John Aielli, the idiosyncratic Austin public radio host whose wide open style both enchanted and irritated Austinites fore 50 years, has died. He was 76.
“We’re heartbroken to tell you that our beloved friend and colleague John Aielli passed shortly before 8 a.m. this morning,” Austin stations KUT and KUTX said in a statement today. “He was such a joy to work with, and so important to what KUT and KUTX have become.”
Aielli, who had been on the Austin airways since 1966, had in recent years suffered several health setbacks, including a stroke in 2020, after which he stepped back from regular on-air duties.
During his five decades with KUT and KUTX Aielli filled the morning airways with everything from classical music to jazz to disco.
Aielli’s willful style meant that he might follow-up an opera aria with a long mix of disco queen Donna Summer. If he liked a song, he’d play it several times in a row. He’d stop a song midway through to offer a rambling monologue filled with his musings and legendary non sequiturs. He loved to report on his rain gauge.
Born in Ohio, Aielli was eight when his family moved to Killeen. Musically talented, he received a piano scholarship at the University of Texas, but it wasn’t until later, in his mid-20s, that he studied voice. Eventually he performed in annual recitals, And his Holiday Sing-Along at the Texas Capitol became a popular tradition.
Aielli first took a job at KUT as a part-time announcer for the classical music program. By 1970, Aielli’s morning show was named Eklektikos, a reference to his wide-ranging mix of musical genres and interviews. At its peak, Eklektikos ran from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
He interviews with a range of cultural figures were famous for veering off topic, and overtime. What might start as the usual interview with author and a new book, might spin off into exchange of recipes and food stories. And the dreaded dead air time that most radio hosts fear, never fluttered Aielli.
Aielli broke “every rule of broadcasting that there is,” said Jeff McCord music editor and host at KUTX in the station’s remembrance. ““He was just utterly unafraid. When the Titanic movie came out, he would not stop playing that soundtrack. Eventually we just had to hide the CD.”
His singular personality and broadcast style made Aielli an Austin icon, never mind the sometimes complicated relationship he had with his audience. For years, a popular bumper sticker popped up around Austin that read: “If You Don’t Teach Your Kids About John Aielli, Who Will?”