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K-Earth 101's Shotgun Tom Kelly retiring, but not shy

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

The cripplingly shy Shotgun Tom Kelly poses with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That's Stevie Wonder in the upper left corner. 4/30/2013 John Rabe

UPDATE 8/26/2015: After almost twenty years on the job, Shotgun Tom Kelly is retiring from afternoon drive on K-Earth 101 to become a community ambassador. He'll reportedly be moving back home to El Cajon and is working on a TV pilot. In the latest Arbitron ratings book, Kelly was #4 in the LA market in afternoon drive with a 4.7 share and about 1.3m weekly listeners.

As most on-air radio veterans will tell you, it's better than working for a living. Our job is to talk into a microphone. It may be all we know how to do, it may be all we ever dreamed of doing. In any case, it's all that Shotgun Tom Kelly has done since he was a teenager, and today he received his reward.

At the corner of LaBrea and Hollywood, with hundreds of his fans watching - many from San Diego, where he got his start - K-Earth 101's afternoon drive DJ got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Kelly started working in radio as a teenager when his mom urged him to go see a DJ broadcasting live from a shopping center. After stints at several stations in San Diego, plus Oxnard, Bakersfield, Phoenix, and San Francisco, he moved to LA in 1997 to take over for "The Real" Don Steele, who had died of lung cancer. He's been at K-Earth ever since,and sounds like he's been there forever.

His nickname comes from his dad, who dubbed him "Shotgun" because he always wanted to ride in the front seat. His trademark hat goes back to those days as well. His family went camping, and he loved the park rangers and their hats. It stuck as a visual trademark that, he says, worked  especially well when he hosted kids shows on TV.

Standing over his star today, I asked if he'd ever thought this could happen. "No," he said. "You know I never did. It was distant dream, but I didn't know if it would be realized or not."               

It's easy to dismiss the importance of a radio DJ. But you have to remember that people who like music aren't tricked into liking that music. For the Boomers, Oldies are an integral part of their lives, connecting them to old schools, old friends, and old loves, and - given all the technological changes that have happened in the last couple decades, it's a miracle that the Oldies, which so many of us first heard on a radio, are still being played on the radio.

Shotgun Tom Kelly knew this when he told me, "The most important thing to me are the people that love this music, and I want to keep them entertained; I want to keep them happy."

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