To those familiar with Tucson talk radio, John C. Scott is that bombastic host who has made a name for himself on stations up and down the AM dial.
But behind the scenes, and within the confines of KJLL AM 1330's Broadway Boulevard offices, some view him as a savior.
KJLL is one of the few remaining independently owned radio operations in the city, and it was not a well-kept secret that the station had suffered from financial problems since Aldona Sprei purchased it a little more than a decade ago. Aldona died last year. Her husband, Yuma surgeon Dr. Stanley Sprei, now handles ownership responsibilities.
"People used to run to the bank to see who could get there first," said Scott in reference to the number of bounced checks prior to April 2009. It was then, with the station's future in serious doubt, that Scott was asked if he'd return to KJLL as the station's general manager.
At the time, Scott was operating a split-shift brokered talk show (i.e., Scott paid for the time) on KVOI (which at the time was at 630 AM), where he went after his initial stint with KJLL came to a close due to conflicts with then-GM Kim Kelly. Once Kelly was ousted, Scott stepped in.
"We haven't bounced a check in 13 months, and that might not seem like a big deal, but it is if it's your check," Scott said. "Every check we write is a good check, whether it's the rent or for licensing fees, back debt or payroll. Those things are paid first. We think that's the way to do business."
Scott's first order of business was recruiting a couple of Jolt regulars to return, including Nicole Cox, who had left for personal reasons but agreed to a return to clean up KJLL's accounting and bookkeeping, and production manager Joel Caton.
"It was a real struggle. (The John C. Scott Show) has a group of people who have always sponsored the show and thought enough about it to stay with us (when we returned to KJLL). That helped us cover payroll and stabilize it while we got back some goodwill from the community to help us pay some bills, license fees, that kind of thing," said Scott. "The owner really made a huge commitment to pay the past debt, and it stabilized everything. Once the things that could kill you were gone, we had to deal with the nitpicky things that had never been dealt with. We chipped away at that every month. We have seven employees and a couple of part-time people running a radio station, and it's working. It's really amazing."
While the immediate problems appear to have been solved, the radio station will likely always fight an uphill battle. The Jolt never gets strong ratings—generally nabbing around a 1 share, according to Arbitron. It suffers from suspect signal strength and doesn't have the luxury of the financial cushion that larger corporations can provide.
"We're ... a radio station against a corporation that can take huge hits to survive, automate half of their stations and fire everybody—like Clear Channel did to so many who were so well-known in the community. ... 'We'll send you your personal belongings.' It's just an unconscionable way to do business with people who have served you so well. That's the corporate world of broadcasting," said Scott, referring to Clear Channel's recent layoff swaths. "We aren't the corporate world. We're the family world of broadcasting. We are owned by one person, and that person trusts us to do two things: protect his license, and protect his money—and hopefully make him some money. We're doing that."
The Jolt attempts to separate itself, programming-wise, by broadcasting a lineup highlighted by progressive/liberal syndicated talkers Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz.
"Conservative talk dominates the market, whether it's KNST (AM 790), (KQTH FM 104.1) The Truth or KVOI (AM 1030). That's where the larger audience is," Scott said. "But we've offered an alternative with Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz. We have seven of the top 25 talkers in the country, according to Talkers Magazine."
Locally, The John C. Scott Show is KJLL's financial lynchpin. Once a friend to conservatives, the show's tone has changed to adapt to the Jolt's progressive format. Still, Scott's interview-heavy approach and fervent sponsor support has helped give 1330 new life.
"We're not big Tea Party people here," Scott said. "There are others catering to that kind of anger and a lot of that hate, and I don't think it's useful, or constructive, and I don't think it's going to be around for a long time.
"We went back to Washington. D.C., and did a week with congressmen and senators, LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens), the Vietnam War Memorial. We interviewed 26 people. The next week, we were in Phoenix and interviewed 22 lawmakers. We combined that into a (sales) package that made us a considerable amount of money. A lot of that was paid up front, and it allowed us to start off 2010 pretty good. We had a good chunk of cash we would not have had, had we not done those special broadcasts. We've done stuff like that before. We've gone to Vietnam; we've done three broadcasts from Israel. We do it; we knew we had the capability of doing it; and we knew we could sell it.
"Now we're into political (campaign season, always a good time for media sales), and we'll get a pretty good share of the political buys, because Democrats have to buy us, and Republicans should. It should be a good year, and I think the station is on solid footing."