Posts Tagged ‘deejay’

As the last strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” (released a hundred years ago and now considered classical music) echo through the control room speakers, the paramedics draw the sheet over my faded “Your face was made for radio” t-shirt. They gently remove the headphones from my greyed head before covering my face and wheeling me out the front door I’ve held keys to longer than to any other place in my life. As they slide the gurney into the ambulance, one medic says, “I grew up listening to her.” The other replies, “So did my parents. And grandparents.”

That’s how I imagined my radio career would end. It ends this Sat., July 18, 2015 for reasons I wouldn’t have imagined. 

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Radio is all I ever wanted to do. Growing up, I recorded my own radio shows on a suitcase-sized tape recorder. At 19, I went on the air as an intern at KIMM/Hit 100 in Rapid City, SD and from there to a real announcer’s job with KJJQ/Q102 in Brookings, SD. I ended up at what’s now KCCR/KLXS in Pierre, SD where, with a few short lapses, I’ve spent nearly 25 years, moving from news director to sales rep to promotions director to PSA director and announcer.

For many years now, the radio station hasn’t felt like a job but more like a second home. A place I go to talk to my friends about anything and everything, to play good music, to inform and entertain. When I started in radio, we played the National Anthem before every sign-on, wrote copy on a typewriter, and used reel-to-reels, carts and turntables. That gave way to cassettes then CD’s then computers and satellite feeds. I feel old yet privileged to have been there for all those changes in my industry.

Deciding to leave was hard. Life made the decision for me. Many of my listeners might not know that for the last 16 years, I’ve had two jobs: a full-time job with the State of South Dakota, and my radio station gig. One feeds my family, the other feeds my soul. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, I didn’t consider quitting either one, although if forced to, which one to leave was obvious. But I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to go. Through testing, treatment, bone marrow biopsies, crappy chemo days and finally stem cell harvesting, I went on the air as many days as I could. Some days they weren’t my best shows ever but they were the best show I could give that day. Thanks for listening, either way.

I have a stem cell transplant coming up next month and I know it’ll kick that cancer to the curb. But when the transplant and recovery period are over, there can be only one. Job, that is. And practicality, which is not always my strong suit, has dictated which one it has to be.

I’ll miss the people, the spontaneity, the pace, the thrill of not knowing what’ll happen during my show and how to tell you about it when it does. And I’ll miss having a place to go to just be myself. I’ve never used an on-air name that wasn’t my real name because I always wanted radio to just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Maybe my departure from radio isn’t for forever but for just right now. I’ve left and been hired back several times over the years. But if it doesn’t happen again, that’s O.K. Life really is about time – how much you have and what you do with it. I’ve spent a lot of my time working. When you catch your second wind in life, maybe you should use it to climb new mountains and conquer new peaks. Some people go their whole lives without ever getting to do what they really want to do. I got to live my dream for well over half my life and it’s been the BEST TIME EVER.

My last “Kelly Thompson Show” this Saturday will be all requests, as many as I can find the music for and fit into two hours and 52 minutes. Those last 8 minutes are all mine for the final “Three Stories Hot off the Wire” and my good-bye song which will remain a secret until it’s played. If there’s something you want to hear between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. CT July 18, please post it in the comments below or email it to kelly@todayskccr.com by noon on July 16.

If you’re within 150 miles in any direction of Pierre, SD this Saturday morning, tune me in on your radio at 1240 AM. And if you’re not, I’ll be streaming live at todayskccr.com. It’ll just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Kel on the air

Talking the talk in my control room

All right, all right, they're MINE!

All right, all right, they’re MINE!

I have an autographed picture of Steppenwolf, a guitar pick caught at a Tesla concert, a t-shirt from the Lilithfair music festival. These are not the trappings of a country music fan. Because country music is not my thing. Except that I get paid to play it.

For the past nine months, I’ve hosted a morning radio show on a hot country station. Some people still can’t believe I’m doing it. Some days I’m one of them. It’s not totally inconceivable; my first deejay job 25 years ago was at a country station. For three years, I clocked in and played Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Tanya Tucker. Then I clocked out and listened to INXS, Motley Crue and the Violent Femmes. Work music didn’t come home, home music didn’t go to work. It was all very nice and tidy that way.

The first seven months of my latest radio gig was just like that. Then I noticed several country songs mysteriously appeared on my iPod. WTH? I don’t listen to country music at home. A quick flip through my playlists revealed to my horror that apparently now I do. And if my Top 25 Most Played list is to be believed, I listen to it A LOT.

Before you run out and buy me a cowboy hat and a shiny silver belt buckle, let me clarify – I don’t like ALL country music. Some of the lyrics still make me cringe and my twang tolerance level varies but there are a growing number of country artists whose inspiration is decidedly un-country.

If you’re a music purist, get ready to call for my head on a turntable because I’ve got news for you: there’s no such thing as pure music. The first drummers got their inspiration from raindrops falling on hollow logs. Rap draws from rock, rock pulls from gospel, alternative channels jazz, and Justin Bieber? Well, I don’t know where the hell he’s getting his stuff from but the point is that musicians find inspiration everywhere, regardless of genre. And so do music lovers.

So today I might be tapping my cowboy boots to Brad Paisley (yes, I now own a pair. O.K., two pair. Don’t judge me, they’re comfortable). But tomorrow I could be crooning to Etta James. And the day after that, banging my head to Metallica. Because when you’re deejaying your life’s soundtrack, you need a big album collection.

If you want to dive into country music, here are my top 5 picks (in no particular order) with which to test the waters: Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart“; Brad Paisley, “Southern Comfort Zone“; Zac Brown Band, “The Wind“; Dierks Bentley, “Home“; and Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round“.

What are you listening to these days that you never thought you would be?