DJ BOBBY BOX IS ONE OF THE GOLDIES
DJ Bobby Box reflects on long career of bringing rock ’n’ roll to his listeners
After surviving many of the radio stations that once employed him, Rio Rancho music man reflects on long career of bringing rock ’n’ roll to his listeners.
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RIO RANCHO — If radio DJ Bobby Box could turn into one of those oldies tunes he has reveled in playing for several decades, on this particular afternoon, a recent Friday, he’d be Tyrone Davis’
“Turn Back the Hands of Time.”
Sitting in the quiet lobby of Rio Rancho’s KDSK radio, the most recent of many radio stations —
KNOW, WKGN, KZKL, WMOC,
KQEO, WZZP, KROY, KJBO, etc., etc. — that have made an alphabet soup of his life, Box rolls back through the years to 1962 when, not long out of high school, he got his first real radio job at KLBK in Lubbock.
“It was a great time for rock and roll,” said Box, who, now in his 70s, is a small, trim man with a deep radio voice and a full head of gray hair. The oldies he has become noted for playing on Albuquerque radio weren’t oldies back in ’62.
“I played Top 40, current hits of the day — Dion, the Orlons (who did) ‘Don’t Hang Up’ and ‘The Wah-Watusi.’ I met Buddy Holly’s parents the early part of 1963.”
Holly, a Lubbock native and 1950s rock sensation (“That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue”) was killed in a plane crash in 1959.
“I should have been more excited,” he said. “I got to see Buddy Holly’s bedroom.”
He’s seen a lot in a career that has taken him to radio stations in Austin, Cleveland, Sacramento,
Knoxville and Chattanooga. It was while working at WMOC in Chattanooga in the mid’60s that he was tapped to do a live show, introducing the Shirelles, the popular rhythm and blues girls group, to an audience of 8,000 or 9,000 in an auditorium.
“I was absolutely scared to death,” he said. “It’s one thing to be behind a microphone, but that was my first time on stage. I thought I would just go to my car and stay there.”
Since then, he has introduced many music stars of the ’50s and ’60s — Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka. But the closest he ever came to one of his most revered idols, Elvis Presley, was a chance encounter on a commercial airliner in Memphis in 1966. They didn’t exchange a word, but nodded to each other in silent greeting, “like two kids in high school.”
Box, who made his Albuquerque radio debut at KQEO in 1969, is known to his Duke City-area listeners for playing the music of the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s and for the “Elvis Hour,” a segment he continues at KDSK from noon to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
“Elvis could sing a phone book and make it interesting,” Box said. “When I do the ‘Elvis Hour,’ I never have to worry about it being boring. He’d always do (live performances) of ‘American Trilogy’ like it was the last thing he was going to sing.”
On the air
Box, who was elected to the New Mexico Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2006, has survived some of the radio stations that once employed him. That’s saying something because radio is a tough business.
In November, Box was let go from Albuquerque station KABG (98.5-FM) after working there for “20 years, five months, eight hours.” He said there were no hard feelings involved.
“KABG was very kind to me for many years,” he said. “I had a lot of good times there. But they were slowly and surely going a different way with their music, more ’80s into early ’90s, maybe some late ’70s. But the ’60s and early ’70s music was gone, and the ’50s, no way.”
He was not off the air long. Box started this month at KDSK — 92.9-FM Rio Rancho, 1240-AM Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 92.7-FM Grants. Boasting a music library of about 10,000 songs from the ’50s into the ’80s, KDSK bills itself as New Mexico’s Oldies and Sound Souvenirs station.
“I am very fortunate that KDSK exists so that I can do what I love to do, which is play the music I grew up listening to,” Box said.
Box, whose last name is really Box but whose first name is really Phil, was born in Abilene, Texas. His father was a farmer who raised cotton and wheat in Hamby, a Texas town near Abilene. Box’s parents broke up not long after he was born, so he spent the school year with his mother in Lawndale, Calif., in the South Bay region of the Greater Los Angeles area, and his summers
in Hamby, often riding a tractor in the hot Texas sun as he plowed his father’s fields.
In 1961, at the end of his high school years, he was riding in his 1951 Chevy on the Harbor Freeway in the South Bay area when he heard the radio commercial that would set the direction of his life.
“I didn’t want to get out of high school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Box recalled. “Then I heard an ad for the Don Martin School of Broadcasting Arts and Sciences (in Hollywood). It was like a light bulb came on. I was excited to tell my mom. I found it. This is it.”
And so it was, although there were times when he may have had second thoughts. Like that time in Lubbock when a program director with a bad temper busted up some studio equipment right in front of him. Or that time in Odessa, Texas,
when he got fired in the middle of a broadcast for making an on-air comment critical of the radio station’s clock.
But it all comes back to the music he loves, which turns anyplace he’s playing it into home.
“Outside of the time when I was playing country music at (Albuquerque’s) KRZY, I played contemporary until the 1980s, when I started doing oldies shows, music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The majority of it is just dynamite.”
Some of the musicians whose music he admires, including ’60s teen idol Bobby Vee and singer Chubby Checker, whose records ignited the ’60s twist craze, became Box’s friends.
Vee died in 2016. But he used to call Box, disguise his voice and request one of his own songs, maybe “Devil or Angel,” “Run to Him” or “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”
Box said Checker (“The Twist,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “Limbo Rock”) would sign autographs until his hand fell off.
“It boggles my mind that Chubby Checker is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Box said. “Neither are (’60s/’70s rock group) Paul Revere & the Raiders, but (hiphop group) the Beastie Boys are. Are you kidding me? It’s got to be politics. Thankfully (singer-songwriter) Neil Diamond got in three years ago. I thought they were going to forget him. I can’t even remember where my car keys are, but these (oldies) artists are stuck in my mind.”
Box does an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekday show and a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday show at KDSK. His on-air style is a free-fall delivery that mixes oldies trivia with light-hearted observations about most anything that comes to mind.
Derek Underhill, who, with his wife, Sheila, owns KDSK, said he is happy to have Box on his team.
“We are trying to re-create the sounds of ’60s radio, not just play oldies,” said Underhill, who, as Derek Lloyd, is also a KDSK disc jockey. “We are trying to sound like we are a 1965 radio station and Bobby was doing radio back then.”
Underhill also appreciates the fan loyalty Box has built up over his years in Albuquerque radio. Box appreciates it himself.
“Since I started doing the oldies format, the exchange with listeners has been a big part of it,” he said. “It keeps me on top of what they want to hear.”
On one of his recent weekday shows, Box played Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” for a man marking a sad occasion, the first-year anniversary of his nephew’s death. And he played Spanky and Our Gang’s “Like to Get to Know You” for a listener who just hadn’t heard it in a while.
Box is married and the father of two sons and two daughters, ages 5 to 38. He delights in dedicating songs to his 5-yearold son, tunes such as “Peter Rabbit,” the only hit of a 1960s Iowa group called Dee Jay and the Runaways, or “Choo Choo Train” by the Box Tops.
“I never tell my children I’m going to work because that would be a lie,” Box said. “I tell them I’m going to play records. I still love what I do. I love radio, and I’ve got a lot more mileage in me. Hey, Tony Bennett is 90 and can still hit the notes.”