Last of the boss jocks

Ronnie Rush, radio deejay


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If video killed the radio star, then deregulation and the corporate consolidation of radio stations killed the disc jockey. Ronnie Rush, cut from the same cloth as celebrated radio personalities such as Wolfman Jack, Rick Dees and Casey Kasem, was an on-air personality for decades. His smoky, booming voice, coupled with a love for classic rock catapulted him onto the airwaves at local stations like KHYL Cool 101.1 FM—that is, until the modern business of radio drove him off the air. Turning to his pre-radio experiences as a roadie and road manager, Rush released his memoir, Life of a Roadie: The Gypsy in Me (Wise Media Group, $19.95), and launched his own concert-promotion company, Ronnie Rush Productions. Booking classic-rock acts, such as America and Rush, he sees it as a way to keep his love for music alive as well as live up to his personal mantra: Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

What inspired you to become a deejay?

I wanted to draw on my own personal experience, and that was people telling me how I had a great voice. I thought I would go into a nightclub and spin records, and maybe a program director would come in and say, “Hey, kid, you’ve got a great voice. You want to be on the radio?” That never happened, so after a couple of years of that, I decided to investigate and find out just how I could get to that next level on the air, and I found from calling program directors at various radio stations that [I needed experience]. I decided to go to school [for broadcasting], and actually just before I graduated, I was on the air in Placerville, and the next night, I came back to school, and [my classmates said], “Ronnie, we heard you on the radio.” I was 30 miles away, so that was kind of surreal for me, to realize I could be far away and people far away could hear what I was saying.

Can you recall a particularly interesting moment on the air?

A girl called the studio one day—I was doing 7 p.m. to midnight—and she said, “Hey, Ronnie, I’m in my bedroom, I’m under the covers, the lights are out.” And I said, “Well, would you like me to play a song?” And she says, “No, I just want you to keep talking.” I said, “Well, is there a song I can play for you or for your boyfriend?” I don’t know if she was teasing me or not, but those are the kind of the calls you get [sometimes]. I stayed away from the flirting thing, and I just played a song for her, and she was happy about that.

It’s been said the “golden age” of radio is dead. Thoughts?

Well, when I was on the air, I was playing all the hits, all the time, live. I was raised in Southern California listening to The Real Don Steele and Machine Gun Kelly at 93 KHJ Los Angeles, so raised as a teenager on Malibu Beach, everybody had the little transistor radios, [and] the “boss jock” was the thing in the ’60s and ’70s. When a corporation would come in and buy the smaller corporations, it set us at a disadvantage, because eventually, you can’t go down the dial and work because the people who own the station you’re at own the one down the dial.

Before these big corporations came in to play, I remember back in the '60s and '70s every station on the dial was owned by a different company, because that was the law until it was changed later on.

It's pretty much automated now, sterile. There's no feel to it, and for me, I had to be live. They have a thing called tracking, where you go down the hall and you pretend you're on the radio, then they air it later, and I didn't like that. I wanted to be live, in the moment, and that's real rare right now. So, I just decided to get out of radio and bring the artists to town, and just do the concert thing.

Why write a book?

After the recession hit in 2008, 2009, I thought I’d take a couple of years off and just write my memoir. [One day], about 3 in the morning, I got up [and was inspired] from being around the groups that I was with [when I was a roadie], and watching how they [would] create a song at 3 in the morning, and then after a couple of months in the studio, you’re driving in your car in Hollywood, [and] the song’s on the radio. So, I thought I got to witness that creativity, [and] I was inspired by that same kind of energy to write. It’s more than just the music end of it: The roadie, the road manager, concert promoter and my time in radio, it has a storyline to it.

Whoever is reading it, I hope they benefit from it and realize you can do something [great] despite [the challenges] ahead.

What do you miss about being on the radio?

The spontaneous thing, that’s what I miss. You go in the studio, you plug your headphones in, you turn the mic on, and you’re live. Everything is in the moment, and that’s sort of where my energy was, in the moment. I was talking, whoever was listening to the signal in the car on Highway 50, or whatever, would hear me instantly.