The year was 1966. A gallon of gasoline cost $.32. Star Trek, Bonanza, and Bewitched were hot on the tube. Thunderball and Dr. Zhivago with heart throbs; Sean Connery and Omar Sharif dominated the big screen; and the sounds of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and the Supremes filled the air. Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson sat in the White House, and Charles Whitman stunned the world as bullets rained down from the University of Texas Tower.
1966 was also the year that an iconic personality and voice would take to the airwaves on KUT. Many things have changed since then — especially in Austin — but the wit, wisdom, and fountain of knowledge that is John Aielli and his signature radio broadcast "Eklektikos" have been a constant for the past 50 years. And the master shows no signs of letting up. When asked if he wasn’t on the radio what would he want to do, Aielli quipped, “I love this job. Why would I ever do anything else?”
What else indeed. With his almost encyclopedic knowledge of music and his off the cuff banter, Aielli is a local legend. His show "Eklektikos," from the Greek meaning chosen from the best, draws fans of all ages and interests. He is dedicated to promoting the cultural arts and revels in finding new talent for the show. In addition to a wide variety of music including live performances, Aielli has interviewed everyone from Dan Rather to Joan Baez to Sebastian Junger to Matthew McConaughey.
Listeners never know what to expect, and that is a large part of Aielli’s charm. Fueled by Aielli’s curious nature, the show always informs and entertains. His observations fuel watercooler discussions so much so that #ShitJohnAielliSays has become a Twitter favorite. A classically trained vocalist, Aielli’s annual holiday sing-alongs have attracted dedicated followers and large crowds for more than 30 years.
CultureMap caught up with Aielli at the offices of KUTX on the UT campus to discover just what it takes to stay fresh on air for half a century:
"What keeps me going? Every day when I go on the air I immediately connect with the audience. I talk about what is going on. About the weather, the traffic, and what is happening around town and the things they can relate to."
"I have enjoyed the changes in Austin because I am always changing. When I came here the sign said population 186,000 and now we are over 2 million. If you are not changing you are not alive."
"Being on campus brings me joy every day. I look at the young vibrant students who really are the heartbeat of this city. Being a college town makes a big difference in the intellect and interests of the city and the kind of artists and entertainment we attract. Everything related to the music scene goes to the level of attention and education of the audiences here in Austin."
"My loyal listeners are eclectic like me. At first they don’t know what to think because they haven’t heard anything on radio today quite like it but it really is just an old-fashioned variety show. Like Ed Sullivan I can include anything and everything and that is what makes it all interesting."
"One of the best things about this town is that Austin has superior classical music of all kinds but especially vocal music. The choirs here are as good as choirs anywhere in the world. Conspirare is a world-class organization. We have a wealth of great classical music organizations. The Austin Symphony is excellent and Peter Bay has done such a great job with it. Austin Classical Guitar — what Matthew Hinsley has done over the years with that organization is nothing less than astounding. Over the years he has taken it to international renown. I believe it is the most respected classical guitar organization in the world."
"I see my role as an intermediary between the artist and the listening public. I like to encourage my listeners to become the audience for these emerging artists. The more I can expose the artists and what they are about to the community the more I become the facilitator for the cultural arts."
"In 1966 people predicted that television would mean the end of radio. How wrong they were. People are in their cars and they are hungry for information. Where there are cars, there are radios and where there as radios there is KUTX and John Aielli. As long as that is the case I will stay on the air as long as they will let me. I am amazed that I get to do this every day."
With celebrations planned throughout the month, including John Aielli Day and a John Aielli bobble head figure, perhaps the best way to join the festivities is to tune in to "Eklektikos" on KUTX 98.9 Mondays through Thursdays from 6-9 am.