Legendary disc jockey Shotgun Tom Kelly joined the Pala Rez Radio booth, June 13, at the San Diego County Fair.
Kelly joined Pala Rez Radio station manager John Fox in the fair booth, 1-5 p.m., that afternoon.
"Pretty much every 10 to 20 feet somebody would recognize him, and he would be signing autographs and chatting," Fox said.
Kelly was raised in San Diego County and was a San Diego disc jockey for three decades before taking a position at K-Earth 101, KRTH-FM, in Los Angeles.
"Of the golden era of the disc jockey, he's probably the biggest thing San Diego's ever produced," Fox said. "He's got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."
His 19-year career with K-Earth 101 helped Kelly achieve the Hollywood Walk of Fame honor. He was with KRTH-FM until 2016. Sirius XM will be hosting Kelly's next radio position, which will feature 1960s music.
"Next to Wolfman Jack he's about as recognizable as a person as I can have there," Fox said. "Wolfman Jack is dead."
The Federal Communications Commission granted Pala Rez Radio the call letters KPRI-FM, March 23. The call letters stand for Kupa Pala Rez Indians, but the original KPRI-FM in San Diego had a format similar to the classic rock music Pala Rez Radio currently plays. The Pala Rez Radio call letters had been KOPA-FM since going on the air in 2010.
Three previous San Diego County radio stations have had the call letters KPRI-FM. The first was at 106.5, which had those call letters from 1960 to 1984. Kelly, who was 13 in 1963 when he began his radio career assisting on remote broadcasts for KDEO-FM. KECR-FM is now the station at 910 on the AM dial, joined the original KPRI-FM in 1966 when the station was known as "Capri by the sea" and played easy listening music.
The county fair activity, June 13, included a paddock stage concert featuring Herb Alpert, and Kelly said that he often played Alpert's music during his KPRI-FM years. KPRI-FM became a rock station during Kelly's tenure which lasted until he took a disc jockey position at KYOS-FM in Merced in 1969. Kelly returned to San Diego in 1971 and worked for KGB-AM at 1360 and KCBQ-AM at 1170 before taking a position with B-100, the 100.7 station with the call letters KFMB-FM, in 1976.
"Shotgun and I worked together," Fox said. "He and I got to B-100 just about the same time."
KFMB-FM had the same call letters for B-100, the 760 AM radio station, and the Channel 8 television station. When Fox was a Fallbrook High School student, he worked at KMLO-AM, which at the time were the call letters of the Vista station at 1000 on the AM dial. He graduated from Fallbrook High School in 1974 and moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University. His previous experience with KMLO-AM allowed him to obtain a college job at KFMB-FM.
Fox was at KFMB-FM for 16 years, and that time included being a disc jockey on B-100. The promotions at the time included FM converters for automobiles, which at one time had AM radio only. Fox said there were some comparisons between the development of FM radio, including converters, and the development of internet radio.
Kelly stayed at KFMB-FM until 1993, when he joined K-Best 95, which was actually at 94.9 on the FM dial and was both KBZS-FM and KBZT-FM during Kelly's time there. He left K-Best 95 for the K-Earth 101 position.
Since his KBZT-FM position was his last in San Diego, he has not been on the air with a San Diego station since 1997.
"It's quite a credit to him that he still has a following in San Diego," Fox said.
A position with the morning show at KEZY-FM in Los Angeles followed Fox's years with KFMB-FM. He became the network director of Catholic Radio Network. Fox subsequently had part-time jobs at KFWB-FM in Los Angeles, KOLA-FM in Redlands and KCBQ-FM in San Diego. He was living in Corona, and on some occasions he worked in all three cities on the same day. Fox opted for time away from radio in lieu of shuttling between part-time jobs, and he spent eight years away from the business while maintaining interest in opportunities. Fox applied for the Pala Rez Radio station manager position after hearing about the opening.
Pala Rez Radio is 24-hour station with an automated music mix which includes Native American songs, country, blues and reggae as well as classic rock. The station also has local talk and news, Native American culture and classic radio shows. The station's top priorities in terms of information are the Pala reservation, the general nearby community and native people on a national basis.
Fox has been with Pala Rez Radio for approximately seven and a half years. He was responsible for the station beginning its broadcasting, although Federal Communications Commission applications had been filed before Fox's arrival. The lack of information about the October 2007 fires led to a decision by the Pala tribal council to launch a radio station to provide emergency communications, although the tribe did not plan for content other than emergency information.
His past promotional experience led to Fox's decision to participate at the county fair. After he launched Pala Rez Radio, he contacted the San Diego County Fair about the possibility of having a booth. The fair assigns each radio station specific days.
Pala Rez Radio first had a booth at the San Diego County Fair in 2012, and during the first years of the station's presence at the fair, many attendees were not aware that Pala had a radio station.
Pala Rez Radio is at 91.3 on the FM dial but only transmits with 100 watts. Pala Rez Radio is between 91.1 XTRA-FM, a Mexican-owned Class C station with English-language programming and a 100,000-watt transmitter known as 91X and KUSC-FM, a Class B Los Angeles station at 91.5 FM with a 39,000-watt transmitter. Those two stations block out Pala Rez Radio in much of the area outside the Pala reservation; Rainbow Heights and portions of Fallbrook including the Gird Road and Bonsall Heights area can receive Pala Rez Radio's transmission and sometimes the station can be heard along East Mission Road in Fallbrook.
FM radio utilizes line-of-sight transmission, and Pala Rez Radio transmits from the San Luis Rey River Valley surrounded by hills 1,000 feet higher than the transmitter if not further above the transmission. Internet radio, including an affiliation with iHeart Radio, allows Pala Rez Radio to be heard by those outside the station's transmission area.
Fox and Kelly discussed their radio histories during their afternoon together at the county fair.
"We pretty much ended up talking and swapping stories all the time," Fox said. "He's always got great stories. We always have a lot of fun chatting."
Kelly's interests other than radio include trains as his father was a railroad worker, and since the railroad car at Railroad Heritage Park in Fallbrook was delivered the day after the June 13 show, Kelly and Fox discussed Railroad Heritage Park during their broadcast from the fairgrounds.
Fox and Kelly also invited fairgoers to discuss their memories of 1960s and 1970s radio. "We brought numerous people into the booth," he said.
Fox said that the involvement of listeners as well as disc jockeys helped capture the spirit of remote radio broadcasts.
"Just generally trying to bring back the lost immediacy and intimacy of radio," he said.