Remembering Jon Kincaid
The Atlanta deejay did more than play music
Atlanta musicologist Jon Kincaid passed away Wednesday, January, 5, 2022. He was 57 years-old. A former program director for the Georgia Institute of Technology’s WREK Atlanta radio station, Kincaid hosted the long-running program, “Personality Crisis,” which aired live every Sunday night for close to four decades — until his health started to falter and the Coronavirus pandemic changed the way we live.
Taking the name from a song by glam-rockers and punk progenitors The New York Dolls, Kincaid started the show in the early ‘80s when punk and new wave music was yet to be played on commercial radio, and music, as well as much of the audience drawn to the new sound, was undergoing its own personality crisis . Every Sunday night Kincaid took to the airwaves to introduce new songs by the latest bands with records released on the many then-fledgling independent labels — and the then few major labels willing to support the new music — and to offer listeners information on the bands and band members. Kincaid kept his audience up to date not only on new music, but when many of the artists would appear in Atlanta — no easy feat in pre-internet days — promoting those shows with non-commercial announcements and ticket-giveaways via the station.
WREK-FM was the perfect vehicle for Kincaid, as well as so many other Georgia Tech students who sought some sort of musical refuge in the small studio on the Georgia Tech campus. Todd Ploharski was one of those students. Thomas Peake another. Amy Potter, Arthur W. Davis, George Magiros, whether as deejays, program directors, or station managers, they all strived to make WREK the diversified radio station it is, and to allow Jon Kincaid the ability to not only follow his heart and his gut in what he played on “Personality Crisis,” but to interview many of the otherwise unknown touring bands and to present and document local bands live in the studio on the show he engineered, Live at WREK. Kincaid was such a force in presenting the unheard and the unpredictable that Atlantan Doug Hughes began taping Kincaid’s shows every Sunday night.
Standing on the dance floor
There are only 12 people here
I see Jon today as I did over 35 years ago
Holding up his Walkman cassette recorder
If I could make a bronze statue of Jon
And put it up in front of 688 Spring Street … I would
His love of musical history and relevance was impressive
I was a guest on his radio show “Personality Crisis” numerous times…
He was always AA/VIP at any show I did…
I welcomed his requests, many of which I could never remember … usually some song I did at the Metroplex when I thought no one was watching.
He was eclectic to say the least.
I always dreaded the after show critiques and begrudging Compliments with a wry smile and laugh. It made me who I am.
I loved listening to his radio shows Sunday nights from a small studio on the Georgia Tech campus. WREK.
He turned me on to many deep cuts and live versions of songs I would have never found on my own…
That’s what makes expressing ourselves, sometimes wondering if anyone is listening, so important… there’s always the one. Someone out there that cares…
Thank you, Jon, and the thousands like you that share your knowledge and expertise of music history with us … it is our responsibility to continue on this journey .
With this brief message I will now return you your regularly scheduled program…
Thank you for letting me share just a few memories with all of Jon’s present and future fans.
— Kevn Kinney, Drivin N Cryin
During the course of his musical adventures, Kincaid was a regular at clubs like 688, The Metroplex, The Point, and The Cotton Club, where national and international touring bands would perform, as well as at smaller places, including The Bistro, Frijolero’s, Margaritaville, and The Dugout, where many local bands got their start. A true believer in Atlanta music, he was an avid supporter of local bands. He was always at shows. He was always wherever music was being played.
Kincaid was one of the first to champion Drivin N Cryin, the then new band fronted by Milwaukee transplant, singer-songwriter Kevn Kinney on guitar, with ex-members of The Nightporters, Tim Nielsen and Paul Lenz, on bass and drums, respectively. He was also the first to give air time to bands as disparate as the Indigo Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, and Neon Christ.
Smart, articulate, and with a memory like a steel trap, Kincaid’s reputation grew as much for hosting the long-running “Personality Crisis” as for his encyclopedic knowledge of Atlanta bands and concerts. Want to know which performers jumped off the balcony and into the mosh pit at the Metroplex? Ask Jon. What were the differences in Iggy Pop’s set lists during his week-long stint at 688? Ask Jon. Kincaid remembered everything. While social media is now a place for people to ask questions about various Atlanta music scenes of the past, to dissect clubs, concerts and other events, Kincaid didn’t dwell in such activity. He knew already all the answers. Like so many of us who were a part of that era, Kincaid lived and breathed the scene. And like a few of us, Kincaid didn’t have to rely on others for half truths, rumors and innuendos, he kept extensive notes, and if he didn’t remember something off the top of his head — which was rare — he could turn to his notebooks for the facts.
