Ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones Brings His Fiery Radio Show Back to L.A.

Davis Factor
Steve Jones

In December of 1976, the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones infamously called the English presenter Bill Grundy "a f--king rottter" on live television. The band's profanity-filled appearance ignited a firestorm prompting the Daily Mirror's screaming headline "THE FILTH & THE FURY!," the cancelation of most of the Sex Pistol's ill-fated Anarchy in the U.K. Tour (with the Damned, the Clash and Johnny Thunders no less), the end of Grundy's career and a month-later, on Jan. 6, 1977, EMI dropped the band. What a difference four decades can make. 

"Jonesy's Jukebox," the beloved free-form radio show hosted by Jones, is back on daily Los Angeles seven-years after Entravision pulled the plug on Indie 103's alternative format. Cumulus-owned classic rock station KLOS (95.5 FM) began midday broadcasts on Jan. 11 the day of David Bowie's shocking death, and landed the Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. The veteran rockers' ruminations on mortality and their own existence was a bit awkward but, above all else, made for utterly compelling radio.

"I just can't do robotic radio," Jones, 60, tells Billboard.  "I personally just can't 'blah blah blah' in between someone else's playlist. it's not just about a job for me. Either you have Jonesy's Jukebox the way it is or don't hire me.”  Which makes the show's airing on Cumulus -- not necessarily known for its freeform radio programming -- all the more interesting. 

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For an industry that has, over time, adapted to an increasingly rigid programming model, could the caustic host's stream-of-consciousness musings above a regular rotation of anything goes rock -- from the Faces to the Damned to Wolfmother--signal a sea change for what may be seen as a stagnant genre? 

Cumulus' Keith Cunningham, program director for KLOS, which was ranked 19th in the L.A. market in the most recent Nielsen Audio ratings, believes Jones can help modernize the signal's classic rock sound and “bridge the gap between the heritage brand of KLOS and newer listeners.” This, the PD says, is happening at time when radio is competing with "smartphones and every other technology out there."

"With Pandora, Spotify, Apple's Beats 1 and multiple other choices, radio is increasingly seeing its job as curation, because there are lots of places to listen to commercial-free music with no personality,” says Ross on Radio newsletter author and Billboard contributor Sean Ross. “One person with the authority to surprise and delight still means something.”

Whether talking choppers with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, writing and singing an anthem for the soon-to-be transplanted Rams football team entailed "Ram it Up L.A!" or telling Grohl about the time he stole Bowie's equipment in 1973 during his final Ziggy Stardust shows at London's Hammersmith-Odeon, Jones seems to possess an effortless and innate ability to entertain.

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"The beauty of Jonesy's show is that he does whatever's on his mind," says Matt Pinfield, the former MTV host who currently DJs on Sirrius XM Lithium and Cumulus' Westwood One and appeared on the original "Jonesy's Jukebox". "I'd turn on the radio and Jonesy would be like, 'I had a sh--ty morning and start playing "Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." This was way before the whole 'Glee' thing. He didn't give a f*ck how cool it was or if it was punk enough, indie enough, metal enough. I'd be in my rental car  thinking, 'this is beautiful radio.' It's about time he got a new station/outlet."

"[That] the "Jonesy Jukebox" experiment at KLOS is interesting," says Sky Daniels, program director at L.A.'s KCSN 88.5, a public alternative station run out of Cal State Northridge. "Previously, KLOS was building a pretty consistent position as 'Classic rock that really rocks" under new PD Cunningham. It will be interesting to see if that audience responds to Steve."

Another question facing Jones, who is now on his third terrestrial station (he was also on LA's KROQ but relegated to a late Sunday night spot), is how his newly-resurrected show will fare in radio's ever-shifting sands and the fall-out from years of consolidation. Cumulus, for example, is operating under a multi-billon dollar debt, hired a new CEO in October and undergoing staffing changes.  When asked about the volatility, Jones is both sanguine and typically foul-mouthed. "I'm just doing my thing, man," he says. "That's out out of my f—ing hands all that sh—t. I'm just doing my thing and hope people appreciate it. Hopefully there's still some real music fans who want to hear a bit more than just the norm."

A condensed version of this piece appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of Billboard. Billboard will post a Q&A with Steve Jones on Monday, Feb.1st.