The Sounds of State-Jon Yim

Last Thursday I sat down with Jon Yim, one of my coworkers at KPBS, who also just started a radio show with us here at KCR. Jon runs one of our alumni weekend shows on Sunday, though he isn’t quite an SDSU alum. To say that Jon’s been around the block in an understatement, he’s worked in radio and television his entire life. I even made the mistake of asking him to explain how he came to KCR, and to tell it properly he basically had to give me a succinct story of his entire forty or so year career. All I needed to do was ask a leading question and he delivered. With that said, this is easily my longest interview, so let’s just get right into it:

Cameron Satterlee: Okay we are rolling, I am sitting here in the KPBS Tape Op room with Jon Yim, thanks for joining me.

Jon Yim: Well I appreciate it, glad to be here talking with everyone else, my fellow KCR people and people out there too.

CS: For those who don’t know, when is your show?

JY: I do the Radioactive Retro Brunch, and I do it on Sunday mornings from 7 to 10. And actually I do get some feedback from that one cause people my age, I’m pushing my mid-50’s right now, but people my age are usually up and about on the weekends that early in the morning. Having been a twentysomething earlier in my life I understand the whole concept of staying out of those early mornings on Sundays. But I think I’m filling a needed gap that needed to be filled and that’s when Matt Hoffman came and asked me to do the slot, he offered me a slot. Sunday was the only one available, so I said “why not” and I took it. So I’ve been having fun with it ever since.

CS: Yeah I wanted to follow up with that, since this is your first semester at KCR ever, correct?

JY: Right.

CS: How did you get all the way from—well you started a while back in radio, how did you get up to the point where Matt Hoffman asked you to come fill in for us?

JY: The long story short is that Matt approached me and asked if I would like to have a slot on KCR. I was not doing anything on Sundays so I figured “why not, let’s give it a shot”. My first love, even though I work in television, my first love has always been radio. I’ve been doing radio since I was sixteen when I got my start, and transitioned in the 80’s to television for television production. And so it’s always been in the background with me, I still once in a while, when I hear a song on the radio just playing by itself I’ll see how good my DJ skills are by doing what we call walking the ramp which is when you hear DJ’s do the introductions up until the first line of the lyrics, that’s what we call walking the ramp. It’s kind of a lost skill these days but I’ve always tried that and I go “yeah, that worked”. But it’s been a long road, started at sixteen when my family was living in Okinawa, I was an army brat back then. Wasn’t very good as sports, I was heavily involved in band and theater in high school, wasn’t exactly college material at the time. There really was very little to do on the island at the time, so I signed up at the school, they had an internship program, and I got involved in that. We called it work-study. And you could work several different places, you could work at the base gas station if you were mechanically inclined. If you were administratively inclined you could have worked at the army hospital. And in my case they also had broadcast training, so I took that step, became a pest and a nuisance mostly around the station till they said “yeah we’ll go ahead and start training you”. So for two class periods a day, in lieu of social studies, that’s what I was doing. I was learning how to work in the broadcast field so I did everything. I restacked records, this is back in the days when we were doing vinyl, restacked records in the library, pull radio spots for the DJ’s, run news copy to these guys, did a whole bunch of different things. I did radio and the TV side, I did it all the way till my graduation year in high school in 1976. Then I joined the navy, I originally wanted to go into broadcasting but they didn’t have any slots available so I went to boot camp here in San Diego. That was a long trip from Okinawa to San Diego. And then after boot camp went to a technical school at Point Loma at the old Naval Training Center. And unfortunately after about three months of school, which was highly accelerated for basic electricity and electronics, I had a minor grasp but not good enough and so I flunked out and so they sent me to the fleet. I was on a ship based out of Japan for two years and I learned how to be a basic deck seaman. That’s what I did, I was driving the ship, was paining, was rigging cranes and lifts and running small boats. I was quite good at that job too. And then an opportunity came up to go into broadcasting aboard the ship. We had a small television station and also a very small radio station aboard the ship, so I volunteered to go into that. And that’s what led me to the broadcast career field in the navy, and I did for, in my seventeen years in the navy, I did that for twelve. Twelve years in different places around the world. After I left the ship I was stationed in Tokyo for four years, then I moved back down south to Okinawa. Going back home so to speak, was there for two years. I did three and a half years in Pearl Harbor, which is where I’m from, I’m from Hawaii. I actually didn’t work in broadcast there, I was in public relations for the navy when I was there. But I kinda moonlighted at two radio stations at the time. I was doing weekend fill and vacation fill whenever the regular disc jockeys were out I’d just fill in for them. It was extra cash. And then I went to Australia to be the assistant stage manager of a closed circuit television station there. So spent four years in Australia, I also moonlighted over there at a couple of radio stations. One in Perth in Australia, one in the East Coast at 2 Triple M in Sydney. Did that, again vacation fill. And I got connected through friends of friends who worked in the Australian navy who had friends in the commercial world and that’s how I got hooked up. I became basically the token Yank, so to speak, since I was the only one with an American accent working on the air. Then in 1990 I moved back here to San Diego, was stationed at Miramar, was doing public relations. I ran the base newspaper while I was over there, was also the photographer, editor, and writer, and occasionally the publisher for Miramar’s base paper. And then I retired from active duty after Desert Storm in 1993 and stayed. Worked at Time Warner Cable for a little while in their technical operations department and then did some occasional voiceover work for them  for commercials and stuff. And then moved on to KUSI, was there for four years. I joined them in 1997 and was there until I came to KPBS in 2001 and joined you guys back in February so that’s pretty fun. It’s been a pretty fun ride.