Kincaid was also a collector. Not only of records and cassettes, and later, CDs, but of the memorabilia of the Atlanta scene from the ‘80s onward. Not that he would scour the city for items he didn’t have — more times than not, I would run into him looking for LPs and CDs at out-of-the-way music stores and thrift shops in search of music he didn’t have — but, as the events happened, he would grab something off the wall to take home with him as he left the club or venue. His collection of fliers and posters documenting live shows is legendary.
Kincaid’s older sister, Tammy Kincaid Foley, takes pride in knowing she helped develop his love of music. In her Facebook post the day of his death, she recounts “taking him to concerts and driving him to record stores” when he was younger, which lead him on his career path. She also acknowledges that “Jon was a true brainiac and a nerd before nerds were cool. He always read everything he could get his hands on and excelled in the classroom. He did very well on the SAT which garnered him acceptance to Georgia Tech, Duke, Auburn University, and Harvard.”
But as Kincaid was preparing for college, their father passed away, and, with their mother wanting Jon to stay close to home, “he (decided on) Georgia Tech and told me that he chose Harrison Dorm because he could take the tunnel and walk over to 688 and catch a show.”
Kincaid suffered from “heart and diabetes issues,” Foley says, stating “It was thought that the radiation he endured for cancer at 10 months old caused his heart issues.”
In 2004, Kincaid had quadruple bypass surgery. Long-time friend Ploharski, who was on the air with Kincaid for early episodes of “Personality Crisis,” along with Brad Syna, who had known Kincaid from his own radio days at WRFG-FM, organized a benefit concert for the ailing radio personality at the Variety Playhouse. Drivin N Cryin, R.E.M. and other area bands Kincaid supported early in their careers, came to his aid, donating their time and/or memorabilia to raise money for Jon to help cover his medical expenses.
Foley recalls that, at the time, Kincaid’s “employer had gone out of business and he was jobless.” Kincaid’s need of financial aid is worth mentioning because, for the almost forty years he was on the air at WREK, he never got paid. He continued the show long after he graduated Georgia Tech, because of his love of music and the chance to turn people on to something they may not have yet heard, not for financial gain.
On Monday, January 3, Kincaid suffered a heart attack. Sensing something was wrong, he drove himself to the hospital where he remained for two days. Despite strict COVID protocols, both Foley and her daughter, Bethany, were able to be at his side during his stay.
“Jon never married or had children,” Foley says, but “my daughter Bethany was like a daughter to him and people sometimes thought she was his. She and I were with him all afternoon before he passed.”
Through the use of her cell phone, Foley was also able to allow a few of Kincaid’s close friends, like Ploharski — who probably spoke on the phone with Kincaid every other day for 38 years — the chance to visit him via Facetime one last time.
A cornerstone of Atlanta’s punk and new wave scene, Kincaid died the afternoon of January 5, the 44th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ U.S. debut in Atlanta at the Great Southeast Music Hall.
My brother Jon, is a cute, little red haired boy, that will make you laugh with joy
What should we name him, is what my parents said
My dad jumped up and yelled “Fred”
He was so round and fat and cute, I went out and bought him a new little suit
He laughed and cooed and cried for food
Now is he almost 4 years old, he does his chores without being told
He likes alligators and snakes and everything mother bakes
Even though he is a booger, my mom and dad say he is full of sugar
My little brother may be president someday, after all his initials are JFK
— Tammy Kincaid, eight years old
After his death, tributes to Kincaid started filling social media sites. Friends; musicians; record and CD dealers and collectors; music industry people; fans; fans of bands who didn’t know him personally, but knew of him from the insightful and knowledgeable posts he would make; and radio colleagues — the community that came together during the days of 688 and The Metroplex — all took the time to express their shock and sorrow at the loss of a person who was shy and introverted in person, but on the air, was the voice of a generation of music lovers who found solace and refuge — and their own identity — in punk rock, new wave, and the alternative music those genres would become, in the years after Kincaid first started playing the music during his shift at the old WREK studios adjacent to the Tech Coliseum.
Creative Loafing asked many of Kincaid’s colleagues and friend to offer their thoughts, or special memories, regarding him. Included are edited versions of their responses.
Randy Blazak, sociology professor, music journalist — Before there was Wikipedia, there was Jon Kincaid. At least when it came to music. The man’s brain was a repository of countless factoids about music. Who produced the last Wall of Voodoo single or who was the original drummer for Nihilist? Jon knew that. He brought that knowledge to his WREK shows (accumulating it from ) all the live shows he went to (carrying his recorder and pen and paper). He was the chronicler of Atlanta music, kind of like The Watcher in the Marvel “What If…?” series. They even sort of look alike.
