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Making waves on the air

Wren Wertin

He’s been speaking into a microphone since he was 15; before that it was spoons. As Gray puts it, some people never figure out what they want to do, and some are born knowing.

He’s a voluble voice on the airwaves, giving the vocal equivalent of a cappuccino (a double, with extra foam) to his newly wakened listening audience. His show is an even split between talk and music.

“As dysfunctional as it is, it’s a family show, a breakfast party,” he said. “It’s real life, but it’s fun.”

Gray is the newest addition to KTUN’s family. Don’t call him a DJ; he’s a host. He worked for years in the Front Range at KBCO (“I was too weird for the tree huggers.”), KBPI (“I was too mellow for the toothless heavy metal freaks.”) and KOA (“I was too liberal for the Rush Limbaugh fans.”). From there he went to Canada to program a rock station, but after a few years was tired of city living. When KTUN invited him to the crew, he moved in and claimed four hours of morning time Monday through Friday as his own. He also filled up the office.

“If I’m going to spend time here, it’s got to look like home,” he said.

Decor is more dorm room than living room – an air hockey table, a trombone and an array of half-filled coffee mugs crowd the little box of space. In the middle of it all, Gray heckles passers by with one liners and answers questions without pausing to breathe, his eyes darting around. The man can talk, and talk a lot.

He’s always liked interacting with people, and knew he wanted to turn it into a job.

“I can’t play guitar, so being a rock star was out,” he said. “What other profession lets you be the class clown?”

Despite his endless stream of glib remarks, he keeps coming back to one particular theme.

“We’re here to make an impact on people,” said Gray. “We help create an emotion, make people laugh, think, pick up a guitar and make some music. Radio’s got a lot of power. And responsibility.”

As for power, while working at the college radio station Gray soon discovered he could get other students to finish his homework by playing the songs they loved. He has no need for homework these days, but is still cognizant of his potential to affect people.

“We’re doing our job if we’re making an impact,” he said. “Radio used to be the number one accessory in the car. Now, it’s number 10, behind cell phone and windshield wipers. But if people have an opinion about me, about the station, that’s something.”

He doesn’t care what that opinion is, and is used to stirring up a bit of controversy. “I can’t believe you said that,” are familiar words to his ears. His own mother considers his show a bit coarse.

“I lie to her and tell her I work for the easy listening station,” he quipped.

Yet he doesn’t feel he does anything shocking. In fact, he thinks it’s impossible to shock people, anesthetized as they are by pop culture. As for the shock jocks making headlines with crude stunts – and their subsequent firings – he feels the problem is partly an abuse of power by the DJs, and partly a bias about radio.

“Other forms of media get away with more,” he said. “Radio is treated primitively because it was first. It’s not allowed the same freedom.”

At the same time, he finds shock jocks distasteful, if a bit funny at times.

“Shock jocks are about hate,” he explained. “I’m not that guy. I’ve got a lot of energy. There’s a lot of love in the room.”

“I’m a rebel with a heart,” he added, laughing.

He’s also a husband and a father. When his son, Declan, was born, the music in his house changed. The former Eminem fan now has “Blue’s Clues” in his disc changer. (He’s also a closet country fan.)

Gray considers his dumbest radio stunt to be The Alligator Incident. It happened in Denver. After reading in the paper that Cayman Island alligators were living in the pond in Washington Park, he decided to expose the fraud.

“Yeah right,” he said. “There are tropical alligators living in Denver. Sure.”

After duct taping several steaks to each leg, he waded into the water carrying a cordless microphone, keeping his listeners informed of his progress. In the middle of the pond, he had the oh-so-fleeting thought that maybe, just maybe, he was wrong and, therefore, lunch. In that moment he dropped the microphone into the murky water, destroying it. Nonetheless, he had proven his point: he might spout off his opinions for all the world to hear, but he’d stand by them. He still does.

Kerry and his cohorts can be heard on KTUN, The Eagle, Monday through Friday, from 6 to 10 a.m. For more information, call the station at 949-0140.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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