J.T., the morning show host of the new KIX 98.7 FM, started in rock music on the radio more than 35 years ago and swore he would never do twang. But that didn’t last long.
“One of my first jobs was a country station, and it became my favorite job,” said J.T., who is known as John Thomas when he’s not on the air. “And a big part of it was working with country artists. It was so different from rock and roll. More down-to-earth people, not as much ‘diva.’”
Now, J.T. is a country convert. His only complaint is there aren’t many country music “bathroom songs” — eight-minute tunes like “Stairway to Heaven,” that give disc jockeys a much-needed break.
But, he has learned to play the hand he is dealt. On his first day on the air, Aug. 1, at the newly expanded studios of Flagler Broadcasting LLC, in Bunnell, he was doing an interview on the air with Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates President Doug Baxter, when a man with a leaf blower walked along the sidewalk right outside the studio window. Given the fact that J.T. was expecting no background noise on the air, the sound seemed even louder, as if an airplane were taking off. But J.T. wasn’t bothered.
“This is a radio first for me,” he said during the interview with Baxter. “I’ve been doing radio for 38 years, and I’ve never had a blower walk by. But at least we won’t have grass clippings at the front door.”
That interruption was nothing, really, compared to two others in his career. In the 1980s, he was a program director when a DJ was arrested by a bounty hunter — on the air. “He had written some bad checks,” J.T. said, with a shrug. “Then, on my 30th birthday, our tower got hit by Navy jets that were playing chicken with the broadcast towers south of Dallas. … They ejected and saved themselves, but they knocked out my station, two other FMs and all three network TV stations.”
J.T. has been a radio personality in major markets — Detroit, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas. He has developed software to make radio stations run more smoothly. So, when he was laid off after his Jacksonville station suddenly switched formats, David Ayres snatched him up.
Ayres is the general manager of Flagler County Broadcasting LLC, and KIX is the fourth station he has opened here in four years. He said it will also be the last.
“This is our last child,” Ayres said. “We’re getting our tubes tied.”
The current lineup covers all four of the “broad appeal formats,” he added: WNZF 1550 AM (news/talk), Beach 92.7 FM (rock and roll), Easy Oldies 100.9, and now KIX 98.7.
“Country is a real social format. It’s phones, it’s requests, it’s community, it’s family,” Ayres said. “You have to be part of these people’s lives, and that’s what makes it fun, really. With Beach, we make fun of DJs and say, ‘No yada yada yada on the Beach,’ but on KIX, with country, the format really calls for it to be successful.”
J.T.’s addition brings the staff to 15 people at Flagler County Broadcasting.
The afternoon host to complement J.T. will be Kevin Kane, a drummer in the local country band, Native Skeeter.
“Kevin had radio experience,” Ayres said. “He tried out. We had a lot of applicants all over the country — dozens who wanted to come here. But it worked out great with him. … He fits our culture here.”
That culture means a high quality of life and no corporate control that would easily switch formats and lay people off based on calculations that take place across the country, Ayres said in his office.
Back in the studio, J.T.’s first morning on the Flagler County airwaves was nearing a close, and he asked Dave O’Dell off the air for a preview of the traffic report. O’Dell shook his head and said, “Nothing.”
He debated scratching the traffic altogether, but on the air, J.T. went with the report. O’Dell read it in his characteristic lilt: I-95 northbound is up to speed. And no accidents on any of our parkways at this time.
It was a fitting way to wrap up J.T.’s first official day of work. He’s done with the rat race of big radio companies. He’s ready to be part of the Flagler County community. O’Dell told him the good news about the relatively boring traffic report: “It’s pretty much like this every time.”