Thursday, February 05, 2009

KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley Chats About His New Gig, the Demise of Indie 103.1 and His Love of "Crash"

New KCRW music director Jason Bentley is no stranger to the public radio station's semi-annual pledge drives, having been with the station for more than 16 years. But this is his first pledge drive since taking over the coveted "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show and the music director gig from Nic Harcourt. We emailed Jason a few questions, and he found time to send a response in between pitches.

Now that you've been in the seat for almost two months, how would you say "Morning Becomes Eclectic" has evolved so far? What's the biggest change you've brought to the program?

I think two differences that come to mind are a broader definition of "eclectic" through music selection and guests, and more of an "open door" policy with other DJs at the station who may have something to share with the AM audience.

Talk about playing Mark Isham's "Crash" as your first song (I remember hearing you play it a few weeks later too). What was the significance of kicking off with that?

The significance of Crash was simply that I like the piece a lot. I know Mark Isham personally, and it was something I felt would defy expectation.

Has the demise of Indie 103.1 impacted how KCRW programs itself at all? I've noticed that Ruth Seymour mentioned it in her recent letter to subscribers, and the KCRW site's current call for new members specifically refers to KCRW's "Indie Music." Is there a hope to grab some of those displaced listeners, and has it made a difference in what music you play? KCRW, of course, once was home to "Brave New World" -- is there a thought to carve out more of a home for indie rock?

The demise of 103.1 makes a dramatic case in point for the importance of supporting public radio when it comes to alternative music. There's always been a place for emerging and independent rock at KCRW over the last 30+ years and that will continue to be the case.

KCRW a few years ago got rid of show titles for everything but MBE -- the idea was to focus more on the DJs, but is there also more of an effort to promote a cohesive "KCRW sound"? Show titles like "Cafe L.A." and " Chocolate City ," not to mention "Metropolis," were such brand names... is there ever a thought to bring them back?

Personally, I never looked back after I dropped the name Metropolis. I actually wouldn't mind losing Morning Becomes Eclectic to be honest with you. In any case, I think the station personalities and their music sensibility is what we should put forward first and foremost.

Will you eventually be doing a syndicated version, a new "Sounds Eclectic," or did that go away in this transition?

I haven't really explored the idea of a syndication. I just have too many other things to deal with right now. I suppose it's possible, but not imminent at this time.

Any thoughts to what you might change to the music channel on the web stream? Any thoughts to adding more shows, or adding another stream with a different mix of music?

I think KCRW online is a solid product, between the music stream, on demand, and the live channel I feel like we've got it covered. I am interested in studying research and gathering feedback -- coming to understand what people like and how they are using the music streams. We all put a lot of work into online initiatives, and I hope people appreciate it. Sometimes I feel like, with the live performance archives for instance, people aren't really aware of the vast resource we offer.

Douridas had "Rare on Air," Harcourt had "Sounds Eclectic," will you be coming up with a new KCRW CD series? Is the Femi Kuti project a sign of what you'll be doing with KCRW CDs? (Is the whole idea of selling a KCRW-themed CD at retail a relic of the old music industry?)

I'm really happy with the Femi vs. KCRW Soundclash EP and it was a great way to involve different people at the station in an original way. As far as future compilations, I'm developing a relationship with iTunes now so we can do compilations on a regular basis. Ultimately, I want this to feature live performances too, so it probably will take the place of ideas like "Rare On Air." I see a different model for delivering more music and more current music to our listeners through an iTunes partnership.

This is obviously a tough time to have to do a pledge drive, given the economy. How is that going to impact your pitch the next week? What's your message to KCRW listeners?

My pitch? Don't get me started! Seriously though, it's about supporting something that you value. Something that we've made possible together. Something no one ever thought was possible. Now is the time to make a difference for a non-profit, public radio outlet for alternative music, news, and cultural programming.

KCRW's pledge drive continues through Monday. Pledge online at or call 1-800-600-KCRW.

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