The Art of Music: Jonathan L’s “Radio Boom”
Can an established award-winning American radio personality discover true love and success in a foreign land without the benefit of terrestrial radio? Yep. Jonathan L was a well-known voice in Phoenix radio but was looking for something else in his life. He met and subsequently married his one and only beloved, Gaby, who hailed from Berlin and moved to Germany to be with her. Now he is enjoying the kind of peace and happiness most of us strive for and wonder if we’ll ever see.
We interviewed him from Berlin and he spoke candidly about the business of music and the dreaded three C’s, “Corporate, Consultants and Crap.” You can listen to our interview (see link below) and/or read the full transcript which is pasted at the bottom of this article.
Jonathan says that Barry Snaith of “Incredible Jukebox,” who created the video to accompany the track is his, “partner in sublime.” Watch it below:
Jonathan’s groundbreaking success broadcasting via the Internet to stations around the world from his private studio allows him to celebrate the music of artists known and unknown in his own style without the shackles of more traditional corporate-mandated playlists. His audiences are grateful and the awards are rolling in, including a nod in 2015 as top International Radio Personality from the Worldwide Radio Summit.
Jonathan’s latest track, “Radio Boom,” released in June of 2016, is a frank, sometimes irreverent and mesmerizing track, following closely after “Don’t Be Afraid,” which surprised listeners with it’s emotional and unwavering message of truth and encouragement.
The story behind “Radio Boom,” was inspired by listening to Gaby, singing “Boom, Boom,” around the house for months and as he reflected on the state of the music industry, he decided to put the two together. His muse and his past, merged into one and propelled him towards thoughts of a free future. You can listen in and purchase the track on iTunes.
I admit it, the video resonated with me, in part because of the memories inspired by the turquoise radio (I talk about this in the interview with Jonathan).
TRANSCRIPTION OF CIRINA CATANIA’S INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN L:
Cirina Catania: This is Cirina Catania, reporting for US Times, and today, we are in Berlin, Germany with Jonathan L, one of our favorite independent radio personalities. You can find him at Jonathan L Radio or the Lopsided World of L. He has a host of shows originating out of his Berlin based studios and a huge network of fans who know that he makes his own decisions about what is good, and never lets anyone else dictate to him about what he should play. I like that about him.
Over the years, he’s established relationships with some of music’s finest talent including Joey Ramone, Joan Jett, Alice Cooper, Frank Black of the Pixies and more.
In 2015, he won Best International Radio Personality at the Worldwide Radio Summit.
I’m so pleased to be speaking on air with my friend, Jonathan L, who has just released a new track of his own, “Radio Boom.”
I saw the music video and loved it. Jonathan, I’m so happy to be talking to you today. How are you?
Jonathan L: Cirina, I’m very happy to be speaking with you. You know what? I’m happy that you enjoyed the video.
Cirina Catania: Oh my gosh, it is so creative. What is Radio Boom about? Can you tell us?
Jonathan L: Of course. Radio Boom is really about a subject that I’ve been involved with most of my life at this point in radio. Radio, I think most people realize that radio has changed. When radio was deregulated years ago, big corporations started buying up small stations around the United States. More and more has accumulated to the point where you have a handful of very large corporations that own most of the radio stations throughout the United States.
Cirina Catania: Yes.
Jonathan L: What that’s done is it’s created a vacuum where many people who, were involved with radio are no longer. They’re selling cars, maybe real estate, doing other things today, or hoping to get that radio gig again somehow.
Cirina Catania: That’s really a shame, isn’t it?
Jonathan L: It’s all due to downsizing. Nowadays, in commercial radio, and we’re speaking only of commercial radio, the problem would be one person is now doing the job of three. That’s simplistic, the way I put that. Maybe it’s more complex in different cities, but overall, that is the main context. I’ve been staying up with that well after I’ve been gone from the US. I don’t know. It was just weird. My wife [Gabriela 03:59] kept on singing, “Boom-boom-boom-boom.” I don’t know why, and this went on for months. While that was going on, I studied and read about the music industry.
I started to realize that maybe I should write a song about radio, and I didn’t want it to be a mean song necessarily, but I wanted it to have pure truth and something that will resonate with people within the music industry, not just on radio, but also record labels, record promoters, and a key point, musicians, because musicians nowadays, less than 1% will ever, ever hear, whether they had a song or an album, they’ll never hear their music on commercial radio.
I don’t want to rip the music industry up. That’s not the point of the song, it’s just dedicated to musicians and to all those good radio people out of work.
