by Jeff McCord
He held down the early afternoon slot at KUT/X for eighteen years and first walked into the doors of the station back in 1978. Though he will stay on to host Sunday Morning Jazz, Jay Trachtenberg has officially retired from KUTX. For those of us that have been friends with Jay for decades, it’s a difficult concept to grasp.
But Jay didn’t always live in Austin. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jay first arrived here to attend graduate school at UT.
“I did college radio after I graduated, in Santa Barbara on KCSB. I worked there for three and a half years. So I had some experience, I did an aircheck of one of my final shows in Santa Barbara. And the day after I arrived in Austin, I found KUT and went in there to give them a tape. I really didn’t know what they were airing. We didn’t have NPR in Santa Barbara. So I was really kind of unfamiliar. I just knew it was the radio station on campus.”
Jay ended up doing sporadic fill-in shifts for Larry Monroe and Paul Ray, and in 1982, he started a jazz show on KAZI the week they went on the air.
“I left Austin in the spring of 1984, Mary and I traveled around Europe and North Africa and the Middle East and ended up in Jamaica. We were on the road for about almost nine months. I came back to Austin a couple of days before the election in ‘84. An opening came up to do an overnight jazz show on Friday night on KUT. I think they were going to give it to this other guy who worked there. But Larry really lobbied for me, so they offered it to me. I started on February the 1st, 1985.”
The midnight Friday to 5 am Saturday program, which Jay would host for ten years, was first called Overnight Jazz, and at some point, the name was changed to Jazz, Etc. While hosting this show, he was employed 8-5, as a social worker at the Brackenridge Children’s Hospital, and was best known in Austin for his work for the Austin Chronicle, which he squeezed in on weekends. Jay had met the future editor and publisher of the Chronicle while doing some work for the Daily Texan (he also met Jody Denberg there). Though he had no background in journalism, he had been coaxed to write about music for the Santa Barbara weekly.
“I was in Santa Barbara. I was doing my radio show and there was a weekly or bi-weekly paper. Somebody over there said you should write some record reviews. And then, I interviewed Etta James and I interviewed Willie Dixon when he came to town. I interviewed Bob Weir of the Dead, stuff like that.”
In Austin, Jay continued this pattern of three jobs and little sleep until 1995, when KUT offered him the much more favorable time slot of 8pm Wednesday nights. He would host that shift another seven years, until he took over the afternoon jazz program from Paul Ray. At first, it was a one-hour shift.
“I remember it was an hour because at the time I had an hour of jazz and an hour of reggae on KGSR, and an hour of jazz on KUT. I was the 60-minute man.”
AS KUT evolved, Jay was asked to transition away from jazz in the daytime. He adapted easily. Jazz wasn’t his first musical passion.
“My first love was, you know, rock and roll. Blues. R&B, hardcore country stuff. I was into rock, 60s rock was, whether it was Cream or Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin all the cool bands were essentially blues bands. So I developed a taste for blues, and then from there R&B was mixed up. L.A. had a great blues and R&B scene, and R&B was all the saxophone, you know, piano and saxophone breaks. I remember going to a friend’s house, our connection was the blues. He was like a mentor to me. He puts on like one of those first Ornette Coleman albums, you know, and it was just way over my head. He goes, ‘Can’t you hear the blues in that?’ I’m like, ‘What’s he talking about?’”
“You’re in your 20s, you’re hanging out at a radio station with all these other music nerds. And you’re into blues and you’ve got you guys who are into jazz. And, you know, the jazz guys were so cool. I would volunteer to do overnight shifts at the station. So I would just stay up all night and pull jazz out of the stacks, just play it and kind of discover. And I’d be listening to the jazz shows that these guys were doing. I had a roommate one summer, he was a Coltrane fanatic so Coltrane was on all the time. Again, it was over my head. But I was at least absorbing it.”
“I go through these phases. When I came to Austin, I was really in a country phase, wanting to see all these country guys because we didn’t get to see that so much in California. I reviewed Willie Nelson’s picnic in 1980 for The Daily Texan.”
So transitioning into the music Jay was eventually playing on the radio was not difficult. In one form or another, until the pandemic disrupted everything, Jay was the voice of the afternoons on KUT and KUTX.
I ask him if he’s looking forward to retirement.
“You know, everybody who retires loves it. So I guess I’ll get used to it at some point. I’m certainly going to miss seeing people and just being a part of what KUTX is, whether it’s hanging out the studio one day or just shooting the shit with everybody, just being in that environment; needing to be on your toes and sharp and, you know, and being part of a winning team. I’ll still be part of it, but I won’t be there day-to-day.”
I remind him a lot of what he’s describing doesn’t exist right now.
