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Tony’s reflection on 25 years at KSUX

Not many country-radio station on-air personalities can say they have been at one station for a quarter of a century. When I showed up in an ill-fitting dress shirt and my lucky red tie for the interview in late summer 1997, I had no idea I would be writing this article for ksux.com today.  Heck, I believe our web site back then was a picture of a bumper sticker. And, I had hair.  Different times.

I’m taking a little sabbatical for ten days which will match my longest vacation when I married my lovely wife when “Where the Green Grass Grows” was in the Top 10 on the charts by Tim McGraw. You know, the guy from “Yellowstone” and “1883”. That guy.  He used to just be a singer. And I was just stopping by Sioux City on my radio journey. Life is funny that way.

In celebration of 25 years at KSUX, here’s 25 memorable moments:

1 –  My first weekend at KSUX, I worked before I was actually on the clock. It was a week before my official start date and I was asked to go to Chautauqua Park.  Midday guy Pete Miles introduced me on stage to 20,000 plus concertgoers at the Alabama concert before the band broke into “40 Hour Week”. It should have been a sign of things to come. I would often work well past 40 hours. And many of those hours would feel like I wasn’t actually “working”.

2 – One of the best things about the station is creative ideas were always welcomed. When I say creative, it would be fair to say not all would be classified as good. I appreciate the fact I was allowed to try new things. Quick aside – I don’t think radio stations take enough risks. And the fun quotient is diminished. I sang intros to trivia games, did good-night shout-outs to Siouxland celebrities and laughed when someone said they were from Moville, I thought they made that up. Like Moe the bartender from “The Simpsons” had their own town.  I felt really bad when I learned it was legit. The best feature of my evening show was “Friday night guest deejays”. I met so many fun individuals that way. Even mo’ fun than characters from the Simpsons. I’m sorry.

3 – This will be hard to explain. Josie Cooper, Shawn the account executive and I traveled to Hubbard for Tri-County Days on June 5, 2016. We competed in a toad jumping contest. I was disqualified for “tickling the tookus of the toad”. Apparently, you can’t do that. I was shamed out of the contest. The 10 year old boy next to me won. And let me hear all about. As did Josie.

4 – Cowboy Bob and I hosted a “KSUX party bus” for listeners to Kinnick stadium in Iowa City to watch my beloved Huskers and his Hawkeyes. He wore his red cowboy boots and I wore a grin because Nebraska was really good at football twenty years ago. I should have enjoyed it more. Now, I just want to beat Georgia Southern in September. And I want Scott Frost to smile again.

5 – I challenged Candice’s hubby Steve to a game of racquetball. My youngest son has video of the match. It was ugly. I made it to 3 points. Probably 3 pity points. I lost the wager. I had to sing “The Safety Dance” while skipping around the building. I pulled a hamstring. Went down for the count.  I could not dance. Even if I wanted to.  Ironic.

6 – My buddy Brad called me to chat about promoting an unknown (to radio) artist who was just starting to “blow up on social media”. He told me was really talented and might really become something. I trust Brad.  “Sure.  Let’s do it”. That performer was Kane Brown. It sold out 2 weeks before the show. I was there. It was a mostly female crowd in their 20’s and me. I was blown away…by a guy not on more than 20 stations in America – including KSUX.  The next day at the office we launched “Friday Night Spotlight” – a focus on songs outside the Top 40…and outside the radar on most radars of country radio. KSUX has its own radar. Always has.  Since day one.

7 – Speaking of day one. My mother Rosie in Omaha bought one of the first KSUX sweatshirts back in 1990 shortly after the launch of the station. It was like it was meant to be. I was only a sophomore at Omaha Creighton Prep, but I knew all about the radio station I would later spend 2 ½ decades.

8 – Garth Brooks called KSUX.  2 different occasions. I was pre-interviewed by a Garth staffer a few days before the call to chat all things Garth. During the call, Mr. Books actually brought up my mom and told me to give her a hug. What artists finds a connection like that on a random phone interview with a dweeby radio guy.

9 – I love big artists like Garth. I especially enjoy newbies just getting started.  We’ve been so lucky to meet local artists like Jacob Martin, Dane Louis, Paige Rose, KSUX intern Casey Meussigmann, Ben Grillet, and Travis Barnes. We also are independent programmers that give national acts early attention. I remember seeing the duo Smithfield hear their song play on radio for the first time while driving around Nashville while listening to the KSUX app during “Friday Night Spotlight”. Ryan Hurd’s first long form radio interview was with Chopper Scott at our KSUX Hard Rock studios. Very cool.