Cirina Catania: I think we can say radio has changed and we still love them, but it’s changed and we’re talking about the people that can’t do it the way they used to anymore, right?
Jonathan L: That’s correct, and you know, the lyric as far as “we loved you” is true, because many people have tuned out on radio and there are various reasons as to why, and I think it’s obvious. The Internet. There are so many services on the computer now or on your phone, as a matter of fact. Pandora, Spotify, and I can go on and on. Even iTunes has their own music channel. Of course, there’s satellite radio you can throw in there, too. Point is, people have choices. Now, years back, there weren’t that many choices but now there are.
Also, the newer generation that’s growing up from the teens into their 20’s, many of them, radio was not really that part of their life. Okay, maybe their parents had the radio on in the car, but as far as them using the radio, it’s less and less.
It’s no secret that radio has a big, big problem with revenue sources nowadays. I have to squarely put the blame on the big corporations that frankly, they have helped kill radio. They can get together at conventions and they can back-pat and schmooze and say what’s really great about radio and they can do tests, audience tests, and various other things. What else helped kill the radio, was the People Meter. The People Meter is now owned by Nielsen, who also does television ratings, and the People Meter is supposed to be more effective than sending out the old way of diaries, those books that people used to get .
They used to get $5 to fill them out, but keep in mind, it’s only a certain percentage in every city and every market. They say it’s real figures, but it’s not real figures, and that also determines who is losing a job, and who might keep a job. That’s not a known secret. That’s a fact.
My song really is an ode to what radio used to be by the mentioning of Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern, Freddy Snakeskin and Jed The Fish. These are four individuals that I enjoyed listening to in my lifetime, and there’s a reason.
They are popular names, okay, the two from Los Angeles might not be as known around the country, but John Peel from England, particularly, is very well known worldwide, the late John Peel. You know, the thing is that the song is catchy. It has hooks.
Cirina Catania: It does.
Jonathan L: With the video, now, here’s how it really happened. We have to go back to my first song, “Don’t Be Afraid, Move,” which was meant to be an inspirational spoken-word song that I did with a husband and wife duo out of Plymouth, England, Leigh Boyd, and his wife, Mariah Nixon. They put out a lot of music, and they go by the name of “GoSatta,” and I enjoyed working with them, and that was more of a lighter danceable funky musical background to my voice and my lyrics.
Cirina Catania: I love that one, too, by the way.
Jonathan L: Oh, thank you.
Cirina Catania: I did.
Jonathan L: The video was done by Chris Wagner, who’s a well known film editor in Hollywood.
Chris’ IMDB page is just incredible. I don’t know, it probably hit many people in their hearts knowing that if you’re not happy, you move on. That song was good the first time, and that was only this past January.
In the meantime, I had been thinking of writing another song, and that’s what turned out to be “Radio Boom,” and with that, I contacted a musician friend who I’ve met both in Los Angeles, and in London, his hometown, and he has a record label. He’s also a musician. He didn’t have time to get involved with me on this, but what he did is he passed me onto someone who I became very quickly close friends with. We think the same, we feel the same about many things in life and music, and we just gelled.
His name is Barry Snaith. He goes by the name of “The Inconsistent Jukebox.” He’s done a lot of videos, a lot of music, and he has actually new music coming out very soon. Him and I really jived, and I sent him the lyrics along with my singing, and with Gabi’s “boom, boom, booms.” He put together the song, I thought, very creatively, and in a very, very cool way.
After the song was done, he said … Oh, Barry also insisted, “Can you help me with the artwork?” I said, not being lazy, because I would have been more than happy to get the artwork done. He wanted to do it, he sent it, and I said, “Whoa. That is cool,” so Barry also did the artwork.
Then, he said he’d like to do a video, because he has been doing videos of his music that he’s been involved with other musicians. That’s how the video came about, and even though when I say co-directed it, I gave him the concept of what I wanted in the video, I sent him the photographs, but everything else is what Barry put together with a couple of changes towards the end that I suggested, but it is Barry. Barry did the video, and the video is getting incredible response.
One person who was a program director in San Diego, who’s an old friend of mine, Mike Halloran, will never play this song on the air. That, I understand. He doesn’t even have to say that to me, but his response to the video was immediate. It was the first response I got when I sent out 100’s of emails. It was, “Wow, this is trippier than the song.”
Cirina Catania: Well, it’s really psychedelic. I think it fits the era that you’re talking about so well, the visuals. What I loved about it was the way he put the visuals together with your spoken word and your singing, and Gabi doing the boom. I loved it. It just was really very cool.