“Yeah, exactly. It’s strange. In a sense, the last six months have been a warm-up to retirement.”
Asked for his proudest moments, he thinks for a minute.
“Overall, just turning people on to music they might not or probably weren’t aware of, whether that was jazz, whether it was the Skatalites, whether it was some obscure blues record, just being a curator. There’s so much out there. And unless you’re a real nerd like all of us are, most people out there just kind of take in what they take in.”
What moments stand out?
“Interviewing Allen Toussaint the first time he came in, when he was in town. There were just a handful of us in the studio.” (One of them was me, I had coaxed my friend Jeff Cook to bring Allen in).
“And another time was early in South by Southwest, their first few years. Guys like Cosimo Matassa and Huey Meaux and Rufus Thomas would just be hanging out. Matassa owned the only recording studio in New Orleans from the 50s into the 70s. So he recorded everybody: Fats Domino, Little Richard, Guitar Slim. All the hits that came out of New Orleans. Plus, he did a bunch of jazz stuff. I brought him up to the studio on a Friday night during one of those early South By’s. And we sat for two hours and we played Little Richard. We played Fats Domino. We played Guitar Slim. We played all this jazz stuff and he just talked about it. He could talk for days, right? He had all these stories. He stayed till two o’clock. I walked him outside. I put him in a taxi. And then at three am, this band, The Rhythm Rats, came in with a saxophone player named Clifford Scott, who is originally from San Antonio. He’s been around forever. I used to see him in L.A. So we set up the drummer was in the hallway, we set up a guitar, bass, and the saxophone in that old skinny studio control room off the CMB lobby. And they played from 3:15 am to a quarter to 5:00 in the morning. And Clifford Scott just wailed his ass off. So that’s my favorite show of all time.”
Yet a more recent session brought Jay back to his California days.
“Jesse Colin Young came in around 2004 when George W. Bush was up for reelection. I remember when I was in Santa Barbara, Young was like, the women just loved this guy. He had long flowing hair. He was in that group called the Youngbloods. I’d shown Melanie, our live music producer, who booked Young on KUT, pictures of him, and he came in and with hardly any hair at all. Melanie didn’t even recognize the guy. He played he was a good interview, you know, mature guy, been around. You know how those guys are, easy to interview. And then at the end, he kind of gives this intro, not really political, but implying about the upcoming election and all this stuff. And then he goes into that song, “Get Together – ‘Come on, people, now. Smile on your brother.’ And all of a sudden I flashback to 1969. A huge Vietnam War march in San Francisco, which ends up in the polo grounds, Golden Gate Park. A half a million people in the park and the Youngbloods come on and they sing that song. And here I am, 35 years later, and he’s singing it to me. Sitting 10 feet away from me. It was surreal. Who’d ever thunk, you know? I had chills running down my spine.”
As we continue to adjust to the “new normal,” we’re tweaking our schedule. Starting the week of November 16, Fresh, Ryan and Jeff will be behind the mic weeknights. Plus, we’ve shuffled a few shows and added “Sheroes Radio” to the Wednesday night line up.
Here’s what we’re looking forward to:
8-11 p.m. Aaron “Fresh” Knight plays music (in addition to his 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday gig)
8-11 p.m. Ryan Wen plays music (in addition to hosting 2-6 p.m. Saturdays)
8-9 p.m. Locally produced “Soundfounder,” showcasing electronic and modern funk music from Austin and around the world. (previously 1-2 a.m. Sundays)
9-10 p.m. “Sheroes Radio,” a new, nationally syndicated, show hosted by Carmel Holt with a fresh and eclectic mix of music that is diverse and inclusive.
10-11 p.m. Nationally syndicated “Sound Opinions,” where rock critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis engage in music criticism and conversation. (previously 6-7 a.m. Sundays)
8-11 p.m. Longtime host and music director Jeff McCord hosts a new show “What’s Next,” featuring the best of new releases and reissues, as well as a spotlight on musical milestones and his current work as music editor on KUTX.org.
1-2 a.m. KUTX music mix (previously Soundfounder)
6-7 a.m. KUTX music mix (previously Sound Opinions)
Like you, we’ve been adjusting to living in a pandemic. From upping our handwashing game, to learning to work from home, to incorporating new cleaning and safety protocols into the KUTX studios to keep our hosts safe – we’re learning to embrace change, growth and flexibility in 2020.
Some of the biggest changes you’ve likely noticed have been on 98.9. We condensed our hosted hours to minimize staff (and germs) in the control room. Two of the biggest personalities missing on weekdays were John Aielli and Laurie Gallardo. A few months ago, John suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to host “Eklektikos.” He is collaborating with his “Eklektikos” producer, Jack Anderson, on new and interesting ways to bring his unique voice and perspective to KUTX. We’re excited to see how that plays out. John is a treasured and valuable part of the KUTX team so you can expect to hear from him – in a different way – when he’s ready.
