Media Watch

Remembering the John C. Scott show

In that unmistakably bombastic tone, John C. Scott touted his daily radio offering as "the most talked to, talked about, listened-to talk show in Southern Arizona."

Was it? Almost certainly not. No ratings book, regardless of how primitive and inconsistent the system, would back up that claim. But while the John C. Scott Show was known for making its share of outrageous claims, this much is certain: There was nothing else like it in this market, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anything quite like it in any other market.

Scott's 24-year path was as unique in the industry as his approach to his show, which was half political commentary and half infomercial, with a client base that remained phenomenally loyal through his many station moves. They'd almost certainly follow him again if another opportunity presented itself, but it appears unlikely that will happen for the 71-year-old and his one-of-a-kind program. Over the years, Scott has interviewed just about every Southern Arizona and statewide political figure of note, while finding time to conduct shows from as far away as China, Vietnam and Israel.

"There's no place else to go. That's just the way it is," Scott said following the announcement last week that KVOI 1030 AM was pulling the plug on his partially brokered program. "The only three talk radio stations are conservative, and we're not compatible with them. That was fair. I don't want to be them, and they don't want to be me."

KVOI GM Doug Martin cited complaints and concerns from Good News Radio board members about the show, yet Martin knew what he had when he came to terms with Scott, for the second time, more than two years ago. KVOI has long touted itself as the intelligent conservative-talk alternative. Scott's show has leaned left for the better part of the last decade.

When the show started, Scott was part of the wave of conservative talk radio. And make no mistake, he rode that wave. He continued that tone later in the decade when he transitioned to KTKT 990 AM. But whether he adjusted his political stance to fit the agenda of KJLL 1330 AM's fledgling foray into the liberal talk arena, or had a legitimate change in philosophy, the program started leaning moderate/left. It stayed that way through his initial run at KJLL, through his initial run at KVOI, upon his return to KJLL and again during his last two years at KVOI.

So it's not like Scott made an overnight change, to the surprise of KVOI's conservative base.

One of Scott's more remarkable accomplishments was his ability to find outlets. As the radio model turned more and more toward a handful of nationally operated ownership clusters, Scott somehow functioned almost exclusively within radio's privately owned, dwindling, independent circuit.

And as much as clusters rightfully get berated for business actions that have done more harm than good to the industry, it's not like independent stations have no issues.

A radio veteran who had already logged decades in the business, Scott started the version of his show that would become familiar to current listeners in 1989 on KTUC 1400 AM, then located in a second-story office space at Country Club Road and Glenn Street. The station and its FM counterpart, 97.5, were owned by Tom Hassey, a temperamental boss who routinely fluctuated between best friend and bitter enemy.

Given some of their routine off-air exchanges, how Scott and Hassey kept from throwing one another off the second-floor walkway is a miracle.

But Hassey eventually sold the stations, and KTUC's talk days were done.

Scott managed to transition the program to KTKT. However, his relationship with the only cluster for which he ever worked—Lotus—was short-lived. Scott's show and the other talk shows on the station were given two days' notice that a format change to Spanish language sports was in the works.

And then it got really weird.

Scott convinced KJLL to give his program a go. In the annals of crazy small-ownership radio, nothing compares to the zoo that was The Jolt. Scott left the first time after a falling out with the operations manager. He took his show to KVOI, but then was asked to return to KJLL to run the day-to-day operations. The station was in dire need of assistance and was in danger of going belly-up. He was there for a little more than two years, until what former employees refer to as the Valentine's Day Massacre. A woman named Dawn Avalon gutted the station's product and undercut Scott's work.

The only time the staff was consistently paid on time was when Scott was the station's GM.

"The Jolt thing was terribly disturbing because people got really hurt by that, and unfairly," Scott said. "That was a bizarre, inconceivable series of events that you don't run into too often. We had accomplished a great deal there. To take it from $6,500 (in advertising revenue) a month to $33,000 a month, to making it a respected station, we did a lot in the face of enormous adversity. (There was) debt that had never been paid, bills that were thrown in the drawer, eccentric management."

Scott isn't the only one affected by KVOI's recent decision. His show was a family affair. Scott's wife, Amy, has been his chief sales representative for close to 20 years, and his son Mark Ulm has handled producer responsibilities at least that long. Ulm is the best at his job in this city, and it isn't even close.

"We wouldn't have had anything without him," Scott said. "I think he's going to talk to people who can use the skills and connections he has. They'll pay him a lot of money, and I think he'll make a lot of money doing the next thing. Working with your family is never easy, but we got through all of it and became not only father/son, but great friends. That was a hard process. It took a long time. When you see someone every day and rely on each other for what you are, I don't know anybody in a family business who can tell you that's easy. We got through it all. I respect and love him. He's a really talented guy, and I'm sure he's going to do fine. There are better things ahead. He loved this job."

Scott will continue his other gig as operations manager of Tucson Greyhound Park.

Tucson radio won't be the same without him.

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