My contact with Jon came primarily through his affinity for Drivin N Cryin, for whom I was an early manager. It was his recognition of the magic that Kevn, Tim, and Paul were creating in late 1985 that brought the band to a wider audience. They were regular guests of his “Personality Crisis” show, which I would record off the air at the Treehouse, our apartment HQ. I sent a tape of one show, that Kevn had titled, “50 Ways to Cook a Chicken,” to Bono of U2. U2 was in town the following year and Bono grabbed me by the shoulders, saying, “Randy, I am a Drivin N Cryin’ fan!” Shortly after that, DNC was signed to Island Records, U2’s label. I like to think it was because Jon managed to bring out the best of the musicians he supported.
It’s hard to imagine an Atlanta music scene without Jon there to keep track of all the players. He was the gardener of the family tree, pruning, watering, and, when needed, spreading some fertilizer. In an era of algorithms and digitally curated playlists, he was the last DJ. As an occasional guest on his show, I got to see his craft in action, a vinyl platter in one hand and his notepad in the other. He linked the songs to the endless stories in his head in one seamless performance art piece. His listeners were brought in by his passion for records, bands, and songs that mattered. We are all made weaker by his departure.
Randy DuTeau, Neon Christ — The impact Jon Kincaid had on the Atlanta music scene is immeasurable. It was with sadness I learned he passed away. He had been battling serious health challenges. In his passing, I wish for him to be healthy and rocking in the stars. He was very good to Neon Christ. WREK played us regularly, and it was a great honor to be invited to play a Live at WREK set. He was the engineer. Thank you, Jon. From all of us. Your musical knowledge was remarkable, and your support of Atlanta music genuine and deeply appreciated. Thank you and safe travels.
Gregory Nicholl, author and journalist — I first met Jon in 1982 while camped out overnight to buy tickets to see The Clash. It was a long, chilly night on the pavement outside Peaches Records and Tapes on Peachtree Street. As fate would have it have it, Jon was in line right behind me. We struck up a conversation about music that lasted — admittedly with numerous gaps — for nearly 40 years.
Through the next four decades I would run into Jon at concerts, usually right before the music started or immediately afterwards. He’d walk up to me and pick up our chat as if mere minutes (instead of weeks or months) had passed. There was never any small talk, none of the “How-ya-doin?” or “Where-ya-working-now?” stuff. He’d just open with, “Hey, I made you a cassette of my interview with Joey Ramone,” or, “”Hey, have you heard Dee Dee’s rap record?!”
Jon was generous to a fault, always gifting people rare recordings he’d dubbed. He knew what kinds of things intrigued his friends and he was constantly sending emails (and later texts) with links to news stories about our favorite musicians. Turn Jon loose in a new second-hand store, and late that night your iPhone would light up with images of strange foreign releases or odd bootleg albums he’d unearthed, things you immediately just had to have.
He was also one of the most guileless people I’ve ever known. I never heard an uncharitable word cross his lips. Even more remarkable was his incredible memory. He could instantly recall the exact dates and venues where just about any touring band had ever played in Atlanta, even describe their set and tell you who their opening act was! For those of us who dabble in music journalism, this astonishing talent made Jon an incredibly valuable resource, one which — just like his upbeat and tirelessly inquiring personality — will be painfully missed.
As his memorial service (Saturday, January 22) began, an instrumentalist played “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” The tune struck me hard, personally, because it appears in Sam Peckinpah’s 1962 movie, Ride the High Country, from which my wife and I borrowed the judge’s speech to use in our wedding ceremony. Suddenly it hit me that with Jon’s passing, another huge milestone in my life was being crossed. One thing’s for sure. When that roll is called – “up yonder” or anywhere else — Jon Kincaid will be there.
Jeanne Potter, former staff member, WRFG-FM — Jon Kincaid’s name was synonymous with WREK’s unique music programming and the vibrant local music scene in Atlanta. He was always supporting and promoting local bands on his show “Personality Crisis,” a 10 p.m. Sunday night fixture that became a ritual for many of us. He had a very sly sense of humor, you had to listen carefully to catch some of his joking comments. He was humble and never had that “look at me I’m a DJ” attitude. He was also kind and helped usher many young bands into the Atlanta market and beyond.
Jon used to visit the WRFG studios when Brad Syna was on air and I was waiting for my show to begin. Jon would surprise me with his vast musical knowledge, making me wonder how he fit all that knowledge into one brain. I always learned something and usually we were laughing at the same time. I still see Jon standing to my left in the muted lights of the turntables with this mischievous smile as he entertained us with his stories of his adventures in the local clubs we music nerds inhabited until the sun came up.
