Man behind the mic

John Anderson found himself hosting and directing radio shows from Minnesota to South Carolina before finding his home in Abilene.

KABI 1560 The General program director John Anderson’s journey to Abilene was full of left turns — sometimes literally. When he lost his first job, he drove all the way from Minnesota to New Mexico in a $500 used station wagon. 

“At that time, I got a point of purchase station wagon,” Anderson said. “I think I given $500 for (the station wagon) and one of the wheels was broken so I bolted it on. So, I could only make left turns. When I went places, I had to figure out how to get there by just making left turns.”

During that part of Anderson’s journey in radio, Abilene wasn’t a blink on his radar and he was just a young host trying to get his start on the air waves. Now, Anderson watches over Abilene’s local radio station and participates in his beloved community. But, as he would say a lot of steps came in between that rusted out station wagon to his chair behind the mic in Abilene. 

After spending time in the Army, working in a factory and graduating from Brown College in Minnesota, Anderson found himself behind a mic at  KKBJ 24 Hours a Day. A radio station in Bemidji, Minnesota near Bemidji State University, which at the time was a big teacher’s college. 

“I lasted there, I think maybe six months before they fired me,” Anderson said. 

He hosted a Saturday morning sports show for $20 dollars and “all the Paul Bunyan rolls I could eat.” He would get guests from the local college, like basketball coach and athletic director, to discuss local teams. 

“So, I come in this one Saturday morning and I’m looking at the basketball coach and I said you know ‘What seems to be your problem? Are you taking all your shots from the locker room because you’re not making any out on the floor?”

After that moment on air, Anderson found himself in the Yellow Pages looking for a new job and with the nickname “wrongly Anderson” for a while. 

“I went down to the public library and started going through Yellow Pages and phone books and sending tapes and resumes out to radio stations,” Anderson said. 

With calls from program directors, Anderson in his rusted out station wagon drove out to Wisconsin just to be told over the phone he was a week late. Right after the call, the phone started to ring once more and it was his sister. She informed him that a program director in New Mexico wanted to offer him a job. 

“So I said, I’m halfway across the state of Wisconsin, you know? And he just says, well bring me some cheese,” Anderson said. 

With a job in New Mexico, Anderson found himself behind the mic of a much larger station. 

“I go from getting fired at this like 5000 Watt A.M. Station, which is equivalent to KSA and all of sudden I’m doing afternoons out of a 50,000 Watt Clear Channel Station,” Anderson said. 

“I mean, I’m scared,” Anderson added. “Because after getting fired your confidence has kind of taken a little bit of a beating.”

After his time in New Mexico, he started to jump around the United States to different stations from El Paso, Texas to Wyoming to Abilene. No matter how much time he spent behind the mic, Anderson can still remember snapshot memories through his years… 

Like when he almost got sued, 

“There was a place called High Towers downtown, which was a notorious skyscraper,” Anderson said. “So we call up the city (for broadcast), ‘we want to make a complaint about High Towers … the other day I’m getting in the elevator and they’re bringing up some chickens and some sheep and stuff.”

“The next time, a cow and some pigs they were bring on up and that wasn’t too bad, but now they’re having these square dancing parties all night long and I can’t get any sleep,” Anderson added. “We would record these and play them back on the morning show. So the next thing we know (their boss) comes stroming in and of course, we didn’t pay too much attention to him because it’s just Frank and he was always wired up in some way or another. ‘We just got a call from the tower and they are threatening to sue.”

Anderson continued the joke for one more show before apologizing on the air to avoid a lawsuit, which led to him and his co-host being monitored for content quality. 

Like when he voiced an exercise video,

“Department of Corrections of South Carolina asked ‘Can we do a voiceover for a video for Jazzercise?” Anderson said. “The video is for the prison population, so at the time James Brown was in prison, so I always tell people I taught the Godfather of Soul how to Jazzercise.”

Like when he lived around Bandidos motorcycle club, 

“Most of my neighbors out (New Mexico) were the Bandidos biker group,” Anderson said. “I had gotten an Irish Setter dog, that someone couldn’t handle or whatever and all the kids would come around and pet the dog…They kind of looked at me as a nice guy, because I treated their kids okay, so they left me alone.”

Like when he played Whitney Houston

on the air, ’ 

“I get this record by Jermaine Jackson and they’re pushing this one song out,” Anderson said. “I listened to the album and I see this other song in there with this gal on it. I was like Wow she is great, so I’m putting that one on…The record rep called and I said I had this other one with the gal that I put on and he said he didn’t want to release that as a single because he kind of felt like it was more about the gal. The gal’s name was Whitney Houston.”

Like when he was

on the air for former President Ronald

Reagan being shot, 

In most radio stations, they will have a wire that will bring them breaking news stories through a bell system. So, usually, if the host hears four bells ring that means breaking news that needs to hit the airwaves. 

“I’m on the air in the afternoon and there’s nobody else at the station, except the secretary,” Anderson said. “So the newsroom was like over there through the window and that’s where the wire was. It’s ringing off and I go in there and check, the president has been shot.”

March of ‘93 

Not a snapshot memory or a great soundtrack played, March of 1993 marks the time Anderson moved to Abilene and began his career at KABI 1560. The radio station had Anderson covering news, so he was in a plane to report on the flood of ‘93 happened and saw the opening of the Russell Stovers factory. 

“It was just trying to get the levels of where the flood was at, so I flew over the area,” Anderson said. “In fact, there was a gal from the Reflector-Chronicle who went up on the plane with me. We flew it at 90 degrees like for an hour and 45 minutes. I remember I was green and sick afterwards and that Solomon was completely underwater.”

Later at a press conference at Fort Riley, Anderson asked former Kansas Senator Bob Dole “What’s all this pork on this flood bill?”

“Of course he just zinged me right away,” Anderson said. “What do you mean pork? There’s no pork in the Republican Party.”

Outside of reporting the local news over the airwaves, Anderson found himself volunteering to bring the Christmas spirit from reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” at McCain auditorium and becoming one of Abilene’s Santa Clauses. But one Christmas event that brought him to tears, he helped families record messages to soldiers overseas during the Iraq war. 

“I put a tissue box out mostly wives and the kids could wish Merry Christmas to their husbands,” Anderson said. “So I’m sitting there and it went on for four hours. It was 100% participation, everybody they invited, showed up. I’d never seen anything like it. It took me four hours to get through…It was heartbreaking deal to the wife there and those kids. All of a sudden, the tears started rolling down my eyes, I grabbed tissues. I couldn’t handle any more, but it was a neat experience.”

Outside of his Christmas volunteering, Anderson also assisted with raising money for cancer research by standing on top of a McDonalds in Junction City. 

“I think in total, we raised $375,000 all those years and I awarded scholarships at the station banquet every year,” Anderson said.

Since the March of ‘93, Anderson experienced those moments of news and charity, which many would think ended his station bouncing, but it was the listeners and the community.

“If there’s a difference between people that are transcending into it, at some point, you realize it’s not about you,” Anderson said. “It’s about the listener. They are the star. They are the people. They are what is important.”

 

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