10 – Not all big stars fare well on KSUX. I may have missed an e-mail and forgot to tell Josie Cooper Jason Aldean would be calling. I distinctly remember her yelling “Tony! Is Jason Aldean calling me today?” Uh.  He might.  Luckily, he didn’t hang up. Now before occasional shift I remind her Jason Aldean MAY be calling.  Be ready.

11 – I was working the morning of September 11, 2001. The emotions of that day are hard to put into words. Just like it was for everyone else. I remember how we all came together as a community in the days after the attacks. We broadcast live from the Southern Hills mall HyVee and received tens of thousands of dollars in donations for the Red Cross. Almost as important, it helped to start to fill the emotional tank. We would get through this together. As one. Unified.

12 – Months before that tragic event we faced as a nation, I purchased my dream car. Someone in management called John at the dealership.  Told him I was a hard worker and would be good for the loan. Maybe he could knock a couple of bucks off the price and make it work. I signed the paperwork. I distinctly remember cranking up KSUX listening to an album track “Smilin’” from Tim McGraw while driving down Cheyenne Blvd. Whoa. It’s always back to Tim McGraw. I had the sunroof open on the Husker Red 2001 Dodge Avenger. It was delightful.  I pulled into work and saw that guy in management that helped me out. He said “Man I love it when employees get brand new fancy cars. It means they are in a lot of debt and will be working here for a long time to pay that baby off.”  He wasn’t wrong.  I now drive a different 20 year old vehicle.

13 – Working on the radio is fun. Other jobs have a far bigger impact. My lovely wife is a social worker. I am very grateful she is my partner in life. We have completely different occupations. My bad day involves a break that didn’t get executed exactly how I wanted it to sound it my head. The stakes at her job are much higher. While working a parade early in my time at KSUX, a young teen came up to me and asked if I was Shana’s hubby.  I said yes. He then asked me if he could move into us as he had just ran away from his shelter. I called Shana. He returned to the shelter. Found his path. He’s now doing great and is a business owner in Siouxland. This paragraph has very little to do with radio. It’s more appreciation for social workers who possess more compassion and patience than most. I am in awe of my wife and her colleagues. If you know a social worker, give them a hug.

14 – One of my favorite parts of the gig is stage introductions. I love getting a crowd excited for the show. I imagine I get the same kind of rush in 90 seconds that big time stars get nightly for two hours. At the Tyson Events Center, I had the pleasure of introducing Florida Georgia Line. I started to high.  My voice raised as I closed the introduction with my voice cracking like Peter Brady of maybe an animal in he zoo. My internal voice said “man, that was rough. Get the heck off the stage as quick as possible.”. I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. It was the Sioux City Journal’s Bruce Miller. The text read “Nice intro Peter Brady.”  He wasn’t wrong.  We would chat about it on his next Friday visit into the studio. Those 50 visits a year are always a highlight – even when he is giving me well-deserved grief.

15 – So, we had a secret sound contest. We tape various secret sounds and you guess what we are doing to win cash and prizes. I had a brilliant idea to bowl over my wife’s cassette tapes from her old dorm room. Missed the tapes, rolled past Josie and my 14 pound bowling ball from home took out the wall. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t stop laughing. Josie said “this is the secret sound of Tony getting fired”.

16 – Taylor Swift called before her first solo headlining gig – which happened to be at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City. She was a champ.  Very conversation and had a joy in her voice. It’s funny we get big-timed by minor stars who could use the attention, but receive calls from Garth and Taylor when they clearly have already achieved mass success. Hard work ethic must be hard to shake, shake off.  Sorry.

17 – We took Texas music icon Pat Green golfing at Covington Golf Course in South Sioux City and later boating on the Missouri river with KSUX listeners.  Also, JJ Webb and I golfed with Rascal Flatts in their first year in the music biz. Golfing.  Boating.  Rough gig.

18 – Even rougher gig – eating FREE food for work. Since 1997, I’ve had lunch with about 2,400 Siouxlanders.  That’s about 2.8% of the metro population of Sioux City. When I’m out and about and a person looks familiar to me, I tell my wife “I’m pretty sure I had lunch with them once.  Maybe at Theo’s Steakhouse. Or Eldon’s. Or First Edition. Or Famous Daves. Or Botticelli’s. Or the Argosy. Or maybe Sneaky’s.”  Man, just think of all those calories I’ve consumed for the greater good of building relationships with listeners.

