Eklektikos host John Ellie, who took off by the seat of his pants, was 76. died on

Austin radio icon John Ailey, whose fearless and improvisational approach has delighted and polarized listeners for more than 50 years, died Sunday at the age of 76.

“It was a great pleasure working with them, and very important to the stations they have become,” Debbie Hiot, general manager of KUT/X, said in a message to employees.

Read a recollection from KUTX

“John was an Austin treasure and an indelible part of so many lives here in Austin,” Matt Reilly, KUTX program director, said in a statement. “His unique view of the world made it a joy to be with John. Our lives are less interesting than he left.”

The passing of Ellie marks one of the truly unique voices in American broadcasting.

a life in music

From the very beginning, Ellie seemed destined for life in music. His father was a pianist and his mother used to sing in a jazz band.

Black and white photo of a person sitting on the microphone in a studio, smiling and looking at the camera

Ellie, seen here in 1972, wanted to “soften the elitism of classical music” by mixing it with other genres.

He was born in 1946 in Cincinnati, but when he was 8 years old, the family moved to Killeen, his mother’s family. There, Ellie sang in her school choir and studied piano. At the age of 17, he received a piano scholarship at UT Austin. But it only included tuition, so he closed school and worked a few years as an announcer at KLEN radio station KLEN to save money. In this way John Ellie became the person who City of Killeen alerted to murder of JFK,

Coming to UT in 1966, Aielli presented his broadcasting background as a job at KUT, then an eight-year-old public station known as “The Longhorn Radio Network”. He was a 20-year-old student who shunned music.

Ellie loved classical, but her musical curiosity was indomitable. He began adding different genres to the rotation: folk, world music – whatever caught his fancy.

Decades later, he Told He hoped that mixing different types of music would introduce more people to classical music and “soften the hardcore, elitism of classical music.”

For this reason, he went through a period of wearing overalls to a performance of classical music,

the birth of eclecticos

By 1970, Ellie’s show was named Eclecticos in honor of its wild mashup of musical styles and interviews. It was this formula (or, lack of one) that lasted more than 50 years.

Beyond Playing Music, Alyque Interviewed countless musicians, writers and artists.

His long, lengthy conversations with (and without) the guests became a trademark of the show. However, in the early days, it may have been borne out of necessity.

“Back when I arrived at KUT, John was six hours a day,” says Jeff McCord, now a music editor and host at KUTX. “In those days we were walking [music library] And finding the CD to play and run back. And you are tired of doing this. If a person was interesting at all, he would talk to them for a long time. ,

Black and white photo of a person among CD shelves and shelves.

Ellie, who dreams of becoming a singer one day, says she became a DJ “by default”.

Ellie herself describes her job as “Facility“is someone who connects his audience to Austin’s cultural life. And, as his following grew, so did his role in that cultural life.”

radio host by default

While she was often in the audience at plays and concerts, Ellie had her own musical ambitions. During the 70s, he trained as a singer and gave annual recitals. In the stairwell of the former KUT studio, his haunting vocal scales reverberated across the floor of the building every day. Their holiday sing-along at the Texas Capitol became a tradition cherished by generations of Austinites.

A person on a stage leans over and holds a microphone to sing for someone on the ground.

Ellie holds a microphone for a young singer during the Holiday Sing-Along at the State Capitol in 2017.

For decades, he dreamed of moving to New York to pursue a singing career. But by the time he was confident enough with his skills in the early ’80s, They saidHe realized that he was too old to start a new career.

He said that giving up on that dream may have been one of his best decisions.

“I’m by default doing something I really love,” he said The Daily Texan, “I get to make records and talk to musicians in the world of music. I couldn’t be happier than that.”

‘Absolutely stupid’

In fact, the music and the guests were not what made Eclecticos a decade-long phenomenon. The show was about Ellie herself. He did things you don’t hear on the radio. They may have an author to talk about with a new book, but decide they should discuss gardening instead. He would break in the middle of a song to comment on it. He let the dead air over him for a long time.

Ellie “broke every rule of broadcasting,” McCord said. He refused to wear headphones (a reason for that dead air) and didn’t prepare for the interview. This led to moments that were either laughter- or cringe-inducing, depending on the listener, McCord said, like the time Ellie “somehow confuses Bono with Sonny Bono.”

,[Aielli broke] There’s every rule of broadcasting.”

Jeff McCord, KUTX Music Editor and Host

This never bothered John.

“He was absolutely clueless.” McCord said. “when titanic Come the movie, he won’t stop playing that soundtrack. If he really loved it he would often play a song three or four times in a row. You know who does that on the radio? nobody.”

“Eventually we had to hide the CD,” he said.

Ellie had a stream-of-consciousness style of presentation. He will associate words and subjects freely to determine what to play or talk about, and this can feel instantaneous and chaotic. But the chaos was integral to the magic he created.

“If there’s no dead air, it means you have to be prepared for everything,” Ellie once told her hometown newspaper, Killeen Daily Herald, “I like to fly by the seat of my pants.”

destined to be an icon

For many, the discovery of Eclecticos was a strange welcome to a city with a reputation for weirdness, a sacrament that touched generations.

“What I love most about Austin is the friendship,” Ellie once said, “There are good people here, and it spreads to the people who come here.”

Those close to him felt the awkwardness as well as that kindness.

“He can be very generous,” said Jay Trachtenberg, a longtime friend and colleague of Ellie’s.

At the radio station, Ellie will bring thrift-store finds and homegrown tomatoes to share with co-workers. He used to keep chocolates on his desk to move around and compliment anyone who tried a new outfit or hairstyle.

A black and white photo of a person sitting at a desk looking at a computer screen and another person looking at the camera behind their head in a chair.

Jay Trachtenberg (left) says sometimes he and Ellie quarreled like a strange couple.

But, like his on-air presence, he could also disappoint.

“John lives in his own world and sometimes has no idea what is happening around him,” Trachtenberg said. “Sometimes we would go over it to entertain our co-workers. We’ll be like a weird couple fighting each other.”

The station is full of stories about Ellie, such as when a worker walked into Studio 1A at night to find her standing on her head in the dark, Trachtenberg recalled. “Then John was getting upset because he was interrupted!”


Ellie lived alone, but loved being around people. He often used to share stories of his friends in his shows. In his spare time, he would spend hours at his regular table at the Cherrywood Coffeehouse, reading a book or chatting with strangers.

He was “a really lovely boy,” Trachtenberg said.

The work of some innovators may seem less important with age. As time passes, what makes them special becomes common. But Ellie’s truth was the opposite. As broadcast conventions became less free-form – which McCord calls “tighter” – eclecticos seemed awkward by comparison. In a town that prides itself on awesomeness, Ellie was destined to be an icon.

“I was lucky,” Ellie once said of the twist of fate that brought her to the radio half-century. But, of course, we did too.

There used to be a bumper sticker you’d see around town, expressing Ellie’s warm and complicated relationship with her audience. It said: “If you don’t teach your kids about John Ellie, who will?”

Answer: Thousands of his fans and friends. Without him, radio would never be the same.

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