Sonoma County's Jim Grady: The legend behind the microphone

  • KZST weekend DJ Jim Grady started at KSRO in 1960, has broadcast countless high school football games and still greets listeners Saturday and Sunday mornings. (MARK ARONOFF / The Press Democrat)

A half century after arriving in Santa Rosa, Jim Grady is still working in early-morning radio, a distinction unmatched in the Bay Area and maybe anywhere. And all these years into it he's still Grady: Quick-witted, corny, affable, small-town, self-effacing.

Much has changed in Sonoma County since April 1, 1960, the day he hired on as the morning guy on KSRO 1350 AM, the county's first radio station.

Even Grady himself, while remaining on air the entire time, hasn't stayed static.

On his 44th anniversary at KSRO in 2004, he and the station had a falling out and he switched to KZST 100.1 FM, the region's most popular station.

Now, from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, he lets locals phone in to promote garage sales and soccer-team feeds. He carries on about Sonoma County and its denizens, past and present, with affection and familiarity that dates back not just 50 years, but almost 70.

World War II wasn't yet a year old and he was just 6 when he began exploring the Russian River on frequent visits to his aunt and uncle's place in Duncans Mills.

“I grew up on that river,” said Grady.

He identifies himself often as his alter ego, Shamus O'Grady, and lists his age as “74, going on 20.”

As a kid he lived with his divorced mother in San Francisco and rode Greyhound buses north to be with relatives Jo and Bob Phillipson, who back in the 1940s ran the Mayor's Inn in the structure that's now Duncans Mills' landmark Blue Heron restaurant.

“The (current) kitchen was my bedroom,” he noted.

He graduated from St. Ignacious High in San Francisco in 1953. He served stateside with the Navy Air Corps, then used the GI Bill to enroll at San Francisco City College.

A key moment in his life came at City College while pondering what four-unit course to take to round out his class schedule.

He remembers spotting an instructor and two students talking into a microphone beneath an illuminated sign reading, “On the air.” One of the students was Carter B. Smith, destined to become one of San Francisco's best-loved radio personalities.

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