KJ Mac of 101.5 KOOL Boise has a mission—-to bring music that brings memories back to the Treasure Valley. KJ has been in the Boise area for many years, moving to Idaho in 1978 with his family to begin his career in the Treasure Valley. For many years he played country music on local stations such as KGEM, KQFC and KFXD-AM.
The music he grew up with, however, kept calling him, so ultimately he moved to playing music of the 60s, 70s and 80s on K-HITS before coming to KOOL Boise to play the music of the 60s, 70s and even some 50s too. Currently, KJ Mac of 101.5 KOOL Boise is both their Morning Drive-Time DJ as well as the station’s Program Director. In addition to that, KJ has been the voice of the Boise State Broncos Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams, as well as the voice of Boise State University Softball. KJ Mac sat down with the Boise Beat last week to talk about his career, the Oldies he loves and life in the Treasure Valley.
Q: Why do these songs have memories and meanings for so many people?
A: Because we grew up with them. Just the other day I was talking about a song, Kodachrome, that just hit me with a memory about my Dad and I driving to work. He worked in the corporate offices and I worked in the maintenance crew. We would listen to the radio and hear these songs and it just brings back a special memory. Sometimes they’re not so good of a memory, but I think that’s the reason.
Q: You play three very different types of music. How do you get them to blend so well?
A: In the 70’s, that’s kind of what we had. We had pop music like Elton John, then we played some Al Green; and rock ‘n’ roll was the Stones or the Doobie Brothers. We were just playing what was popular in the 70’s.
Q: What was the attraction that drove you into a radio career?
A: It was my freshman year in college at the University of Northern Colorado, in the spring; and I thought, “you know, I better declare a major”. So I went through the catalog of classes and I saw Communications, so I thought, “Well I’ll try that”. I went over and saw the radio lab and thought “Bingo! That’s what I want to do”. That’s how it started!
Q: How is Alexa as an on-air partner?
A: (Laughs) She’s great! ‘Alexa, aren’t you?’ (Her answer) ‘Sorry, I don’t know that one’. She pretty much says what I want her to say and does what I want her to do. Its been fun, it’s amazing what technology has been doing these days.
Q: KJ, tell me a good story from your days in radio…….
A: When I was playing country music, we had an opportunity—Garth Brooks was just coming onto the scene—we had a contest, ‘What would you do to meet Garth Brooks?’. The listeners wrote in with what they would doand this one gentleman said that he would shave his head, paint it red, pour maple syrup over his head and have his kids pour Rice Krispies over his head. So we said that it was good on paper, but now you’ve got to do it. So he came out one Saturday afternoon and did all of that and we gaver him tickets to come out and see and meet Garth Brooks.
Garth Brooks is by far the nicest guy backstage that I have ever seen. He comes into the Green Room and first of all, looks at all of us (the radio disc jockeys) and asks if he can get us anything. A beer—-and at that time there was not supposed to be any alcohol in the Pavilion. We said “sure” and he opened up his cooler and gave us all a beer. So then we introduced him to—Dan I think was the guy’s name—and said “Garth, Dan did this and this and we have pictures”. Garth said, “Are you kidding? You did all of that just to meet me? I can’t believe that!”.
Dan said, “Would you mind signing some pictures for me?”. Garth said, “Absolutely!”. He had a stack of five or six 8x10s that they sold out in the arena and Garth said first of all, “Where’d you get these pictures?”. And Dan replied, “I bought them out in the arena”. Garth looked at Mickey, his road manager and said, “Mickey, pay this guy back. He’s not buying those”. Then he gets the pictures and asks who he wanted them autographed to. Dan said “Laura”. Garth said “L-A-U-R-A?”. So all through all fiver, he made sure the name was spelled correctly and hands them to Dan. Dan is just shaking because he’s so happy. Garth then picked up the pictures that we had taken of the promotion, throws them down to Dan and says “It’s Garth. G-A-R-T-H. I want YOUR autograph!”. It blew me away! It was so cool that Garth did that. That’s a good radio story!
Q: What’s special about doing local radio? Is the Treasure Valley an interesting place for radio?
A: Boy it has been. I got here in ’77 and I was fortunate to work for the Number One radio station at the time which was KFXD-AM. We were the only player in town, really. Then FM radio came around and took some of the thunder from KFXD. It’s funny that a lot of these radio corporate types will come in and try to dictate what Boise radio should be. Boise radio is totally unique and corporate people sometimes get really frustrated and walk out of town saying “What the heck was that?”. It’s a unique community but a great community.
Q:What do you think of the plans and ideas to build the Idaho Broadcasting History and Education Center, a local broadcasting museum in Nampa?
A: I love it! I really love it. Art Gregory, that man who is putting it together is a walking encyclopedia. If you want to know anything about radio, the history of radio, he will have it for you right there. He doesn’t have to do any research—he knows it. The guy is phenomonal; and I love the idea because there are a lot of great radio guys who have come through this city. Larry Lujak started here, Boxcar Willie the country guy started here, its just incredible the amount of thalent that has come through here. I just think it’s going to be awesome, I can’t wait for it.
Q: You’re also the arena voice for Boise State Basketball…….
A: Yes, 40 years. Boy, I love that too. I started in the Bronco gym, then moved over to the Pavilion and now the Taco Bell Arena. I’ve seen some great basketball action, I get to sit there and announce the NCAA Tournaments and they pay me! It’s a pretty good gig!
Q: Do you have a favorite song you like to play?
A: Every day there’s a favorite but one of my all time favorites is Chris Rea, Fool If You think It’s Over.
I’m not sure why that’s such a song that I love, but boy do I love playing that one. And Boogie Wonderland, by Earth, Wind and Fire, that’s a great one.
Q: Who is your favorite artist and why?
A: Elvis. I wasn’t much of an Elvis fan in the 50’s stuff, but once In The Ghetto came out and that was such an impactful song—I was in high school when that came out and I just started watching him and lstening to him. Elvis is probably my favorite. And others? That’s kind of like, which is your favorite kid?
Q: As program director, you wear two hats. What about the other shows on KOOL Boise?
A: Margo and Brian and I work really well together as a team. I trust what they’re going to do. Margo I worked with for years at K-HITS. She is just such a staple of this community. Brian Gregory does an excellent job, especially with his Top 5 at 5, it’s just incredible the information that he gives on the songs. My main duty is to brand the station, program the music and make sure those guys are there when they’re supposed to be there. Again, it’s really a team effort.
I also have to say, in the Summer of 2016, 99.5-FM, who was playing KOOL music, was sold and it looked like there would be no Oldies in the Treasure Valley. Then the Impact Radio Group came along with 101.5-FM and I can’t express how much I appreciate what they’ve done to keep the Oldies going.
Q: Thank you, KJ!
KJ Mac of 101.5 KOOL Boise has bercome a fixture in Boise area radio. At 101.5 KOOL FM, he brings together the music that formed the soundtrack for many people’s lives. One listen to one of KJ Mac’s shows and you’ll see why he’s one of the gems of Idaho broadcasting.
All photos courtesy of KJ Mac of 101.5 KOOL Boise/Impact Radio Group