“They were saying back in 1974, when I started working at Jazz 88.3, that jazz was a dying thing. It’s not.” This month, on-air jazz host Gary Beck celebrates a 40-year association with the San Diego City College radio station. “I think I was 18 when I started there. President Nixon had resigned, and I had just graduated from high school. After the first two years of operation, Jazz 88.3 started letting student deejays stay,” Beck informs the Reader; this, rather than cutting them loose after they’d completed the City College radio broadcasting class.
“I worked at KSDO producing Art Green’s talk show at the El Cortez hotel downtown. I was also going to City College. I auditioned there for [an instructor] named Hope Shaw. I passed the audition,” he grins. “One of the first interviews I did for the station? Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines,” he says, grinning some more, “at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse. Hope gave me an A for a grade.”
KSDS Jazz 88.3 went on the air in 1973, the year before Beck got there. “I stayed on for a couple of years, and then I went to WNEW in New York City doing weekends.” He’s worked off and on as an announcer at Jazz 88.3 ever since.
During Beck’s tenure, KSDS has gotten a boost in transmitting power, digital capability, and new studios. The biggest transformation since Beck has been at the station? “The internet and the fact that I can be heard around the world.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson history major turns 59 this year. He and I talk about how the internet has grown the listening audience but not the paycheck. “I’m okay with being ripped off,” he says, “because I love the music. I like the jazz classics, but I also like what’s going on now musically. The standards have already been done, and they’ve been done by the best. Now, I look for the singers that are doing something different. And musicians,” he says, “that aren’t bored and that still play with the same intensity as they did when I was 18.” What does Beck see happening in his immediate future? “I really haven’t thought about doing anything else,” he says. “But I surely never thought I’d end up where I started.”