Jonathan L: That is, when you work together and I’m not calling us partners in crime. I’d rather use the partners in sublime, because he’s so sublime. The way he operates and works, the way he talks with me on the phone constantly, I know that in the future, we’ll probably be doing some more together, but I have to tell you, the question really should be why am I doing this? Why am I writing songs? This would be what I consider the reason why. I am not doing it for the money. That’s not the purpose, even though the songs will be, well, they are, they’re on BMI and Sound Exchange, and we might sell some music here and there, or the video, but that’s not really my reasoning.
My reasoning is that I’ll be approaching 70 years old in December, and as you know, I work mostly quietly on my radio shows. I’m not surrounded by people. I do what I do, and I’m just trying to stay active at my age, whereas, many people that I know from the music industry are writing books about themselves, or about some certain topic in music. I’m not ready to write a book about my life yet. As far as lyrics for a song, that comes natural to me, because I always have ideas, and I’ve been writing small pieces for magazines, newspapers, for many, many years, and I also worked for the Album Network for 7+ years, where writing was part of my job.
Writing comes natural to me. It’s the ideas that I can’t say, the word is natural. You just get inspired by a topic, or something, and you go with it. I think that’s the result of both songs. I’m quite satisfied with both and I know that it’s not everyone that I know, or people that I don’t know, are going to like it. If they don’t like it, that’s fine. I can take the negative criticism along with the positive.
Cirina Catania: You know what? If somebody talks negative about this music video, they need to see me, because I’m telling you, I think it’s really good, and I’m picky.
Jonathan L: Well, there are some people that will be negative. Maybe not about the video necessarily, but about the words and the song, and that would come more from people within the music industry, and I understand. You don’t have to like it. Just get used to the fact that it’s the truth, and it wasn’t, as I said, mean and harsh. I could have been a lot harsher in that song. I wanted to get the main points in the song, so that people understood what I was trying to say. Yes, I say the 3 C’s, corporations, consultants, who have helped ruin radio, and crap, and the crap part, and the one word DJ’s is that a lot of people not being that creative today. They think by attaching themselves with a name like “Smudge,” and I don’t really even know if there’s a real “Smudge” out there, but that’s just out of my head.
Cirina Catania: We’re going to have to get errors and omissions insurance now for Smudge.
Jonathan L: You know what, Cirina? I can understand their sensitivity towards it, but some of the people that are maybe possibly being negative or more so behind my back and not actually telling me, they’re afraid to tell me, all right? That’s okay, but I know what their fear is. Their fear is that they might be one of those people that might be out of a job, and when you’re in your 40’s and 50’s, and you’ve been in radio for a while, or record labels, or any other job within the music industry, you’re vulnerable, and you know you are by the fact that if you are out of a gig, you might not be able to get back in, and many, many have not been able to get back in.
Cirina Catania: You know, Jonathan, this reminds me that you really were at the forefront of what we might call “internet radio,” long before a lot of people were doing it. You met Gabi, fell in love, left the United States, and established all of these stations that you’re working on from your Berlin studio, and long before a lot of people were doing it. I guess you could say you’re counter-programming traditional terrestrial radio, right?
Jonathan L: In a way, yeah. I think that for me personally, the reasoning why I started doing the show which I had already done on FM radio for 5 years prior on a big station out of Phoenix, Arizona, the reason why is because I needed to stay active. I wasn’t necessarily thinking that I was going to immediately overnight become known well outside of not just the US, but also out of Germany, and I’m on a modest amount of stations. I don’t really have the desire to be on a lot of stations, and I’ll tell you why that reason is. Number 1, I want to make sure that all the work that I go through, week to week to week, putting together shows, trying to be creative, in that sense, I want people to hear the shows.
Right now, just with the amount of stations I have, I also do all the promotion, and I spend all week, not just recording the show, or putting together a future show, but I also have so many other elements of promotion via social networking and emails and everything else, that no one is doing this for me. I do it myself.
To answer your question in full, it took time. When I left America and I went on one station, and that was Indy 103 out of Los Angeles, now on hold, King FM out of Berlin. Hopefully they will come back, but in the meantime, because of my background and because of my experience, I don’t need to be one of those people that just say, “I want to be on your radio station.”
