Monday, August 1, 2022

R.I.P.: John Aiello, Iconic Austin Radio Personality

John Aiello

Austin radio icon John Aielli, whose fearless and improvisational approach delighted and polarized listeners for over 50 years, died Sunday at 76, according to a posting on the KUTX website.

"He was such a joy to work with, and so important to what the stations have become," KUT/X General Manager Debbie Hiott said in a message to staff.

"John was an Austin treasure and was an indelible part of so many lives here in Austin," Matt Reilly, KUTX program director, said in a statement. "His unique perspective on the world made being with John a joy. Our lives are less interesting with him gone."

Aielli's passing silences one of the truly unique voices in American broadcasting.

John Aiello
He was born in Cincinnati in 1946, but the family moved to Killeen, near his mother’s family, when he was 8. There, Aielli sang in his school choir and studied piano. At 17, he got a piano scholarship to UT Austin. But it only covered tuition, so he put off school and worked a few years as an announcer at the Killeen radio station KLEN to save up money. 

Arriving at UT in 1966, Aielli parlayed his broadcasting background into 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 spun music on the side.

By 1970, Aielli's show was named Eklektikos in honor of its wild mashup of musical genres and interviews. It was this formula (or, lack of one) that lasted for more than 50 years.

Beyond playing music, Aielli interviewed countless musicians, writers and artists.

His long, meandering talks with guests (and without them) became a trademark of the show. In the early days, though, it may have been borne of necessity.

Aielli had a stream-of-consciousness style of presenting. He would free-associate words and themes to determine what to play or talk about, and it could feel improvised and chaotic. But the chaos was integral to the magic he created.

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