‘I’ve loved every minute’ DJ St. John retires
Radio in Grand Junction is about to change with the looming retirement of longtime broadcaster Robert St. John, who has worked for nearly 40 years in the Grand Valley.
St. John’s final show will be from 5:30–10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20, on The Moose 92.3, his station home for more than a decade.
St. John, whose real name is Darrel Carlson, has worked for a number of local stations during his career in Grand Junction, including KQIL, KQIX, KSTR, KKNN (95 Rock) and KMOZ (The Moose).
St. John, 66, started at a station outside Wichita, Kan., when he was just 19 and worked his way up in less than a year to KFH in Wichita.
He moved to Colorado in the early-1970s, working first in the Cortez area, before finally settling in Grand Junction in 1974.
Despite job offers in larger markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver, he decided to stay here, he said.
St. John invited me to join him and co-host Chenoa Bottinelli for a recent morning show. I arrived at the station’s 1360 E. Sherwood Drive offices at 6 a.m. to find St. John in his trademark Loki vest. Chenoa was in heels. Both were wide awake and smiling.
Because St. John was working, I asked him questions when he wasn’t on the mic, making for a fast-paced interview.
We talked about his 40-plus year career, Ed Whiskey, retirement plans and UFO sightings.
Melinda Mawdsley: How did you get into radio?
Robert St. John: It got a Hallicrafter receiver and took it and turned it into a transmitter at 10 years old. I made an oscillating tube and got it where I could talk on this radio 3 to 4 miles from my house. I put an antennae on it, and started doing live broadcasts of my neighborhood football games. I did that until I was 15. I kept refining my craft, I guess.
Mawdsley: Did you get calls from listeners?
St. John: We got calls. We did shows. I had a record player that I plugged into the transmitter and had a speaker that was an old telephone that I converted into a microphone and talked on it. I would do an extension out the back window of my house into the backyard so I could call the games… Then one day, I said I wanted to do the real thing and went out and bought a Citizens Band (or CB) radio and started broadcasting for real. Anybody that had a radio could hear me within 2 miles of my house. I talked to the world until I was about 18. ... That’s all I ever wanted to do was radio, to be on the radio and do radio.
Mawdsley: Are you entirely self-taught, then?
St. John: I took a few classes on my own that I paid for back in Wichita to get into this, but nothing other than that. They were classes on how to become a radio announcer, and it was put on by the disc jockeys in Wichita. Mostly, I’ve learned on my own.
Mawdsley: Why radio?
St. John: There was a real sense of power. There was a sense of fame, being recognized two blocks away.
Mawdsley: What was your first job?
St. John: My first job at KBTO (outside Wichita, Kan.) came when I was 19 years old. I had to go for three interviews. The first two they made me read two minutes of news. I was dyslexic, so my reading wasn’t good, but my ad-libbing was much better. I always had to try extra hard to read, but I can ad-lib very well. (The man hiring at KBTO) asked me to come back, but I didn’t go back my third time. He called the next day and asked where I was. He said, “I have a job for you. Come in Monday.” My first job was a Saturday morning show doing a Top 40 countdown. I did it every day that summer and went into fall and that’s when I got a job in Wichita, where I wanted to be anyway. I went to work at KFH in Wichita and worked there about 1 1/2 years and did an underground show.
Mawdsley: Radio is mostly ad-lib anyway, right?
St. John: Radio is about 90 percent ad-lib. My failures or shortcomings don’t come to life because I’ll read a story then turn it into my words.
Mawdsley: What path did you take to Colorado?
St. John: I had just gotten married. ...A friend of mine bought a radio station KVFC, the Voice of the Four Corners, in Cortez, and the two of us moved lock, stock and barrel in 1971. We took what was a country radio station and made it rock. Big mistake for Cortez. If we’d been smart boys and girls, we would have left it country.
Mawdsley: Really? I thought rock music was universally loved in the early 1970s.
St. John: Not in small, little towns, where they listened to country for 30 years. ... I was there until 1974. (My wife and I) came up here in 1974 and went to work at (KEXO until 1976 when he went to) KQIL.
Mawdsley: Tell me about KEXO.
St. John: KEXO was a Top 40 station in Grand Junction. It was a powerhouse station, very popular. It was on Main Street. All the people here in the early ‘70s will remember it being in downtown Grand Junction before moving to the 10th floor of the Alpine Bank building, I think in ‘75. (We played) a little bit of everything.
(About this time Robert left the room briefly, giving me the chance to talk to co-host Chenoa Bottinelli.)
Mawdsley: Robert’s gone. Anything you want to say?
Bottinelli: I grew up listening to Robert. When I was in elementary school, my friend’s mother worked at the radio station, and I knew him from there. I’d recognize him walking down the street, but I knew him from his voice when I started here.
(Robert came back.)
Mawdsley: How did you get the radio name Robert St. John?
St. John: I changed my name in Wichita. It’s real simple. I grew up with a first cousin named Robert. I always liked that name, and my mother was born in St. John, Kansas. Because of that, I took on the name Robert St. John. At the time, nobody had that name that was currently active in rock, and that’s what I wanted to be in. I didn’t go country until 1976.
Mawdsley: You went country in 1976?
St. John: I moved to KQIL in ‘76. I did mornings on QIL and middays on Q-FM (KQIX). A lot of the adults will remember Q-FM. It had like 70 percent of the market. I loved every minute of it. That was a time when automation was just starting to take off. We could record stuff ahead of time and do other things. I’ll never forgot the first time I went to Powderhorn and listened to myself on the morning show while skiing. That was kind of cool.
