After a decade as KCRW’s music director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic and Metropolis, Jason Bentley has become as much a part of the fabric of L.A. as ice blended coffees, chopped salads, and power pilates. But on August 31, the velvet-voiced 48-year-old will sign off of MBE for the last time.
While he’s slowing down, he’s not going away entirely. He’ll still host Metropolis on Saturday nights–but, for the always-busy Bentley, that’s practically retirement. As for what he’ll do with the other six days of the week, he isn’t exactly sure just yet.
We caught up with Bentley at Gjusta, near his home in Venice, to discuss the details of his departure and reflect on his radio career so far.
How did you get to KCRW in the first place? Take us back in time.
Since I announced my last day a few weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting. It got me pretty nostalgic. I started in the summer of ’88, volunteering after graduating Santa Monica High School. My parents were big record collectors, my dad took me record shopping at Rhino Records, and I always loved radio. I had a makeshift radio station in my room as a kid!
So you started on the airwaves in college?
I got my first radio show at U. Mass Amherst. I called it Nomad–it was really just a riff on Tom Schnabel’s MBE at KCRW. By ’92, I had come back here and went to Loyola Marymount. I eventually became GM of their station, volunteering at KCRW at the same time. Then that year, I got a regular KCRW air shift, Metropolis, a spectrum of electronic music, from Massive Attack to Portishead to drum and bass. Then I started playing clubs.
Did people tell you growing up that you had a great voice?
I never wanted it to be about my voice. I wanted it to be about music first, culture first. The voice is useful–and that’s part of being successful in radio–but that’s not what I’m passionate about.
After all this time, why step down from MBE and your role as music director right now?
I always had the idea I would leave after ten years as music director and MBE host. Nick Harcourt did it longer than that, but for Chris [Douridas] and Tom [Schnabel], it was ten years. I’d rather call it on my terms than hang out too long.
There’s a lot of change at the station right now: The new studio, new staff. My tenure–what I call “the basement years”–feels like it was this golden era, mostly before streaming.
There’s no drama about my leaving, no negativity. It’s purely intuition.
No clear plans for the future yet, though?
Well, I hope I can pivot to something interesting. I’m considering getting my own label deal, signing bands.
And I want to continue to produce events. I loved doing the public programs we created. A real highlight was the outdoor summer series we at the Annenberg Space for Photography. To see that go from concept to 5,000 people loving it, I don’t want to lose that. Maybe it will be “Jason Bentley Presents.”
Didn’t you do the booking for all those artists who played live in the 11 o’clock hour on MBE?
Curating all that has been wonderful. To be part of their careers is a real privilege. I helped Phoenix on their way, Massive Attack, Florence and the Machine, the XX. I heard Adele early on. Now that she’s getting divorced, I know she’ll come back and do a new record with some real heartbreak!
The KCRW audience is so influential. Studio execs, people in advertising, writers–the creative community. And, you know, I’m still going to do Metropolis for Saturday nights. And trust me, when it comes to booking talent now, we get a lot of calls!
You got married this past October to your girlfriend Venus Faas. Did that play into your decision to leave?
Sure. My wife and I do want to start a family. My priorities are changing. I want ownership of my own projects, a vested interest in things I’m creating. Being in public media at a non-profit is wonderful–you’re a folk hero and get high fives all day long–but you don’t own anything at the end of the day.
Will you stay involved with the station outside of doing Metropolis?
Yes, but I don’t really know the extent. I’m available for whatever they need, to interview new candidates, mentor people.
The search for the new music director could take six months. Anne Litt will do it in the interim. My gut tells Anne wants to take on MBE on a regular basis, but we’re gonna split the positions. The music director needs to focus on the industry part of it. Working with managers, labels, artists. It’s a lot of work.
How are people reacting to your leaving?
I’ve gotten so many heartfelt letters and comments. It’s important for me to get it right. I’m not going to some big industry job–I wish I had some clever answer to what my plans are. I want to take a bow politely. It’s too important to me, too much of who I am.
We’re putting out a double vinyl live session release for the end of my tenure. I want to pitch it and sell it as I’m going out, because it’s about raising money for the station. I do not want it to be about me. You’ll only be able to buy it over the air.
To all the fans and listeners who love your insight and passion, what wisdom do you have to impart?
I have about 50 KCRW coffee mugs, and I love the sayings on them. It’s always something about staying committed to the arts. One of them reads: “Fear no art.” I’ll leave you with that.
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