Getting into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame is a big deal when you consider the company includes Wolfman Jack and George Carlin among others. One local dee jay, Colonel St. James of 93.7 the Arrow, is among them. He has been on air since the 1970s and has worked at just about every rock and roll station imaginable including the legendary 101 KLOL.
While the radio business has changed dramatically over the years, the Colonel just keeps "spinning that hot wax" like he always has. Of course, there are probably fewer naked strippers adorning his control room console these days, but the beat goes on.
Here are his five questions.
As an aside, the last paragraph of his responses was something he insisted on being added. After my father died in 2008, St. James contacted me out of the blue on Facebook and asked if I was his son. He told me how my father, who was a long-time teacher for the Houston Independent School District and a former radio man himself, was the reason he ended up in radio, something that meant a great deal to me at the time and still does.
You've been in radio a long time. What have been the most significant changes to the industry since when you started? Radio certainly has changed since I started in the seventies. I used to walk into the studio, put a record on the turntable, and not only be heard all over the Houston area, but if the atmospheric conditions were right, I was talking to the Rio Grande Valley. Now, my music is all on a computer, it's digital (No more pops and scratches), and because of streaming on the Internet, I have listeners all over the world. As a matter of fact, I'm the most popular Disk Jockey in Antarctica! For real!
What is the craziest on-air experience you ever had? At KLOL our studio walls were covered from floor to ceiling with pictures of our Rock and Roll Army members. Thousands of photos! One night I had a date with a lady who worked at the infamous Montrose gentleman's club, the Boobie Rock. We convinced her to pose totally nude lying across the control board in the studio, we shot Polaroids (Remember those?), hung them on the wall. The next afternoon the owner's son came into the studio and asked if we had any new pictures. I said, "Well...these." He looked them over and said, "Those are nice....and ...uh...THOSE ARE HERE!!" Those were the days!
What was it like to be inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame? Being inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame is still a little surreal. I mean being included as a contemporary to those people is sometimes hard to believe. Not only are all the great broadcasters that I grew up listening to are in there, but also folks like George Carlin, Dan Rather, and Wolfman Jack are members. Being able to work on the radio as my career was certainly a joy, but like I said during my induction speech, this is like the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae!
Is there any classic rock band or song you ever just get sick of hearing? I don't really ever get tired of hearing any of the acts I play because this is the music I grew up with. Yes, I still enjoy "Stairway to Heaven"! However, the one song I absolutely despise and refuse to play is "All the Young Dudes" by Mott the Hoople. I HATE it! I went to work for a Classic Rock station in Miami back in the eighties and I told my boss how I felt about that song, and that he ever gave it to me to play, I would consider it a "Wild Card," and that I could play ANYTHING else. He called my bluff one morning and there it was on my playlist. Not only did I drop it and played "Fool for Your Stockings" by ZZ Top, but my partners and I made a big deal about it on the air and made him look pretty foolish. He never gave me that song again. My boss at the Arrow knows how I feel, and has promised never to put it on my show. Which answers the question, "Do you pick your own music?" No, not for decades.
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Tell me about how you became a Colonel. As I mentioned earlier, KLOL had an on-air promotion called the Rock and Roll Army. When I went to work there in the Fall of 1980 it was dying on the vine. Membership was around 8,000, and I even asked the management if they wanted to continue with it. They said if I'd head it up then they wanted to keep it going. I said okay, but the Rock and Roll Army card had to have a value. They agreed, and they went to work getting discounts at record stores, clothing shops, night clubs and concerts for Rock and Roll Army members.
The guy who had been on the air before me was called General, so I didn't want to be one of those, and the next rank down was Colonel. I had been using the St. James air name for a while and management wanted me to keep using it. So, there you have it....Colonel St. James. We grew the membership to over 300,000 worldwide and the name has stuck. Then, in 1994 I was commissioned an Honorary Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. So, I'm the same kind of Colonel that Harlan Sanders was. He just makes better chicken!
And one final thing that you didn't bring up and I feel I must mention. I went to Westbury High School back in the sixties, and your Dad, George Balke, was my Journalism teacher. I did an interview for the school paper of one of the KILT air personalities. My first trip to KILT. I knew that someday I would work there, but it was because of your Dad, his enthusiasm, his personality, and his friendship, that I was steered towards Journalism and Broadcasting as my career choice. It's a decision I have never regretted, and I'll never forget him!