Mawdsley: Was the transition to automation the single biggest jolt to DJs during your career?
St. John: That was huge. We changed from playing 45s to stuff on tape, pre-recorded. The music was pre-selected, pre-determined and all you had to do was announce what was coming up next.
Mawdsley: What was country like in 1976?
St. John: Country music was starting to change. It started becoming a little more pop. I liked that. My program director at KQIL — and I was blessed there — was Don Ray. He taught me how to really do country. Country’s a little different than pop. You don’t yell at your listeners. You just talk with them. He was the top “jock” in Kansas City for 17 years. He came out here to kick back. Radio gets pretty nutty.
Mawdsley: What do you mean “nutty?”
St. John: It’s real fast-paced. You have to stay at a level above the norm. It’s faster than real life.
Mawdsley: Are you surprised you stayed in it?
St. John: I never thought I’d do it for 40 years, and I’ve never, ever been out of radio. The only time I’ve been out of radio is when I’m on vacation. It’s the only time I’m away. Otherwise, I’m thinking, breathing radio.
Mawdsley: Who are some of the best interviews you’ve done through the years?
St. John: Janis Joplin died two weeks to the day after I interviewed her. That was a good interview. I wish I’d saved that interview. Blake Shelton was one of the best. He had a lot of personal comments. Fleetwood Mac, Poco. Taylor Swift when she was 17. She was sweet. She was about 95 pounds.
I’ve interviewed Keith Urban a number of times. Keith’s a down-to-earth, really nice guy. He’s on-stage as he is off-stage.
Mawdsley: Have you enjoyed doing morning shows for nearly 40 years?
St. John: Yes. It’s the most enjoyable part of the day. It’s the most active. You almost have to be a morning person to do this job.
Bottinelli jumped in: Are you still going to wake up early?
St. John: I’ve been an early riser ever since I delivered the Wichita Eagle Beacon on my bike when I was 7 or 8. I was making money. I had the only three-speed Schwinn in my neighborhood. It was a hot bike.
Mawdsley: Have you always had co-hosts?
St. John: I was with Libby Jackson (now Pelletier) for 20 years. I also worked with Jim Davis on KKLY. We were the “Men of the 90s.” That was our stupid thing. (laughing)
I was solo in Wichita and Cortez, but I did characters even back then. I did a thing called Straight News in Wichita. It would take the news from overnight, the blotter, and do it almost in first person to make it hysterical. It was an interpretation of the blotter. In Wichita, some strange things happened.
St. John: I haven’t told anyone at this radio station on-air that I’m Ed Whiskey and Julia Wild.
Mawdsley: Julia Wild?
St. John: I’d get in character and talk about the menus for School District 51.
Mawdsley: What about Ed Whiskey?
St. John: His thing was he was an ex-drunk, actually. He did the traffic in the morning and said things like he was the first person at the scene of an accident because he caused the accident. He’d say the most politically incorrect things and get away with it. I don’t get away with it.
Mawdsley: What have you loved about being on radio in GJ?
St. John: The people have been phenomenal. This town is such a giving community. It’s the most giving place I’ve been in my life. They give till it hurts. This area to live in has been the best. I’ve raised three beautiful kids. They’ve all gone through the school system here. It’s been a blessing to live in this town.
Mawdsley: Are any of your children in radio?
St. John: No. The one who should’ve been in radio didn’t want to. I’m sure he’s kicked himself a time or two. This business is awesome. I’ve had lots of opportunities to go to lots of different towns, including Chicago, through the course of my career and decided to stay here because it’s the best place to grow up. This is home to me. Wichita was where I started out, but this is where I wanted to be. The more I was around here, the more I liked it.
Mawdsley: What’s the plan for the show?
St. John: Ty Morgan, the program director, will be coming on. It will by Ty and Chenoa in the morning. They used to be together in the afternoon. They are kind of naturals.
Mawdsley: What’s your retirement plan?
St. John: We’ve got places we want to see. We’re going to Northern Europe — Sweden, Russia, Finland, Denmark — in May. We’re going to be gone three weeks. We’re big fans of Holland America. It’s a big cruise line. Nice ships.
Mawdsley: Oh, I almost forgot to ask you the most important thing. What about that UFO sighting?
St. John: Yes. Oh my gosh. That was the biggest part of my life. It was August 1995. I was out jogging on the (Colorado National) Monument. It was 9:05 in the morning, and this craft floats into the valley and materializes like on “Star Trek,” and it shot off two small objects that went into the Book Cliffs. I didn’t hear an explosion but saw bright, white light. That was kind of weird.
It was one of those experiences you have once in your lifetime, apparently. It went national. I was on Oprah. A guy over in Salida spotted the same craft and filmed it for like 9 minutes and that went international. Just look on the Internet under “Colorado UFO sightings 1995.” It definitely was a UFO. It shimmered into existence and shimmered out. It went right over the top of the airport. I called immediately out there, and they said they picked up something on their radar.
At the time, it sure didn’t seem like it was (our government.) Now that there’s been so much written about it, it’s hard not to believe that our government doesn’t possess some kind of knowledge about this. After all these years, it’s something the government knows something about. At the time, I thought somebody else was flying the craft, but now I’m thinking, “No, it was us.”
Mawdsley: Did you talk about it on the radio?
St. John: Oh gosh. It was a big deal. I took it to the air, and we got two or three other folks who saw it, and I went out and met them.
Mawdsley: As you close in on the final days of radio, has this business been what you thought it’d be?
St. John: It’s been everything I hoped it would be. That and more. I’ve loved every minute of it. ... I’ll miss it. It’s hard to just turn it off.