For a man who hosted a public-radio talk show, Jabulani Leffall speaks a lot about revolution. He referenced it during his on-air resignation January 16 as host of KCUR 89.3's Central Standard. "This is a new world order on Central Standard and my last broadcast at KCUR 89.3 FM. I'm Jabulani Leffall, signing off in the words of Gil Scott-Heron: The revolution will not be televised. The revolution is live."
Leffall's so-called revolution is against conventional journalism, a 9-to-5 workday, and his own broadcast career. He said he made the choice to walk away from KCUR in an instant, on live radio.
"I made a conscious decision in one minute to end it," Leffall told The Pitch. "That one minute was between 10:57 and 10:58."
The Pitch reached Leffall on his cellphone a few hours after the surprise resignation. "Hi, you're on SoundCloud," Leffall answered. "Who am I talking to?" A Pitch reporter identified himself and asked Leffall why he quit the job he'd held since October 2010 (in the time slot previously held by local broadcast legend Walt Bodine).
Leffall, 37, agreed to talk about his decision to quit. But the interview complicated the story of his departure from the public-radio station. Leffall steered the conversation into strange territory, referencing race, eavesdropping, space aliens and God's existence.
The Pitch withheld publication of the interview until Leffall could provide context for his statements. This paper made numerous attempts to contact him in the two weeks after he quit. During that time, a friend of Leffall's called The Pitch to say the former host wasn't on drugs or alcohol. (Leffall said later that he has been sober nearly two years.)
On January 26, Leffall e-mailed The Pitch a statement about his resignation, and he later agreed to a second interview.
Leffall sat down with a Pitch reporter at the downtown Lattéland on January 31. He fiddled with an electronic cigarette (having quit real smokes) as he spoke between bites of granola with milk.
Leffall refused to talk about interoffice politics. He also hesitated to touch on the most startling things he'd said in his initial interview. Asked if he was going through a mental-health crisis, Leffall denied that he had been in any kind of trouble before acknowledging one factor contributing to his actions.
"Maybe. Possibly," Leffall responded. "But when you lose sleep, that's a mental-health component in and of itself."
Leffall, who has three sons (1, 3 and 7 years old), set the stage for what he was going through when he first spoke with The Pitch. He said he hadn't slept much in the days before quitting. He claimed that he was extremely tired during his last show and the subsequent interview.
"When we talked, I was probably working on two and a half, three hours of sleep for the whole day," he said. "I had just quit on-air. I was at a different location, kind of sitting there, pondering what I did. And everybody's calling, wondering what's going on. I got a lot of people [calling]. I probably said a lot of shit."
Leffall told the story of a guest on his show who suffered from schizophrenia.
"I tell him before the show, 'You got a friend in me,' " Leffall said. He added that he has never been diagnosed with the disorder. "I've been through similar traumas, similar circumstances."
Leffall likened his situation to Charlie Sheen losing his job on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men.
"I think it's easy to point to mental health when someone says, 'Enough. I don't want to be controlled anymore. I don't want to be in fear about a job anymore. I don't want to be in this control system,' " he said. "It's like when Charlie Sheen says, 'Tiger blood. I'm rich, so screw you. I don't have to conform to anything. I don't have to kiss up to my executive producer Chuck Lorre. I can do what I want. If I want to destroy myself with drugs or alcohol, that's my right.' "
During the first interview, Leffall claimed that KCUR treated him like a "black slave." He refused to explain that accusation at Lattéland. He repeated his claim, however, that KCUR management had been "eavesdropping" on him.
"I can't confirm that they were, but I have my suspicions," he said.
Leffall said there were times when he was recording promos in the studio and he noticed active Skype calls placed to KCUR's IT department. He said those calls turned the computers into listening devices.
During his first interview with The Pitch, Leffall asked several times if he was on a speakerphone or if people were listening in on the conversation. Told that no one else was listening, Leffall responded, "Do you have me on a closed-circuit loop like when they did the lethal injection of me today and executed me?"
Leffall said he was being figurative. "Leaving the show was a death, man," he said. "That's a metaphor."
Pressed about the meaning of the metaphor, Leffall said exhaustion and emotion had dictated his responses.
"I was sort of an insomniac, loopy after quitting my job," he said. "And I said that."
KCUR General Manager Nico Leone denies that the station eavesdropped on Leffall or treated him unfairly.
"With regard to the eavesdropping comment, we have not engaged in any attempts to listen to or monitor Mr. Leffall's conversations, nor can we imagine any circumstances under which we or anyone else would have a reason or desire to do so," Leone tells The Pitch in a statement.
"With regard to his treatment as an employee, Mr. Leffall was one of many part-time employees of KCUR and was paid comparably."
In the first interview, Leffall also said God's existence was a lie, and that people don't die; they go into space to be eaten by aliens. In the follow-up, he stepped back from that view. "Dude, if I call you at 4 o'clock in the morning, you might be on some stream-of-consciousness shit," he says.
Leffall claimed that he has a history of exhaustion. In late September 2011, he said, he was visiting his mother in Chicago. He was feeling the stress of financial issues, a baby on the way and work. He said his mother called an ambulance one night, and he was admitted to a hospital for fatigue. He said he spent between four days and a week "just trying to get healthy."
Leffall doesn't believe that his bosses at KCUR knew where he was, and he didn't have a chance to call them.
"I couldn't call them," he said. "I was in the fucking hospital. I couldn't call anyone."
A KCUR source told The Pitch that Leffall's absence "set some alarm bells off around the station."
"It was odd behavior," the source said. "He just didn't show up for the show one day."
When Leffall returned to work, he hosted Central Standard's first anniversary show at the Kansas City, Missouri, Central Library.
Weeks removed from his resignation, Leffall said he doesn't regret quitting. But he is still thinking about his decision. The subject of his final show was monopolies in the telecom industry. He said maybe his worries about eavesdropping and that day's topic might have played a role in his resignation.
"The fact that it was that particular show - if it had been casseroles, maybe I'm there right now," he said. "Maybe. If it had been an artist, maybe I'm there right now."
Leffall admitted that his resignation didn't hit him until he walked out of the studio that day.
"The reaction after I got outside after I quit, that was taxing," he said. "Then I had to realize, Oh damn, what did I just do? What did I really just do?"
Weeks later, he said, he "had a good cry."
"I grieved about it because it was very important, and I co-created it," he said. "It lasted three minutes. Maybe three minutes. I got it out."
Now, Leffall is moving on. A 1998 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, he says he's done with mainstream journalism. He and musician Miles Bonny have recently put out an album (Respect the Beard: Spoken Soul). And he's writing poetry, fiction and blog posts for BlackArtInAmerica.com.
"I'm going to create for a living," he said. "I'm going to make albums, I'm going to do books of poetry, I'm going to finish my novels, I'm going to continue to blog. I might get around to doing some DIY video. I'm going to create for a living."