50 Years Later, Aielli Is Still Golden

Sep 8, 2016

Who else in radio can play whale songs, followed by a dozen tracks about the color pink, interspersed with musings on the weather and gardening – all punctuated by prolonged pauses?

John Aielli celebrates 50 years on the air.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

For 50 years, John has been introducing us to new music, sounds (Tuvan throat singing anyone?) and ideas thanks to his curiosity and artist interviews.

To honor the milestone, the City of Austin proclaimed Thursday, Sept, 1, 2016, “John Aielli Day” in recognition of his longevity and support of the local arts community. Indeed, John has conducted thousands of live interviews over the years with singers, musicians, composers, choreographers and authors.

Those interviews include: musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Phillip Glass, Chris Isaak, Graham Nash, Pepe Romero, Rufus Wainwright, and diva, soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf; writers Michael Chabon, James Ellroy, Jonathan Saffron Foer, Richard Ford, Alan Furst, Sebastian Junger, Dan Rather and Colm Tóibín; actor Matthew McConaughey; and Yoga master Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga; among many, many others.

John Aielli in 1972.
Credit Frank Armstrong

Fans flocked to KUT and KUTX’s social media channels on “John Aielli Day” to share some of their favorite Aielli moments, including:

  • I knew it was true love when he mused on the word prairie and all of its potential spellings for something like two minutes of airtime.
  • He introduced me to so much music, but Queen's “We are the Champions” is one I never would have learned to appreciate without John.
  • All the delectable music over the years, from every genre, all the interesting tidbits of info, all the suggested performances...And what do I remember? “Walking ‘round in Women’s Underwear!”
  • Back in 1986, John Aielli turned me on to Lucie Blue Tremblay. Specifically, “Nos Belles Annees” (Our Beautiful Years), her French adaptation of Ferron’s “Ain't Life a Brook.” I've learned so much music from John. Barton Springs is considered the Heart of Austin - I think John Aielli is its Soul!
  • My favorite is Aielli observation is: “That was Deathcab for Cutie. Of course, we are all in a death cab, it doesn't matter how cute you are..."
  • John turned my family on to singing Christmas Carols at the Capitol. Our tradition for over a decade. Thank you John!
  • John is the reason I read what became one of my favorite books "Lonesome Dove."

Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell says he remembers hearing Glenn Gould Brahms “Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1” with his girlfriend lying in bed as the sun rays illuminated the dust of a spring morning. “This piece of music perfectly fused with a moment in time and we later played that as the processional music at our wedding. I suppose if we had a song this would be it. I’ve always thought of John as part Mister Rogers and part William Burroughs. I’m so grateful for him.”

John started working at KUT 90.5 in September 1966 as a part-time announcer when the station played classical music and a few news programs. With his encyclopedic knowledge of classic music, he was soon programming the music himself. By 1970, then-station-manager Bill Giorda named John’s time slot “Eklektikos” inspired by the Greek word eklektos, meaning chosen from the best.

John says the name “Eklektikos” allowed him to expand the show to an eclectic format highlighting the best of different genres of music, such as the best Indian classical music, or the best folk music and so on. Eventually, his show expanded to include popular and rock music – and everything in between.

Fifty years and 15 “Austin Chronicle” “Best of” awards later and John is still going strong.

“I’m curious by nature. I enjoy talking to people and observing things about life, so radio is a wonderful medium to be in,” said Aielli. “And to be the guy that gets to talk behind the microphone – it’s a privilege and a challenge.”

KUT and KUTX will celebrate Aielli’s career in the coming year with activities and tributes, including a special thank-you gift during the fall and spring membership drives – a John Aielli bobble head (!).

Read the Austin Monthly and CultureMap Austin stories on John’s 50th anniversary.