Over the last near, well, it’s near 6 years now, I have achieved attention worldwide by not only just recording the show, but I recorded weeks in advance, and so the stations know they never worry about getting a show from week to week, because I’m already recorded 4 weeks in advance. That’s another … I’m not going to say it’s a top secret, but that’s something others don’t do. They’re not dependable, or they’re last minute people, or a problem came up in their life, and they just couldn’t record the show. I can’t do it that way. I’m too organized. Dependable is very important to the radio stations, and for me personally, they have to be dependable on their end, too, and air the show. That’s the key. Over 6 years, I think I standout on the internet more than most people because I put my integrity and faith into the internet, more so than most.
Cirina Catania: Absolutely.
Jonathan L: Anybody can do a radio show, many, many people want to. I see it all over the Internet. I see it all over Facebook all the time. I want to do a show, and not to me, necessarily, but to other people.
I think the reason why people listen, I’m playing the majority of new artists and new music with some known names thrown in that have new music, if they’re returning from the past, i.e., whether it’s a Joan Jett has a new album, Ronnie Spector from the Ronettes has a new album. It’s things like that. I will always support artists that I’ve supported pretty much my whole career, and of course, brand new artists. I think that’s why people listen, because they’re not going to hear a show like it in America, and I’m very confident that no one can do what I do.
And I have to look at it in a way for 1 reason. If I don’t feel that way, then why the hell am I doing this?
Cirina Catania: I’m curious, Jonathan, the people that you pick are so talented. It may be hard for you to explain this, but what goes through your head when you’re listening to music? Does a light go off and you go, “Oh, I love this,” or is it about their technique? Is it about the message? How do you pick the music on your shows?
Jonathan L: Every time I sit down to put together a show, I look at it as a big puzzle and I need the right pieces to sit. That would be the reason why, from week to week, the show could be possibly drastically different. I think a percentage is yes, I hear something and I go, “Oh, wow. This is so cool. All right, I know I’m going to use that.” Of all the other music, because I am receiving a lot of downloads from everywhere, including America, every single day. I just get so many downloads and I don’t receive CDs, so I’d have to really be careful about with the downloads, I have to listen first and that consumes so much time, because you have to screen it first, decide whether you’re going to download it, because you don’t want to overload your computer.
Yes, there are what do you call it? Hard drives, external hard drives. I’m not a big external hard drives person. I like to have the music right there on the computer, but albeit, yes, I have tons of hard drives filled with music. As I go along, I’m giving you an indication on 1 show. I want various styles of music. I want music that will appeal to … When I say “younger” I’m not talking about teenagers. I’m talking about between the ages of 25 and 35, and then I want music that appeals to people from 35 up to 60. Believe it or not, I have people that listen that are in their 50’s and 60’s, that don’t matter to commercial radio. They’re not part of the system of listenership.
I want a wide variety of an audience, which means that realistically, I’m doing what I’ve done pretty much my entire career. I’m playing music that appeals to a wide audience, whether younger or older, but it has a bit of aggressive and edge to it. My show is not really melodic. In other words, I see many people that say their radio show is 80’s and 90’s rock, melodic rock, and that kind of thing. Or it could be 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s again, nobody ever mentions the 0’s, the 2000’s, but I think that a 45 or 55 year old will listen and accept what they hear.
They don’t have to like every song, but there’s got to be something that keeps them listening, that they don’t want to just turn it off, because they might really truly be missing something that is so cool, that they’ll bring it up, and that’s what you want, people to bring it up, a song in particular. I also do a lot of specials for a reason. The most popular would be the “She Show,” which I had a contest, not really a contest that I gave anything away. I just asked all my friends on Facebook to suggest titles. This was years ago. Not that I hadn’t done all woman musician shows in the Phoenix era, but in the Berlin era, I’ve done a lot. Actually, number 16, volume 16 is on the way later this month, and it’s one of the most popular shows that I do. It’s all women musicians, and all different styles of music. It appeals to both men and women.
I do various ones during the year, but I do other special editions, too, such as i.e Australian volume 2. It’s all Australian musicians in various styles.
To sum up the question about how do I put together a show, I keep switching the music around. “What’s going to start the show? How’s this show going to end? What’s going to be in the middle? Is it too much of this style of music together? I need to break it up.”
I obviously, for anyone who’s ever listened to the show, would know that I have a lot of artist ID’s. They record the ID’s, which I use, going into their song, into their music. Two more songs, and then my back announce, and my back announce is not talky talky. It’s professional, and it’s around a minute. I don’t talk for 2 or 3 minutes like most people on radio do today, especially on the Internet. I’m no longer on live radio. When you record, you have to make it tight. The show has to be tight, to sound professional. I don’t listen to a lot of radio, even Internet radio, but whenever I do, just for a short time, that’s the first thing that turns me off, and basically makes me tune out. That might be me personally. Maybe people want to hear someone talk on and on about music, but the music itself is what’s important, not someone talking about it. And the more you talk, the less music you can play in a show.
