The Great Rock & Roll Radio Swindle

Is ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones helping Indie 103.1 become cool or corporateand does it matter?

Then again, maybe it's just because he is a crack-up.

"There are many things I have to do for this show," he told listeners recently. "I'm part of the machine. . . . On the weekends, I stare like a mummy at the ceiling. Bandage me up, baby. Mmm-mmmm."

You can't hear Jonesy's Juke Box blaring from the public areas in the Mid-Wilshire building that houses Entravision corporate HQ, its stations including Indie 103.1, and such high-powered Hollywood players as Variety magazine and Spelling Entertainment Group. After a bilingual receptionist and her earpiece summon authorized personnel to open a hermetically sealed door and escort you in, you pass radio pod after radio pod, each broadcasting content to stations all over the country. Only a few seem occupied by live bodies.

The walls inside the darkened 103.1 pod belie the rest of the building's Wall Street feng shui. A large poster replicates the look of a certain seminal punk rock record album cover, declaring in large letters, "Never Mind the Corp Radio; Here's the Indie 103.1."

Today, the darkened pod's lone light is shining down on that familiar deadpan mug that was sandwiched between Sid's sneer, Johnny Rotten's wild eyes and whatever the hell was on Cookie's face. Jones is not as tall as he appeared with that axe in his hands. As he bears down on the big Five-O, this Londoner-turned-Angeleno looks good, tanned, healthy—although his tie-dyed shirt is stretched over one helluva impressive boiler. With his reading glasses clipped to his collar, he resembles your devilish uncle from across the pond who drinks too much and leers at the young lasses, but who you'd want to have your back when the nightly half-past-10 pub fight breaks out.

"It's all been 'ery pos-it-ive," Jones says of the radio gig in a Cockney brogue much too thick for someone who's lived in LA the past 21 years.

He says the Indie brass have been pleased with his ratings, but the station as a whole is holding steady with an anemic 0.9 rating among those 12 and older—barely a blip. That's nothing to hang your format on—and every hour, Indie relies on a lot of music that's not current, a strategy that has historically caused stations to implode (see LA hard-rock radio, circa the late 1970s, when KROQ was born).

"If your playlist gets too flaky and eclectic, you'll only get a tiny core audience of music heads," Tolkoff said. "They'll enjoy it, but the masses won't. You can't be too left of center if you want to be successful."

Left, right, whatever—Jones has devised a complicated formula to determine which songs make the Jonesy's Juke Box cut: "If I like it, I'll play it."

On one show not too long ago, he cued up three Prince songs in a row. Another day, it was three Iggys. Then a Clash trio weeks later. But Jones also breaks out that stuff the kids are into these days. Current bands on his radar include Cobra Verde ('70s arena-rawk replicants out of Cleveland), Franz Ferdinand (Glasgow's so-called art-wave scensters) and the Killers (retro Brit new wave by way of Las Vegas).

"I don't just want to be Mr. Retro," Jones insists. "I like playing a lot of new songs. I'd like to play more new songs if there weren't so much junk out there. I'd like to break some bands.

"I'd never play bands like Blink and New Found Glory. They're making a ton of money, and more power to them. But they're not my cup of tea. Actually, hearing them makes me feel not well. It's so mass-produced and worked-out. It's like the record's already been made before it's been made, do you know what I mean?

"Much of what is today termed punk just isn't. Don't call it punk. It's pop. Boy-band pop with spiky hair. But they're making more money than the Sex Pistols ever did."

After the Pistols' infamous meltdown in the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1978—legend has it Jones flew back home on the Concorde—he formed a band called the Professionals with guitarist Ray McVeigh and Pistols' drummer Paul "Cookie" Cook and pre-Sid Vicious bassist Glenn Matlock. They toured the States, and when the last show was over, as everyone else boarded the plane in New York for the flight back to London, Jones could not physically bring himself to walk up the ramp. "I knew if I went back to England, it would be damp, miserable, rainy," he says.

He knocked around somewhere for the next year—probably New York, he's not sure—where he began doing drugs heavily and eventually acquired a heroin habit. He'd spent a year in prison in England for various juvenile delinquencies and earned a reputation while starting the Sex Pistols at age 19 for stealing gear from Bob Marley and David Bowie. So as a brand-new American junkie, he already had a game face as he conned several saps into buying the "original" cream-colored custom Les Paul guitar he strummed throughout his Pistols' tenure. Actually, he'd been conned out of that beauty years earlier in London.

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