Gary Beck has a certain way about him. He is the midday disc jockey at KSDS, the City College radio station otherwise known as Jazz 88.3, and his demeanor takes me back to 1971 to a film character named Dave Garver, played by Clint Eastwood, who dodged a stalker and spun jazz on KRML in Play Misty for Me. His first day at Jazz 88.3 was 36 years ago.
“I’ve done shows there while working at or between stations since 1974,” he says. Beck also taught City College radio programming and production in 1988 and 1989.
“Here’s the list of stations I’ve worked at, in order from the beginning: KSDO, KSDS, KITT, KOGO, WNEW, KPRI, XTRA GOLD, KLZZ, MAGIC 102.9, KIFM, Z90, KBEST, WDHA, and Sirius Satellite Radio.”
Beck names Bob Coburn — the longtime Rockline host who worked in San Diego at KGB-FM in the 1970s — as an inspiration.
“He didn’t mess around, didn’t try to be cute, and knew what he was talking about.”
As Beck is approaching 40 years in the industry, a conversation with him can become an insider’s view of the history of free-form FM rock radio, and when he mentions the names of announcers long gone, it becomes a roll call of radio’s better days: Scott Muni, Allison Steele, Digby Welsh, Perry Allen, Ernesto Gladden…
Ever see Play Misty for Me?
“Yes. I own the film on DVD.”
You have some of that Clint Eastwood mojo…
“I have been told that over the years. I had the pleasure of meeting Clint two years back when he was in town for a coastal commission hearing. I talked with him about Flags of Our Fathers and our mutual passion for jazz.”
Have you ever been stalked by a radio fan?
Do you pick all the music for your show?
Do outside influences come to bear on your song choices?
“Being a longtime free-form jock with over 38 years in commercial radio, I’ve always been mood-driven. It’s a feeling-and-senses thing with me and always has been. And I have a great ear — thanks to God, Mom, or somebody.”
Night or morning person?
“I’m definitely a night person. I seem to be at my best at twilight. It may have something to do with what time we were born. For me, it was 5:35 or 5:40.”
“No, not really. I have been able to express myself musically through my shows over the years. I did play the trombone as a kid.”
What’s your definition of “cool”?
“The word ‘jazz’ defines cool and always has to the right person.”
Is traditional jazz dying out?
“No. I think jazz, like all great art forms, goes through periods of rise and decline.”
CD or vinyl: Is there a difference?
“Oh, yes. In fact, I love analog so much I still have my old Pioneer tuner from the ’70s, and I still get it serviced at the old Mission Hills Radio & TV.”
Career high point?
“Interviews always come to mind. Two standouts: John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, both of whom became friends years back.”
Have you ever thought about quitting radio and doing something else?
“I tried to get out of radio in 1995 when I became disillusioned with the whole thing, but somebody brought me back. Career-wise, I’ll stay on as long as it remains enjoyable to me and my audience.”
Beer or martini?
“Both. But my favorite is Bushmills [Irish whiskey] with a splash of water. I would do commercials for them for just about nothing.”
Five things you wish you owned:
1) “A home with a view.”
2) “A couple of dogs.”
3) “A sailboat.”
4) “A neighborhood bar.”
5) “A radio station.”