By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Since August 1983, Ashley has fostered the best country radio show in this town, introducing his pledge-driven flock to the likes of Junior Brown, Buddy Miller, Robert Earl Keen, and the other Texpatriots who never found a home in Nashville. His was the Yin to KSCS's tired twang, the last bastion of bona fide Texas music.
Ashley says he left the station over a series of events that began in January 1995, when local accountant and KNON board member Sue Turner stepped in as acting station manager, and concluded three weeks ago, after an on-air battle between two other jocks. Turner was replacing Elliott, who came to the station in 1994 and turned the station upside-down, forcing out a number of popular disc jockeys--including Ranger Rita, who literally held the place together--and dumping handfuls of popular programs, including the folk and bluegrass shows.
Elliott turned KNON into an R&B station during the day and a jazz station at night, bringing in friends to DJ for paychecks and alienating the longtime volunteers who toiled for free. Some regulars remained, including Ashley, Dave Chaos, and EZ Eddie D, but KNON was no longer the "Voice of the People"; it was the voice of one man, Elliott, whose tenure lasted only a matter of months.
Ashley says Turner approached him shortly after Elliott's departure and asked Ashley how to fix the damage wrought by Elliott--namely, how to increase pledge revenue that had significantly fallen off when the popular programs had been axed. Ashley says he told Turner to bring back the canceled shows and fired DJs. "I also told her, 'Let's elevate our production values by sharpening our skills," Ashley recalls. "I told her we have a very low-grade and unprofessional sound."
According to Ashley--long the most successful fund-raiser during KNON's pledge drives, bringing in more than $6,000 in recent drives--he struck a deal with Turner that would allow Ashley to become the format director for the weekday "Super Roper" shows. But Turner handed the job over to Monday "Super Roper" jock Trevor Fought, who had been at the station five years compared to Ashley's 12.
"Why the guy with the least experience and the worst skills in the history of broadcasting is the format director is beyond me," Ashley says. "I was shocked. I was appalled. I told Sue, 'He knows the least about our music, he's the worst DJ ever, and ya'll chose Trevor?'"
Turner was on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. Fought says he can't discuss anything regarding Ashley's departure because all calls concerning it are being forwarded to attorney Roger Albright, who acts as legal counsel for the station.
When reached last Thursday, Albright had no idea Ashley left KNON and had no idea why the station was referring calls to him; he explained he had been out of town and out of the loop. In fact, Albright had no idea who Ashley is: "I literally couldn't pick him out of a lineup," Albright said.
Ashley points to an incident three weeks ago as "the straw that broke the camel's back." According to Ashley and "Super Roper" jock Kelly Cutler, Cutler was on the air begging for money when Fought came in and started telling Cutler to play certain spots. Cutler says he told Fought the microphone was open, sending their conversation out to the audience, but Fought wouldn't relent.
"I felt like throwing him through the window or quitting," says Cutler, who had been at the station since 1987. "Trevor comes in with these carts that are out of date, and I had the mic open. He came in there and wouldn't stop nagging me about playing this cart, and I said, 'Trevor, I'm begging for money to pay your salary.' It's just piss-poor management. They don't have a clue." Again, Fought says he isn't allowed to give his side of the incident because station management has "laid down the law" and told reporters to talk only to KNON's lawyer.
Ashley says he was incensed over the incident, but he didn't turn in his resignation until Fought hired Big Jim Sarver to replace Cutler--"a slap in the face to all the volunteer DJs" who should have been next in line for the gig, Ashley says. Ironically, Sarver, a Western swing aficionado, had been at the station once before, from 1985 to 1990, and even hosted one of the "Super Roper" slots. Ashley was offended by the choice to bring Sarver back, and quit the next day.
"All I ever wanted to do was spread my religion of Texas music and alternative country," Ashley says. "I never had a hidden agenda, an ulterior motive, any of that, but there's been no leadership, no focus, no direction at KNON. It's like a chicken with its head cut off, and I don't want to be associated with a bunch of losers anymore." In the meantime, KNON continues to function without a full-time program director or station manager--and, bit by bit, without the on-air personalities that made KNON the voice of more than a few people.