Jon Kincaid, deejay who rocked Atlanta, dies at 57

Jon Kincaid, in WREK T-shirt, with friends in downtown Atlanta. Kincaid befriended Georgia bands and promoted their music on his weekly show.
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Jon Kincaid, in WREK T-shirt, with friends in downtown Atlanta. Kincaid befriended Georgia bands and promoted their music on his weekly show.

Credit: courtesy

Credit: courtesy

Jon Kincaid’s life was buoyed by the interplay of lyrics, melodies and hooks.

A deejay on Atlanta’s rock music and alternative radio scene for decades, he was always on the hunt for well-crafted lyrics and killer guitar licks and loved discovering then spreading the word on emerging bands and great music.

Using his Sunday night show “Personality Crisis” on Georgia Tech’s WREK, he was among the first to introduce Atlantans to such artists as the Indigo Girls and Smashing Pumpkins plus punkers like The Jody Grind and Mission of Burma. A cheerleader for local bands, he helped further the careers of a number of artists by giving them exposure and feedback.

“I think he was looking for honesty, the truth,” said Tim Nielsen of Georgia-based band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. “Just no frills, working class, tell-it-like-it-is rock music.”

Kincaid’s early interest in rock found a home as he pursued a business degree at Tech. At 21, he started working at WREK. Then from 1984 until a recent period of declining health forced a pause, he helmed “Personality Crisis.”

Kincaid, 57, died of heart failure Jan. 4 at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. A memorial service is being planned.

He could never be mistaken for a casual music fan.

“He had an incredible memory and an encyclopedic mind,” said older sister Tammy Kincaid Foley. And a real knack for spotting emerging talent.

“I remember him once saying we need to go to the Biltmore Hotel,” said Foley. He said, ‘There are these two bands you need to hear.’”

The early 1980s event was in the hotel lobby, where she found herself up-close and personal with a young, somewhat green but promising Athens export named R.E.M.

Kincaid became friendly with them and with the members of Drivin’. The group labeled him their unofficial archivist.

“He knew more about our band than we did,” said Nielsen with a laugh. “We could call him up and say ‘What was that song we did one time and at what venue?’”

Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ lead singer Kevn Kinney recalls how Kincaid once drove through a snowstorm for one of their album release events at Athens’ 40 Watt Club. With the roads worsening that night, R.E.M’s Peter Buck invited them all to crash at his Victorian home.

Kincaid devoured music publications, wrote for industry magazines and haunted local record stores.

His radio show developed a dedicated following of listeners enamored of his recipe of carefully curated music, stories about groups and artists plus live and recorded interviews.

Foley recalls the time her brother interviewed punk group The Ramones on the station, and found out that Joey Ramone had a raging sinus infection and needed medication.

“He drove them around Atlanta. Joey was trying to get someone to fill a prescription and Jon knew a guy from high school whose dad was a pharmacist, and they went to his place but they wouldn’t fill the prescription because it was written in Florida.”

His expertise was by no means limited to rock, said Amy Potter, a former WREK station manager.

Kincaid programmed much of the station’s regular playlist, a musical soup blending everything from blues, bluegrass, post-punk and other forms of rock to jazz, classical and big band selections.

Potter recalled one of the school’s deans trying to shoo Kincaid out when he continued working in various roles long after his student days were over.

She resisted. “I couldn’t tell Jon to leave,” she said. “He was always there and helping out,” both with his music knowledge and educating generations of students on just how college radio was done.

Kincaid struggled with his health in recent years, which his friends knew about. When he needed quintuple bypass surgery in 2004, local artists put together a benefit concert at the Variety Playhouse. He’d been working day jobs to feed his volunteer radio habit but had no medical insurance.

“He was just a music geek” is how friend Scott Long summed him up. And his interests were never shallow.

“Once he jumped into any rabbit hole he got into, he chased it all the way to the end.”

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