Venue (Chuy's). As a producer, she has been involved with both Zia Records' 357 Miles and its latest local compilation Lizards. From March 1990 until this past January, she was the booking agent for Chuy's.
Good as it all sounds, that much responsibility can be brutal. Up at 4:30 a.m. to sign on at KQ at 5:30 a.m., McCann would get off the air at 10 a.m. and go directly to Chuy's. After working there the rest of the day, she would often go back at night to see the acts she'd booked. Along the way, she also managed several local bands, including Hellfire, Lime Green, 40 Years, and Midnite Funk Association.
But all music and no sleep made Mary a zombie, so she decided to cut back to just KUKQ. What made her choose radio over her other ventures is the sense of community she gets from it.
"The idealist in me says radio can bring something to people. People identify with each other through the music. You can instill a sense of community. Get them to feel good about themselves and where they live. It sounds corny but hey, I'm corny. I'm a wholesome Midwestern girl, remember?