(Send John Aielli a message with our virtual card)
We’re thrilled to say that beginning Monday, September 14, our very own Taylor Wallace will host Monday through Friday mornings on KUTX from 6-9 a.m. This is an exciting development for Taylor and a new chapter for her career and KUTX so please join us in cheering her on.
Laurie Gallardo, who was named “Best Radio Personality” for four consecutive years in the Austin Chronicle Music Poll, returned to the afternoon airwaves weekdays from 1-5 p.m. (that’s an extra hour y’all, cuz she’s extra), on Monday, September 7. Welcome back El Gee!!
Sundays will see some changes too. Starting September 13, Paul Carrubba takes over the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. timeslot, while Confucius Jones, half of “The Breaks,” puts his spin on our mix from 2-6 p.m. This marks a new chapter for Confucius and his role at KUTX. If you’re listening closely, you may have noticed, Fresh, the other half of “The Breaks,” has been holding down 10 a.m.-2 p.m. shift on Saturdays in recent weeks. Having Fresh and Confucius hosting individual shifts helps us build on the audience and success of The Breaks.
“World Music with Hayes McCauley” is ending its Sunday night run, but the good news is that Michael Crockett is bringing back “Global Grooves” from 10 p.m.-midnight beginning September 6.We may make more changes to the schedule in the months ahead – it is 2020 after all and we’re embracing flexibility. Feedback? Drop us a line.
Here’s how our revised schedule looks:
6-9a: Taylor Wallace
9a-1p: Susan Castle
1-5p: Laurie Gallardo
5-8p: Jody Denberg
8-11p: automated mix
11p-1a: World Cafe
6-9a: Taylor Wallace
9a-12p: Susan Castle
12-4p: Jody Denberg
4-7p: John E Dee’s Old School Dance Party
7-11p: Left of the Dial w/Rick McNulty
6-10a: automated mix
2-6p: Ryan Wen
6-7p: My KUTX
7-10p: Uptown Saturday Night w/Rick McNulty
10p-1a: the Breaks w/Confucius and Fresh
7-10a: Jazz w/Jay Trachtenberg
10a-2p: Paul Carrubba
2-6p: Confucius Jones
6-7p: Spare The Rock, Spoil the Child
7-10p: Horizontes w/Michael Crockett
10-p-12a: Global Grooves w/Michael Crockett
Host: M-Th 12-2p/Su 7-10a
What musical experience most set you on the path to a career in radio?
I’ve always had a fascination with radio. As a young kid, I would stay up late falling asleep with one those little Japanese transistor radios plugged into my ear. Later I would try to tune into any number of top-of-the-dial, high-powered stations after midnight from my home in Los Angeles. When the weather conditions were just right I could pick up stations in Shreveport, Nashville or Oklahoma City. I would often listen to Wolfman Jack late at night on XERF and XERB blasting out of Rosarita, Mexico, just south of the border.
During the 1960s I was enthralled by Top 40 jocks like The Real Don Steele and then “underground” DJs like Humble Harve Miller, B. Mitchell Reed and Jimmy Rabbit (from the David Allan Coe classic, “Long Haired Redneck”). As soon as I got the opportunity, I signed up at my college station, KCSB, at the University of California at Santa Barbara – and the rest is history, as they say.
What’s your favorite Austin music experience so far?
After being in Austin for almost 40 years, it’s hard to pick a single event. But one that makes for a good story was the time I interviewed Jesse Colin Young back in 2004 in our old Studio 1A.
Way back in the day he had been in the Youngbloods, a band that had a big hit with “Get Together” – “Come on all you people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” It was a real anthem of the 1960s.
So Mr. Young ends his live Studio 1A session with this song and while he’s singing it, I flash back to a huge anti-Vietnam War demonstration in San Francisco in 1969 where I’m one of a half million people in Golden Gate Park and the Youngbloods are singing this popular song of peace and love. Here I am – 35 years later – in Studio 1A with Jesse Colin Young sitting 10 feet away and he’s singing this same song to me. Chills ran down my spine. Who’d of ever thunk??
Why public rather than commercial radio?
In a nutshell, public radio treats its listeners as thoughtful, intelligent citizens while commercial radio tends to treat its listeners as mindless, voracious consumers.
How do you spend your time when you’re not spinning records on the air?
Reading, swimming and running, working in my garden, strolling in the park with my girlfriend and her dog, and going out to hear live music.
Finish the sentence: “Austin Music Is ….”
… a direct reflection of what makes this such an exceptionally creative and special place to live.