In spite of what he said, “Records” was not his middle name, but that didn’t stop Gary “Records” Brown from becoming very popular among the St. Louis “oldies” crowd. Few people, however, know that he got his start here as a disc jockey on a “black” radio station.
Gary Brown was hired at KWK by Bernie Hayes in the summer of 1970. Hayes remembers him “asking to observe us while we did our airshifts…Gary also volunteered to relieve anyone who wanted time off. We utilized his services and he became our main substitute.” The stable of jocks at KWK during that time included Jim Gates, Al Waples, Donn Johnson and newsman Al “Scoop” Sanders, along with Hayes.
Gary Brown lived on The Hill and he loved to brag about his Sicilian roots, a trait that entertained the KWK jocks. He also loved the camaraderie of the radio world and the world of professional musicians. Bernie Hayes has fond memories of the night Gary accompanied him when they took Earth, Wind and Fire band members on an all night tour of East Side clubs.
In the early ‘70s Brown got a chance to move to Kansas City where he was a jock at KWKI-FM, again with a Black format. He always enjoyed telling the story of a personal appearance of all the station’s announcers at Municipal Auditorium there. Before a concert all the announcers were introduced. Brown, who was last on the list, came running out on stage to shocked audience silence. None of his listeners had realized what his ethnic heritage was. His fellow jocks whooped it up and the audience followed suit.
Gary once told interviewer Patrick Murphy that his interest in radio went back to the early ‘60s when he used to catch the bus to KXOK’s Radio Park on North Kingshighway. He’d hang around watching Ron Elz do the “Johnny Rabbitt Show,” picking up techniques he later used as an oldies jock at several stations.
Many of his years in St. Louis were spent working for the various incarnations of KADI-AM and FM. It was there that he developed his oldies persona as host of the “KADI Original Oldies Show” on Sundays. Ownership borrowed a slogan from another market, promoting “the music that was playing in the front seat while you were playing in the back seat,” and Brown used all the clichés to make the program a high-energy listener destination. The station’s listeners didn’t seem to notice that he’d sign off that show at midnight and be back in the studio to sign on the AM station six hours later.
In the late ‘70s, Doubleday Broadcasting came to town and started spending a lot of money. Brown was lured to their AM station when the oldies format was introduced in 1984 and he stayed at KGLD into the ‘90s, functioning as a DJ and program director.
Gary Brown also realized the dream of having his own radio station. He bought WJBM in Jerseyville and later added an AM/FM combo in Pittsfield. Fate brought him back to St. Louis in the form of a job offer from KLOU where he worked as the morning personality from 1996 – 1999. During this time he held his ownership position with the Illinois stations, and he confided to friends that he had finally, after many years, figured out the key to being paid well for his on-air work: Getting a job offer when you didn’t need it. He was fired from the KLOU job in 1999 on the same day he had been given a pay raise for his work in increasing the station’s ratings.
Brown died in his sleep a year later at the age of 51.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 7/04)