Atlanta has truly lost a musical treasure with Jon’s passing. I don’t know of anyone else who can match his knowledge and his generosity. I am sure that where ever he is now, there is DNC on the turntable and laughter.
Of course. I am still trying to grasp the fact that he is no longer here. A loss like this always makes me realize how fragile we all are and how lucky we have all been to experience what we had here in Atlanta.
Doug Hughes, Perimeter Records — I first met Jon Kincaid inside WREK’s air studio in late 1987, recording My Evil Twin for the first Perimeter Christmas cassette. He played my bass and sang, breaking a bass string in the process. Everything Jon did in that band was full on intensity and he displayed that intensity in every live performance. We never took ourselves seriously but Jon relished the opportunity to write and sing lyrics from his ever present lyric notebook. I was amazed by his ability to write lyrics on the spot for whatever song idea we were working on. His knowledge of underground music, his skewed sense of humor, and an uncanny ability to accurately impersonate a variety of people is what I’ll always remember.
Arthur W. Davis, WREK — He did a lot of impersonations. When Jon, Chuck Furlong, and I hosted “The Punk Rock Anarchy Hour,” we’d have celebrity call-ins from Jerry Garcia and the like who were, of course, all Jon. And the three of us would talk like meathead punks over the air. I say that loving punk rock. Anyway, one day I ran into a local record distributor, and we talked about the show. He said, “That was you guys!? I thought it was ‘true punks.’”
“Anarchy Hour” was the show where we broke one of the station’s rules. I think I was Station Manager and Jon was Music Director at the time. So we had to suspend our own show. We gave ourselves a six week suspension and recorded a ridiculous announcement for the suspension each week. Recording those was as much fun as the show!
Chris Mills, filmmaker — I am not sure whether I first met Jon at a record store or a concert. I am sure it was around 1983. I was immediately impressed with how much he knew of DIY/Punk/Indie music, and how enthusiastic he was about it all! It felt like I ran into him at every concert I attended! And he would be intently watching the bands, paying deep attention to every note and lyric. He loved big bold and intense performances.
Pretty much all genres interested him, and he would gleefully share suggestions of who else to listen to if I liked an artist. If a band was playing, he was in the thick of the audience, paying close attention. Seeing music was an eternal adventure for Jon, and he would try to see music every night if possible.
I remember one long weekend of ours, seeing the Ramones (twice) Black Flag and Saccharine Trust, ranging from an Emory ballroom, to the Strand in Marietta, and back downtown to 688. In the midst of it, he interviewed Joey for WREK. With WREK being a bastion of industrial music and avant garde performances, I remember Jon performing at one of Glenn Thrasher and Ellen McGrail’s Destroy All Music festivals with fellow Atlanta radio legend Kim Turner. No matter how many radio shows he DJ’ed, how many concerts he saw, or how many records he heard, he never lost the sense of wonder and fun for original music.
Dugan Trodglen, musician, — Anyone who knew Jon Kincaid knows he is on the rock ’n’ roll heaven guest list.
Fun and emblematic memory: thanks to my (and Jon’s) late friend Thomas Peake, I would occasionally have the pleasure of co-hosting WREK’s Sunday Special, a show focusing on a specific artist. It came on right before Jon’s “Personality Crisis” show, and he would sometimes find a cover of the Sunday Special artist to play on his show. When Thomas and I did a program on saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, I challenged Jon to find a rock band that covered Pharoah. He was already holding a copy of Gun Club’s The Las Vegas Story album, featuring their mini-cover of “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” Respect.
Kim Roberts Cresswell, artist, musician — Saying goodbye to old friends is incredibly heartbreaking. Saying goodbye to Jon Kincaid even more so, because he was always there. Always. At every show I was at. Always writing down details. And always talking about music. If I ever wasn’t sure about a fact, or an event, I could ask Jon. Sometimes we’d talk for hours. Sometimes I would just see him across the room about to head into a show. For a long time, when we first met, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, and I was so nervous that I was either bothering him or he just didn’t want to talk, but, then I discovered what a big sweetheart he was. It was always a gift to talk to Jon.
He and I used to debate about each of us being at the first Drivin N Cryin show. He said it was one place and I was certain it was another. We never really finished that debate. It’s okay, because I’m not one hundred percent certain.…
Saying goodbye is always hard. Saying goodbye to Jon is major. He did so, so very much for the Atlanta music scene and beyond. He will always be a legend to me and to so many others. —CL—
A gofundme page — https://www.gofundme.com/jon-kincaid-memorial-fund — has been set up by his sister, Tammy Kincaid Foley, to offset the medical expenses incurred from Jon Kincaid’s lengthy illness.