Tawn Mastrey, 53; DJ was the voice of L.A.’s ‘80s heavy-metal scene

Times Staff Writer

Tawn Mastrey, a well-regarded heavy-metal disc jockey who built her reputation in the late 1980s at KNAC-FM (105.5) when the radio station was the official outlet for the then-thriving metal scene in Los Angeles, has died. She was 53.

Mastrey died Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis from the effects of hepatitis C, said her sister, Cara Mastrey. She had contracted the disease as a child.

More recently, Tawn Mastrey was host of the daily metal show “Hair Nation” on Sirius Satellite Radio. She left in June when she became too ill to work.


“Tawn was a key figure in the heavy-metal scene and was a deejay at influential hard rock and metal stations in Los Angeles, San Jose, Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis,” Sirius said in a statement on its website.

At KNAC, Mastrey was known as “the leather nun,” a nickname she said was coined early in her career by a program director at a San Francisco-area radio station who thought she resembled a character from a German comic book of the same name.

“She was unique because she had lived the life of a rock star and could portray that on the air without sounding arrogant or unapproachable,” Gregg Steele, senior director of music programming for Sirius, told The Times on Friday. “She knew how to speak the language of fans of that music.”

“Heavy-metal fans know what they want, and when they don’t get it, they let you know,” Mastrey told the New York Times in 1991. “Someone at KNAC once played ‘Helter Skelter,’ and we got a lot of listener complaints. Not enough edge.”

In the same story, Mastrey said of Jethro Tull’s receiving the first heavy-metal Grammy Award in 1989: “If I played Jethro Tull, the station would get bombed.”

Her radio career began in 1972.

In 1989, she left Long Beach-based KNAC, which was plagued by a weak signal, for KQLZ-FM (100.3), a station that billed itself as Pirate Radio and played modern rock.


“When Pirate Radio offered me three times the money with the promise of rocking in Los Angeles officially, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Mastrey said in a 2001 interview with the website Metal Sludge.

After Pirate Radio closed in the early 1990s, Mastrey moved to rock stations in Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis.

She regularly lent her voice to “Nights With Alice Cooper,” a syndicated weeknight radio show, and was host of “Absolutely High Voltage,” a biweekly Westwood One program that airs nationally and features such bands as Trapt and Korn.

When Mastrey became critically ill, local metal bands staged a concert in Huntington Beach in July to raise money to help her pay medical bills and to call attention to hepatitis C. Metal Knights, a local metal tribute band, headlined the show.

In a release promoting the concert, the band said, “The name Tawn Mastrey is synonymous with the world of hard rock and heavy metal. The ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s rock scene would not be what it was and is today without this wonderful voice that uplifted so many major acts.”