For 50 years, John Aielli has brought a mixture of musings, music and even a bit of dead air to The University of Texas at Austin’s radio station, KUT. He’s a unique host who loves to present his passion for music and local talent to the ears of listening Austinites, along with some bizarre conversations with himself that have made him an Austin icon.
There’s Nothing Quite Like “Eklektikos”
In 1966, Aielli began working at KUT as a classical music announcer while he was a student at UT. Since he’s trained in classical music, he soon became the show’s programmer and gained his own time slot called “Eklektikos.” According to a KUT press release, the show’s title was “inspired by the Greek word eklektos, meaning chosen from the best.”
It didn’t take long for Aielli to begin expanding the musical selection for the show to include everything from folk and Indian classical to rock and local music. Along with the diverse song choices, Aielli continues to spend some of his show letting his mind drift to whatever inspires him in the moment. He’ll chat about random things like his garden, chocolate, life, the weather and other topics that lead to unpredictable contemplations. Sometimes he even falls silent for a moment, but the dead air never lasts longer than it takes Aielli to put on a new song or come up with another observation.
For Aielli, anything can lead to a one-liner musing. For example, after he played a Passion Pit song, he said, “Passion Pit…peach pit…life is the pits. There are a lot of pits in this world. Watch out for the ones you can fall in.” His most quotable thoughts often become tweets on a popular fan-owned Twitter handle, @Eklektikos.
In 2013, KUT spun off its music programming to KUTX and Aielli stayed on for the ride. Since 2016 marks 50 years of his being on the air in Austin, the City of Austin declared Sept. 1 “John Aielli Day.”
Interview With the Interviewer
To get to know the man behind the microphone, I spoke with Aielli in the KUT offices on the UT campus. I asked how he celebrated the day named in his honor, and he said he spent it wearing one of his favorite thrift store finds, thanking his co-workers and eating some spaghetti. When it comes to his favorite thrift stores, Aielli has a mental list of all the worthwhile locations in Austin and what they “specialize” in.
Celebrating #JohnAielliDay with the man himself, resplendent in his best thrift store gear. Happy anniversary John!! pic.twitter.com/pCMkIVeKYk
— Wells Dunbar (@WellsDunbar) September 1, 2016
Other than thrift shopping, reading and attending classical concerts in Austin, Aielli loves to sing. He considers himself a “preserver of a dead art” from his classical training that began in junior high school with his 7th grade choir director, George Uland, who he names as a major mentor in his life. Uland encouraged Aielli to take private lessons and learn the piano, which essentially shaped Aielli’s path. To this day, Aielli sings daily and says he focuses on the meaning of the lyrics when he practices.
In 2012, Aielli told Austin Monthly that he thought of himself as more of a “facilitator” than an “achiever.” I asked whether he still felt this was true and he spoke to the importance of what he does: “Being a facilitator is really a job within itself. There’s a lot going on all the time in terms of happenings in Austin, and people want to be in touch with other people with what they’re doing…and I provide the coil in the operation. It takes a lot of looking around and building trust.”
When asked what he hopes listeners gain from his show on KUTX, he said he hopes they learn to take a step back and absorb what’s going on around them. “Just take a moment and notice, hey this is cool! We’re looking at a tree, or it’s the sound of the ocean or whatever it is, just pay attention.”
What’s instantly recognizable in Aielli is a love for life and a genuine fascination with the world around him. He answered every question thoughtfully, but couldn’t help but look around the room and wonder about my foot tattoo (a seashell) or even what movie the David Bowie photo on the wall came from (“The Hunger”). At 70 years old, Aielli has observed a lot of life, but he still takes everything in with a fun sense of curiosity. As we ended our time together, he reminded me to take a look at the crepe myrtles this time of year. “They’re just going nuts!” he said.
Tune Your Radio Dial to KUTX for John Aielli
After speaking with Aielli, I sat in on a recording of local band Thor and Friends that was airing the next day on “Eklektikos.” The band performed a few songs and gave a brief interview to promote their upcoming show at Cactus Café. Aielli intently watched each band member as they played beautiful soundscapes. The result was one more segment to join decades of previous shows, all giving local talent a space to express itself on air.
If you want to hear an eclectic combination of good music and Twitter-worthy quotes from Aielli, tune in to KUTX 98.9 early Monday through Thursday mornings from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. You can also click here to listen to recorded interviews and performances from local talents.
If you’re already a John Aielli fan, be on the lookout for the next KUT membership drive when you can receive a John Aielli bobblehead as a gift. Imagine having a little Aielli sitting on your dashboard, nodding along to the radio while “Eklektikos” plays during your morning commute.
@MadameKLM wants to know:
What’s your favorite oddball thing John Aielli has said in the past 50 years?