Cirina Catania: Well, right now, you’re still on Indy 103, in LA, right? You’re in Phoenix in …
Jonathan L: They air the show 3 times a week, yes.
Cirina Catania: And KWSS 93.9 FM in Phoenix.
Jonathan L: I’m on in Phoenix, on a low powered station, FM. I’m also on a very high-powered station on Sunday nights in Tucson, KSMA FM, 102.
Cirina Catania: Is that Mersey Radio?
Jonathan L: That’s Mersey Radio. I love it. I love the guy who owns the station. He’s great.
I’m also on Radio Andra in Gothenburg, Sweden. I’m on a FM station in … I honestly don’t remember the name of the little town that it airs from, from New Zealand, but he also has it hooked up on his website where you can listen in Sydney on the internet at a different time.
Cirina Catania: And that’s AndHow.fm, right?
Jonathan L: Correct.
Cirina Catania: 107.5 FM.
Jonathan L: Actually it’s AndHow.org.
Cirina Catania: AndHow.org, and then, there’s also, is it Nusakan, is that how you pronounce it, in Birmingham, England, right?
Jonathan L: It has something to do with the stars in space. It’s called Nusakan.
Cirina Catania: Oh, Nusakan, there you go. I’ll have to look that up, that’s interesting.
Jonathan L: Yeah. It has something to do with the planetary system. He explained it to me but I don’t really remember. That’s from Birmingham, England, yes. Again, as I said, I don’t really have the desire to be on so many stations like I guess many do. They think by being syndicated on many stations, I want my show to be special. I want people to really take the time and actually listen, even if it’s not the first listen to it, a certain addition for the whole 2 hours, nobody’s listened to an hour. Maybe catch up with the other hour on other occasions or in the week.
Cirina Catania: Of course. I think that’s wonderful. That’s why we love you so much. You’re different. Jonathan, you’re unique, you have an independent creative spirit that all creatives love in others. I think it’s wonderful what you do, and we don’t want you to ever, ever, ever stop.
Where can we go on the Internet to find out more about you?
Jonathan L: I think the starting point would be my website, JLRadio.com. And the website has links to, well, my background, but more so than that, there is a place which I do not promote that much. If you look carefully on the website, you’ll see where you can listen to recent shows. You can stream them, and that’s at the upper left on my website, which means you can listen at your convenience. The website is done by one of the most well respected radio people that I know, and his name is Oedipus which is, of course, not his real name, but he’s famous from the WBCN FM radio days in Boston. And he’s known by a lot of people.
Cirina Catania: Yeah, he is. I have a silly question. This is a silly, silly question. If you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. Do you know where Barry got that old radio, the pictures of the old radio that’s in the music video?
Jonathan L: He owns that.
Cirina Catania: That’s his?
Jonathan L: That’s his own radio. He owns that.
Cirina Catania: Is it turquoise, right? Is it turquoise?
Jonathan L: Well, it didn’t chirp me up because he described it to me on the phone. He said, “Oh, you know what?” Because I wanted him to have somebody tuning the radio out. I don’t know if that’s his wife’s hand or his hand, or somebody else’s, but he filmed that, and the radio keeps popping up in the video.
Cirina Catania: I love it.
Jonathan L: Yeah. He said, “I’ve got this old blah, blah, blah radio.” I don’t even remember the name of it, and he was in … By the way, he was in the Wakefield, Leeds, England area. It’s just a satellite outside of Leeds, England, Wakefield.
Cirina Catania: You know, I have to tell you this. I’m going to date myself a little bit but when I was a little girl, I had a turquoise plastic radio that was next to my bed on the nightstand and I played that thing to death. I used to listen to all the songs and I just thought I was just the coolest thing in the world because I had that radio and that was another reason why your song, “Radio Boom,” resonated with me so much, because it has all changed, but Jonathan, you know what? Honestly, you’re my friend, but I’m saying this as a journalist. I have to say, I’m so grateful that you’re there, because we need more people like you that are independent, playing great music, and who have a mind of their own and aren’t listening to the 3 C’s, so Jonathan, thank you so much and a big hug to you for all your great work and thanks for taking the time to talk to us on US Times.
Jonathan L: You’re very welcome.
Cirina Catania: That was Jonathan L from Berlin, Germany, a wonderful and very prolific radio personality. I am Cirina Catania for US Times. Thank you for listening.