KCRW — Headphones in place, the microphone at the right height, Jason Bentley, host of “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on KCRW-FM (89.9), was ready to put his guest to the test.
Tyler Bates, composer for the recently released film “Watchmen,” sat directly across from Bentley with his guitar-viol, a custom guitar played with a bow, on his knee. Bentley remained relaxed, but poised, while holding a newspaper in his hands.
Bentley’s colleagues watched eagerly from behind the soundproof glass.
“We have some stories I’ve torn from the headlines,” Bentley said to Bates. “I want to challenge you here with a story, if you could score this.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” a board technician remarked.
Bentley read a story involving a meteor that whizzed by Earth, nearly entering the atmosphere and creating a doomsday-type situation.
Bates took to the request seriously and created a nerve-racking, dramatic score that came with a twist at the end.
“I think it actually hit Earth in that version,” Bentley said jokingly.
Once the performance with Bates concluded, Bentley pointed to the crew signaling them to play the final song of the broadcast.
Bentley left the studio and proceeded to run up and down the halls doing what a music director and host of a morning show has to do — work.
“I’ll get e-mails from him late at night,” Ariana Morgenstern, producer of “Morning Becomes Eclectic” said. “The guy is working nonstop.”
Eventually Bentley had time to take a break and reflect on his three months as music director and host of “Morning Becomes Eclectic” since taking over from Nic Harcourt in December.
Response has been “mostly positive” from fans about Bentley’s short reign at the helm. Bentley said the morning show is still a “work in progress.”
“I’m going to be my own harshest critic,” Bentley said. “I can assure people that I’m listening closer than anyone and I’m critiquing.”
Bentley paused briefly to reach for a tissue before sneezing.
“I’ve been really frustrated this week because I’ve had this cold and it’s something that affects my on air sound, demeanor and energy level,” Bentley said. “It’s something that’s sort of out of my control, so it’s kind of frustrating.”
Bentley joked that his new status at the popular KCRW radio station that broadcasts from a studio beneath Santa Monica College has made him a celebrity.
“[KCRW is] going to South by Southwest [SXSW] and I fully expect to be treated like a king,” Bentley said jokingly about his upcoming live broadcast from the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas today and tomorrow.
Bentley hopes his status will allow him more realistic applications.
“My biggest fantasy is being able to get into a bar in Austin,” Bentley said with a chuckle.
Bentley will be having some special guests in his studio during the broadcast from SXSW. Peter, Bjorn and John on March 19, and PJ Harvey and John Parish on March 20.
Beyond the live broadcast, Bentley is using his position as music director to plan a large dance party called RadioActive, which happens on April 11 at the Legendary Park Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles. The party will feature most of KCRW’s DJs, who will be spinning tunes in four different rooms.
“This is the first time we’ve intentionally organized and produced a dance music event,” Bentley said with enthusiasm. “It’s always been like the after effect or by accident or ‘oh my God, people are dancing, what’s going on?’ It’s definitely a part of KCRW’s personality. It’s what I have brought to the station over the years.”
Digging into his past Bentley took a moment to reminisce on his former evening show and his love of electronic music, which he featured regularly.
“People do have a legitimate gripe with the fact that I was such a champion of electronic music and there’s not really — that sound isn’t really available, it just sort of went away all of the sudden,” Bentley said. “I know, I get it, but it’s not something that is appropriate in the morning so I don’t know what to do. I love that music too but it’s just not a ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ thing.”
What Bentley did set out to do from the start was to make the morning show more inclusive than it was before. Broadening the audience and the music was among his major goals.
“I think just the change from the last music director to me has meant a different definition of eclectic,” Bentley said. “That’s going to bring in more listeners.”
Bentley has added more world music, jazz, classical, folk, and some electronic music to attract more listeners. He did acknowledge it is hard grab people’s attention because KCRW is not “spoon feeding you pop music.”
When Bentley selects music for his morning broadcast he tends to follow his instincts. He just gets that “gut feeling” that tells him the hits from the misses. He always makes sure to steer away from songs that feel “too polished” or “too mainstream” for KCRW.
Once the microphone is turned off, Bentley appears to be a very approachable person who works well with the staff at KCRW, whether it’s an assistant or another on-air personality. Bentley seems to have time to trade jokes and stories with anyone in the hallways of KCRW.
“He’s very empowering to the staff and very encouraging to the DJs,” Morgenstern said, adding that he is also funny on and off the air.
Bentley feels very comfortable in his new role and enjoys being able to work in the area where he grew up.
Before his time at KCRW is up he hopes to establish two different benefit concerts for the station. One would be a continuation of RadioActive every spring and a concert during the winter holidays.
“For the here and now I’m really happy and it’s a great job,” Bentley said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s challenging but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”