Supremely Popular Radio Personality John Aielli Has Died

The beloved eccentric hosted KUT/KUTX show Eklektikos for 50 years

John Aielli celebrating his win for Best Morning Radio Host at the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin party in 2003 (photo by John Anderson)

John Aielli, veteran Austin radio host known for his KUTX show Eklektikos, died Sunday. He was 76. Known for his mellifluous voice, eclectic music selections, and iconic one-liners, the supremely popular figure was a frequent Best of Austin award winner.

The station announced the news Sunday afternoon, with KUTX program director Matt Reilly providing the statement: "John was an Austin treasure and was an indelible part of so many lives here in Austin. His unique perspective on the world made being with John a joy. Our lives are less interesting with him gone."

The beloved eccentric logged some 70,000 hours on the air, more than 60,000 of those for Austin's KUTX and KUT since 1966. KUT/KUTX announced Aielli’s retirement in September 2020 following a stroke earlier that year. The announcement ended a 50-year run of Eklektikos, which for its first 30 years was broadcast from 8am to 2pm Mondays through Fridays, establishing it as a leading program on Austin radio.

Former Chronicle Arts editor Robert Faires wrote a beautiful story about Aielli as part of the 1998 “The Men of KUT” cover story also featuring Jay Trachtenberg, Larry Monroe, and Paul Ray. Read an excerpt from Faires' story, titled "Surfing Indra's Net," below.

In the world of John Aielli -- and yes, that is how it's spelled -- this is all in a day's work. Regular listeners to his show Eklektikos -- and yes, that is how it's spelled -- have come to expect this sort of fluid, free-form, idiosyncratic, intensely personal disc jockeying on the weekday morning program. They know that on any given day, Aielli is liable to play any piece of music, from a Gregorian chant to a novelty tune, a Handel oratorio to a TV show theme, an Indian raga to a cowboy ballad. His tastes are as expansive as the Texas sky, under which he's lived since his family moved to the state when he was eight years old, and he may be inspired by music of any age, any genre, any culture (and that includes pop).

Through the quarter-century of the program's existence, Aielli has been captivated by works as varied as Don Walser's Rolling Stone From Texas, Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," Angelo Badalamenti's theme from Twin Peaks, Jennifer Warnes' album of Leonard Cohen songs, The Famous Blue Raincoat, Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to Cinema Paradiso, the disco-saturated soundtrack to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the old novelty number "I'm My Own Grandpa," an aria from the opera Lakmé, and one of his most recent faves -- and a prime indicator of how truly eclectic and offbeat the deejay's tastes are -- the Smithsonian collection of field recordings of frog sounds.

In 2012, the Chronicle critics picked the Twitter tribute account ShitJohnAielliSays (@eklektikos) for a Best of Austin award. Selections of the year included: "Just like the universe - it implodes and explodes again." - September 24 "It's garbage day. At least for me it is. And this band is Garbage." - July 5 "What is it, people of Austin? What are we suffering from? Because we've all got it." - May 1

KUTX’s Taylor Wallace, Aielli's one time producer, took over his former prominent 6-9am weekday morning slot following his September retirement. In March at the Austin Music Industry Awards, Wallace accepted the legendary Eklektikos host's Hall of Fame award. "If you have ever, before 9am, been tasked with finding a dozen or so songs on the subjects of pie, wind, dirt or purses, you may have been John Aielli's producer," said Wallace.

Aielli himself sent a sweet video from home. After mentioning some of his favorite artist interviews – Shinyribs, Asleep at the Wheel, Shakey Graves, Tameca Jones, Atash, and Peter Bay – the host added: "I just kept you in touch with what's going on and played you some good tunes to listen to, and maybe had a comment or two about life that was worth your attention."

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