Legendary DJ Ronnie Kaye still gets his groove on

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From vinyl records to computers, legendary DJ Ronnie Kaye still gets his groove on

Back at KOMA, Kaye recalls meeting Elvis, Smokey Robinson and other musical greats

By Sandi Davis

From the days of radio studios equipped with turntables and vinyl records to today’s studio filled with computer screens and keyboards, legendary disc jockey Ronnie Kaye has kept generations of listeners entertained with an enticing mix of music, special guests and his smooth voice.

Kaye has been working in radio since his first job at radio station KLCN in Blytheville, Ark., doing play-by-play for a county basketball tournament while still in high school in the mid-1950s.

These days he has the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift on KOMA and plays a mix of music from the 1960s through the 1980s.

For those counting, that’s almost 60 years. In that time he’s been a DJ and hosted a hugely popular dance show, “The Scene” from 1966 to 1974.” At one time it was syndicated and played in other markets like San Diego and San Francisco. He took a break from radio in the 1980s to work at a TV station but returned to radio in 1991 when he went to work for KOMA.

“I know it sounds trite but I love this,” Kaye said in an interview at KOMA. “The other thing has been luck. I’ve been blessed. I always seem to step on the right stone in the water.”

Kaye believes he has been on the air longer than any other DJ in Oklahoma.
He started his stint in Oklahoma City with WKY radio in 1961 already well versed in rock and roll.

“When I worked in Blytheville, rock and roll was just two years old. It was close to Memphis and the music scene there was really hot but, especially when Elvis started recording,” Kaye said.

The national president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club listened to Kaye’s show and invited him to see Graceland.

“I went. Elvis wasn’t home, but I met his dad,” Kaye recalled.

Kaye would meet The King years later while he and his wife were visiting Los Angeles in 1968. They were just outside the main gate at Paramount Studios. He asked the security guard if any celebrities would be coming or going out of the gate and was told that Elvis should be coming out at any time.

Elvis was filming “Spin Out” with Nancy Sinatra. He left the movie lot sitting in the back seat of a car.
Kaye and his wife followed the car through Beverly Hills and Bel Aire up into the Hollywood Hills until Elvis’ car stopped at a gate in front of his house on Rocco Road.

Kaye jumped out of his car and ran to Elvis’ car and knocked on the window.

Elvis rolled the window down and like so many of us who freeze when we meet someone we admire, Kaye’s mind went blank.

“I stood there looking at Elvis Presley,” he said. “I finally blurted out, ‘Your wife is beautiful.’”

Elvis, always quick with a reply, smiled at the flustered man and said, “That’s what she tells me.”

Kaye, who is easy to talk to, sat in a conference room at Tyler Media, owner of KOMA, relaxed with a slight smile as we talked. His looks haven’t changed much since his early days in the city and he looked handsome in a black sweater over a white shirt with the sleeves of both rolled to his elbows. His jeans covered the tops of black cherry Luchese cowboy boots.

“I was lucky to be at WKY in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Kaye said. “In the early days, bands would tour from city to city and stop by a radio station for interviews and maybe a performance.”

He recalls meeting Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Ray Charles, The Temptations.

Once, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were at WKY to do a recording, but the single studio used for taping was being used to make a TV commercial for C.R. Anthony’s, a clothing chain. The filming went longer and longer.

“I kept having to go back to our coffee shop to tell them they needed to wait a little longer,” he said. “I felt bad but they were so nice. When I finally had to tell the group that they wouldn’t be able to tape that day, they took it really well.

“They were dressed like they were ready to go on stage but they needed a ride back to their hotel so I took them. They sang to me all the way to their hotel. It was wonderful.”

In the mid-1960s, films of bands singing their songs started coming to WKY. They came from bands like the Beatles who didn’t tour a lot.

Kaye had been watching “American Bandstand” and thought a show like that would be popular in Oklahoma City.

“I asked about doing a dance show using local high school students. They said yes and gave me a 13 week contract,” he said. “I didn’t know that Anthony’s has asked about having a show for teenagers just before I did.”

Dr. Pepper also sponsored “The Scene.” They also sponsored “American Bandstand.”

The first few shows, Kaye was particular about showing how the dancers looked, dressed, acted and danced. He provided costumes (which he still has).

“The Scene” lasted eight years. During that time Dick Clark himself came to the show when it filmed at The State Fair of Oklahoma.

Clark invited Kaye to Los Angeles to see “American Bandstand” and had him sit on the bleachers.

“Now you have to remember that it was the 60s and how we dressed back then. I had on a bright purple suit,” Kaye recalled. “I couldn’t believe it when Dick Clark asked about the color of that suit.

“I said it was exploding grape.”

“American Bandstand” had a popular dance contest featuring couples from coast to coast. “The Scene” sent the show’s winning couple Deitrich Nelson and Davida Williams. They won the 1969 contest and both received cars.

“The Scene” started by using specific high schools but finally opened up the show to all schools and loosened the dress code a bit when the show went into syndication.

It also was one of the first integrated shows in the area.

When the show first began, Kaye asked, and was given two cameras. A third camera was added and by the time it was syndicated into eight markets, it was a four camera show.

“It was quality programming, and I made so many contacts and friends,” he said.

The show had performances from James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Jay and the Americans, Brewer and Shipley and a lot of local bands.

“The Scene” filmed its last show in 1974.

Kaye played tunes as vinyl, which was replaced with 8-track tapes and cassettes at WKY. As music changed, so did the programming at WKY.

They let Kaye go in 1980. He worked a few weeks at KOFM, then took a job as News and Public Service Director at KOKH-TV.

“I gave Kelly Ogle his first job,” Kaye said, smiling.

In 1991, KOMA called. They had changed their programming to attract the Baby Boomers and now played classic rock.

“Radio is more exciting than TV. I love it,” he said. “It’s theater of the mind.”

Kaye went to work for KOMA, which now is housed where WKY used to be, so in a sense he’s back where he started.

It almost didn’t happen.

In the time he’d been working at a TV station, radio had gone into the computer age. He had training, but at first he had trouble trying to find the next song using a mouse.

“It was literally like starting over,” he said. “After about a week I walked in to the manager’s office and said I couldn’t do it.”

The manager asked him to give it a few more days. It was good advice.

Now, he sits in his studio and makes it look effortless as he plays song after song. He talks a little, then plays commercials before going right back into music.

He enjoys talking to his listeners and communicating with the public.

“It’s amazing how perceptive the audience is,” he said. “When I don’t feel good, they call ask what’s wrong.”

How does a man with 54 years in radio keep going?

“Every morning I have oatmeal with a banana, an apple and an orange. Then I go to work,” he said. “I don’t eat while I’m on the air and I’m not hungry until after I leave.”

In addition to his radio career, Kaye started providing music for dances, including the first prom ever held at Graham High School in Okfuskee County in 2000.

The first song? “Footloose, of course.”

He provides music for all sorts of parties and an all-school reunion at a metro area casino, giving his fans a chance to thank him in person for the decades of music and memories he has provided.

“I am happy and content.” he said, as he left for another meeting.

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