UPHEAVAL AT THE JOLT LEADS TO SPECULATION ABOUT THE FUTURE
In its dozen-year existence, KJLL AM 1330 has always struggled—and just as it appeared that the radio station might be achieving a modicum of success with a brokered-show-driven financial model, the manager who was turning things around was let go, and a new manager entered the equation.
Since that new manager's introduction to staff on Feb. 14, much of the station's crew has departed—and some of them do not have nice things to say.
Dawn Avalon, who has been described as a friend of station owner Dr. Stanley Sprei (Sprei's wife, Aldona, ran the station before she died in 2009), now handles the day-to-day operations of the AM signal as vice president of Jolt parent company Hudson Communications.
Avalon replaced former general manager John C. Scott, who remains on the station in a brokered-show capacity, meaning that he pays the station for the opportunity to broadcast the John C. Scott Show, a lynchpin of current-events and local talk in this market.
"I'm going to keep doing the two-hour talk show, and I think there's a place for it in the market," said Scott, who agreed to a six-month extension of the program earlier this month. "Do you try to keep it as long as you can to provide income? Yes. Are there people who will still buy (advertising on) it? Yes. Do people listen to it? Yes. Can you be proud of some of the shows? Yes. I can keep it independent. We keep our accounts; nobody's telling us what to do."
While Scott has managed to maintain a presence at The Jolt, other long-time employees were not as fortunate.
Joel Caton, with the station since almost its inception; Nicole Cox, employed for a decade as news director and most recently the station's business manager; and Chuck Aubrey, an employee of more than seven years who handled news responsibilities and hosted the weekend conspiracy-theory show Gnosis or Psychosis, were all casualties of the change at the top.
Just last week, KJLL management received word that Cox has filed a lawsuit against the organization, seeking monies for back payments and damage to her personal and professional reputation. Aubrey also says he has not received his final check from KJLL.
Publicly, Avalon is something of a mystery, and has refused numerous efforts on the Weekly's behalf to get comment, including a face-to-face meeting in her office at the station about two weeks ago. At that time, she told me that because of Dave Hatfield's story on KJLL in the May 27 Inside Tucson Business (which is a sister publication of the Tucson Weekly), she was considering providing an exclusive interview, in part because she liked what the Tucson Weekly did. She declined to speak then and there, and said she would be able to speak the following week. Once informed that there were plans to run this story on June 9—meaning that she needed to speak to me right away—she said if that happened, she would not be available for a follow-up and would instead have to give her exclusive to the Arizona Daily Star.
I decided to accommodate her wishes for an extra week, and this column was pushed back. However, Avalon did not return multiple messages, left through multiple channels and approaches.
The forum remains open. Enjoy that exclusive, Arizona Daily Star.
Aubrey says Avalon has no qualifications to run a radio station—other than the fact that she has some sort of relationship with the owner.
"What radio stations has she worked for? Decisions made have been so bad that you had to know it was going to make the situation worse, which brings up the question: Why are you doing it?" said Aubrey, who claims one of Avalon's first executive decisions was to cut employee pay by 20 percent. (There are also indications that checks may be bouncing, a frustrating occurrence common during The Jolt's pre-John C. Scott-management era—something that employees say Scott quickly rectified.) "Do you just want to kill it off and sell off the pieces with the doctor holding the bag? I don't know. It certainly can't be to preserve it. When your clientele and staff are leaving in droves, you're not going to be staying on the air."
For the record, a number of brokered shows do remain on KJLL, although it lost a plum when former Arizona Illustrated anchor Bill Buckmaster took his hour-long daily program to KVOI AM 1030.
"She obviously knows two things about the radio business, jack and shit, and jack left town," said Aubrey. "She obviously has nothing to suggest real management skills. You can't believe anything that comes out of this lady's mouth. She is not anything trustworthy. It's very sad she's managed to run what was a good independent radio station into the ground. There's no place for it to go."
Since Avalon has yet to publicly detail her vision for the Jolt, speculation has naturally taken hold. Among the elephants in the room: the land on which the Jolt's towers sit, which is part of a cluster of pristine property that Sprei owns in the foothills—a parcel which may carry a value far more significant than any of the radio station's assets.
"I was there for about 7 1/2 years, and there was so much week-to-week and month-to-month chaos, and we finally start gaining traction," Aubrey said. "Of all the possible demises for the radio station, I never would have seen it coming from that direction. You took a place that was finally able to sustain itself—just barely, but it was in the black, finally—and shot it in the foot while running a marathon. I don't know how much longer that station is going to be on the air, literally. It's sad. It was a great station. I loved working there."