19 –  I had a KSUX jacket with my name on it. It was stolen from under my nose at a Florida Georgia Line concert in Cherokee. Me and bad luck at FGL – no wonder they are splitting up. I often think “whatever happened to my jacket?”.  “Is there someone wearing my coat and pretending to be me?  Are they robbing a bank.  Am I being blamed.  So weird.  Hopefully, they are doing social work.

20 – The day we had text messaging in the KSUX studio. It was amazing. We had immediate feedback on what we said on the air. People are really honest especially when their name or voice is not used. My favorite texter moment dealt with a comedian big in the 80’s that was going on way too long, was not funny, was a bit mean and became agitated.  I looked at the text machine and it read “hey comedian, exit stage left.”.  Yup.  The audience knows.

21 –  Turning a negative into one of my favorite events ever. I had a run-in with a lady who was having a really bad day at the Southern Hills Mall Barnes and Noble. My oldest son (who happens to have autism and non-verbal) accidentally bumped it to her.  She was appalled and was really upset he didn’t apologize.  I explained the situation and she grew more angry then said it was the rudest move ever. I became agitated and said “really, lady?” and fumed to my Jeep with Trey.  I took  a couple of breaths and wrote on Facebook.  In my head,were the words of Candice that I had no idea what that lady was going through that day – maybe she bought a casket. So, I asked for KSUX listener to do something nice that day for a stranger.  The message took off, received over 1,000 reactions, many comments and really sweet actions were done.  It help lead to an initiative by the South Sioux City school district and community.  Eventually, Trey and I were walking in a Kindness Day parade and it was probably the sweetest reversal of an angry moment I have ever had.

22 – Oh man. I love Plato’s Closet. When I learned Hairball was coming to town, I had to get leather pants.  They just happened to be women’s leather pants.  I have never laughed so hard.  The full story is in “Tacos and Beer Atmosphere”. It’s a colorful story – not suited for re-telling here.

23 – Speaking of Tacos and Beer Atmosphere, it was a dream come true to do a book signing of my book at Sioux City Gifts in 2021. It was great to see so many familiar faces like Travis Morgan, super country fan Kristen Bultman, Jenna Rehnstrom, Joanne Fox, Kelli Erickson (wearing a security t-shirt) and my youngest son there for crowd control. It was even better than driving on Cheyenne Blvd in a sports car.

24 – When my oldest was diagnosed with autism, it was a rather dark time. Many co-workers at the station became so much more.  They were my support. They immediately became part of “Team Trey”. Autism is a formidable challenge – especially those first few years when you chart out  anew journey.  Funny thing is, my co-workers may have been the first assist in our fight. KSUX listeners were right there every step of the way.  Yup.  I probably shared too much about our family and Trey man.  However, I can’t tell you how much conversations at the grocery store, out in the public and in the most clandestine of locations help me emotionally.  I knew I wasn’t in it alone.  The community showed so much love for Trey and our family.  The first autism walk I was involved in was an indication of how much love there was for us and the journey. For these last 17 years, I am forever grateful for that.  That means more to me than a well-executed break about how fit Tim McGraw is.  I bet he didn’t have lunch with 2,400 consumers of his music.

25 – If you are still reading this, thank you. This list took all of about 7 minutes to put together. I have so many blessings when it comes to this gig that doesn’t seem like a job. Except in meetings. That totally feels like I’m punching the clock.  My most recent moment that really resonated with me was last Saturday at the Farmer’s Market. I’ve been an adjunct professor at Morningside U since 2014 in addition to my fun duties at KSUX. It’s fun to see so many students take an active role in audio platforms like radio, news and podcasting. This past Saturday at 10:20am, I interviewed Alexis Spier.  She’s a junior in Mass Communication.  She’s been in two of my courses. She was on the remote broadcast with me and absolutely killed it.  It’s fun to see the next generation have the same love for audio that I did when I showed up in that goofy tie August 1, 1997. I’ve worked at KSUX for 25 of the 32 years it’s been on the air at 105.7. I don’t take a minute for granted.  I’m smart enough to know listeners MAKE the station what it is. Over my time I realized there are so many great stories I am lucky enough to hear about on a daily basis.  Marriage proposals, new beginnings, overcoming challenges and living your best life after crises comes your way. I’ve had a front row seat to witness Siouxlanders make this location what it is for me since I got here.