CS: Wow. That’s an incredible story. I mean obviously radio, and I suppose all these forms of media, television, newspaper, it’s been pretty much your entire life’s work.

JY: Working in the media yeah.

CS: Pretty much. Boy this is something I really don’t encounter often. Definitely a first time for my little interview segment here. Wow so that’s very interesting. Wow that’s great. It’s clearly something you’ve dedicated a lot of passion and your energy into. It’s your life’s work I suppose.

JY: I kinda look at it from the point of view of if I can make one person’s day a little bit better then I’ve done my job. But that’s it, and that’s always been the attitude I’ve taken from people I’ve worked with in this business, in this industry over the years. Like you said, it’s been a long 40-plus years of working in this business. But it’s been fun. There have been great times and then not so great times. But in most cases it’s always just been a fun ride.

CS: Yeah so—

JK: What kind of music do I play? (laughs)

CS: Yeah I did want to get back to KCR, cause you have a three hour show—I’ve interviewed Clint Beachwood and Joe Shrin who also have the longer alumni shows—and they have different segments of music that they play, all within a certain theme. So I wanted to know what you’re all about.

JY: I call it mixed bag because I tend to go with my music format, well I like to say that I have no format and no rules.

CS: It is college radio.

JY: It is college radio. But technically I play everything from the mid-60’s to the mid-80’s, some 90’s in there, and some current tunes. Not a lot. I tend to focus on stuff that were pop hits from yeah the 60’s to about the 90’s and anything that really catches my ear. I also play a lot of classic album cuts from that general time period also. I’ll even throw in some Hawaiian, cause I’m from Hawaii, so I’ll throw in some Hawaiian music. I have friends of mine who have cd’s out there. I have several friends of mine out there who are working musicians. One’s a blues musician who’s based out of Okinawa, his name is David Ralston. I have another friend of mine who was my high school classmate and she’s a working jazz singer in the Netherlands, and she travels the world and she has some tracks that I have also been playing on the air. And also the local guys, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble with Tim Felton and Nicholas Costa. In fact their single City Heights is my show outro theme. They’ve been jazzed about that for a while now. If local artists have cd’s or tracks that are interesting, and like I said it’s pretty much free form, my mixed bag format is pretty much something for everyone. I even play country, not necessarily the new stuff that’s out there but the old stuff, the classic country from the 50’s-60’s-70s and 80’s. It all kind of works together. The greatest thing I like about KCR is you have this blank canvas you’re given for three hours and how you paint it is completely up to you. So that’s what I enjoy about it. It’s kind of catharsis for me too, I’m able to play Ronnie Radio for a little while. Just keeping my skills up in speaking and communicating, that’s it. And also having a little bit of fun, and If somebody has fun that’s great.

CS: Yeah you also mentioned the other day that as part of your mixed bag that you play comedian sets right?

JY: Oh yeah, I have a segment called the Sunday funnies. And yeah I try to play some great and classic comedy tracks from records, from comedians like Robert Klein. Robin Williams, you’ve got to clean him up a little bit, but it makes it to air. Also classic comedy bits from Abbot and Costello, from Hudson and Landry, and little bits and pieces from people who you never thought would do comedy cuts. I mean Cheech and Chong fit into that comedy category. So I spend maybe five, eight minutes, and that’s always at the bottom of the hour every hour when I play it. So at least you have something to have a laugh to in the morning. I kinda look at it like I’m right next to you with the coffee, the croissant, and the Sunday paper. So I’m just in the background getting stupid I guess at times. But I have a lot of great tracks to pull from. I like that I do have access to the vinyl library, I’m still digging through that and I’m still being amazed by what’s in there. But yeah that’s a resource that KCR is very blessed to have, is all that vinyl there inside those lockers outside of the hallway. Last I remember, somebody was saying there’s roughly between 120 to 135,000, and that’s a lot of vinyl. And that stretches back to when the station signed on in the 70’s or the 70’s, and so there’s a lot of vinyl inside there. So I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, but I have a general idea of what’s in there.

CS: Well we hope you’ll be able to play as much as you can moving forward.

JY: I’m certainly looking forward to it. The reach, what amazes me about KCR is the reach. I have my own Facebook page dedicated to the show. I also have an email address, and that is I always recommend email and I always promote that too. Not so much on the Twitter. I’m not exactly too much of a fan of that, but maybe I might expand to that. But right now I’m sticking with Facebook and Gmail as for promotion. And so I always try to archive and link my shows so everybody can listen in if they can’t catch it when it’s on live. To show you the amount of reach KCR has, back when I first did my first show back in mid-February, my bother texted me, who lives in Honolulu, texted me that he was hearing me loud and clear when he was going out for his jog on the Ala Wai Canal. So yeah that kinda blew my head away. And then some other friends of mine who live in Australia stayed up, cause it hits them at 2 o’clock in the morning live. But they stayed up to listen and they were quite impressed. These guys were old friends of mine from years past, and so they were talking to me. And a couple of friends from the UK also talked to me and emailed me that they caught my show. And so they were pretty impressed too and glad to hear me back on the air even though it’s online. People should realize that KCR has reach, it really does. Every time I crack that mike in the studio I think “okay, we’re going flying around the world via online. So keep that in mind.” I mean when I was stationed in Tokyo it was pretty much the same way. KCR has a global reach if anyone hasn’t realized it by now. Even though you may think we’re doing funny stuff and having a great time here in San Diego, which is what we’re aiming for. But we’ve got folks that do tune in around the world. So I hope people keep that in mind too, that we’ve got that.

CS: Alright, well, it seems like KCR is very lucky to have you. Thanks for sitting down and sharing your story with me.

JY: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

There he is folks, Jon Yim. It’s clear that he is a great asset to our station and a wonderful addition to the team. Normally I say that I chat with the DJ’s I just interviewed for a bit then part ways, but for Jon and I it was simply back to work. Jon’s been working in radio for all of his life, and he has the craft honed to perfection. At KCR we’ve given him a space to do whatever he wants, and it seems like he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity that is college radio.

Check out the RadioActive Retro Brunch Facebook Page

And check out his archive of old shows on Google Drive

And be sure to tune in to his show, Sunday mornings from 7-10 only on KCR Radio, the Sound of State.