Radio active: Phil Thompson spins tales of four-decade broadcasting career

By The Active Age | January 28, 2022

Phil Thompson

Growing up in the era of peace and love in the 1960s, Phil Thompson was certain of his future.
      “I wanted to be a DJ, a hippie or a rock star. Or a DJ hippie or a rock star hippie.”

Given that he had no musical ability, hippie disc jockey it was.
He’s now celebrating his 42nd anniversary of being on the airwaves in Wichita, though these days he’s more of a clean-cut DJ.

“Ya gotta grow up sometime,” Thompson said.

Thompson is the morning host on KFXJ, 104.5-FM, where on Vinyl Thursdays he literally spins records like he did decades earlier.

The Wichita native started practicing for his career as a child.

“My mom bought me a cassette recorder so I could, like, do fake commercials,” he said. “I loved to mimic stuff.”

He perfected an English accent through repeating a commercial for Vidal Sassoon shampoo. Thompson still can recite the entire commercial.

Before he was on air for real, Thompson and a friend, Rusty Johnson, had a fake radio station in high school with slightly off-color call letters. 

When he was 18, he befriended a guy who was DJing at the Mine Shaft, a club on South Meridian.

“It was a slow night at the club, so he showed me how everything worked.”

A year later, Thompson was at Star Baby Disco at 47th and Broadway when the same DJ asked him to fill in during a break. When the DJ started started a new club, Thompson took his old job.

After a year doing landscape labor in Arizona, Thompson returned to Wichita and worked clubs like Doc Dusic’s Disco Therapy Clinic on South Broadway, where the cocktail waitresses dressed like nurses and he wore a lab coat while DJing.

Greg Gann, a friend who worked for KICT, 95.1-FM, told him he needed to apply at the rock station, which is better known as T-95. It took about a year, but Thompson finally did.

Program director Bob Lawrence called him and gave him a five-word audition. “Say, ‘I am on the radio,’”  is all Lawrence said. Thompson said it, passed the test and was called into the station. Following two weeks of training, the 2 to 6 a.m. slot was his.

Thompson didn’t own a car, so a girlfriend would drop him off at work on West Kellogg, and he would hitchhike home.

“And I was good at it, too. . . . I got regulars after a while who would be coming in from Goddard to Wichita.”

‘I’m going to be famous’

One thing that Thompson learned as a child has stayed with him his entire radio career, and that’s how disc jockeys used to treat him.

Like the time he’d just gotten an electric guitar, strung a few chords together and called KLEO, 1480-AM, to play them for the patient DJ, who said, “You know what? . . . You need to call Mercury Records in Los Angeles, California . . . I bet they’ll give you a record deal.”

Thompson said he hung up and said, “Yes! I’m going to be famous.”
He never called Mercury, nor did he ever forget the DJ’s kindness.
“That guy could have been a real jerk, but he wasn’t,” Thompson said. “I think about this a lot when people call in. I always try to make time to make conversation.”

Making conversation is a big part of his job, whether it’s emceeing an event, doing a live remote or chatting with famous musicians backstage at a concert.

“Because I worked in clubs, I can really work a crowd,” Thompson said.
Even though that gift for gab and confidence in front of people might have translated into a higher-paying career, Thompson said he never thinks about it.

He likes what he’s doing.
One of the perks of working in radio, at least back in the days when record companies courted DJs, is meeting famous musicians and getting his picture taken with them, too.

One of Thompson’s favorite photos was taken with Keith Richards in Kansas City on the Rolling Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels Tour. Except for a group shot with about 30 people, the manager wasn’t allowing photos.

Thompson saw an opportunity, though, as Richards stood alone.
“I said, ‘Keith, do you mind?’ And he’s got a shirt on that says, ‘No problem,’ and he goes, ‘Aye, no problem.’”
Name a rock musician, and there’s a good chance Thompson can tell you what the person is really like.

Sting? “Aloof.”
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith? “Full of himself but a good guy.”

Pete Townshend apparently is confident no matter what he’s doing.
He and a skinny, long-haired Thompson were getting their picture made, and the photographer’s camera wouldn’t work.

“And Pete Townshend says, ‘Let me see that,’” Thompson said.
Townshend smacked it a couple of times.

“It’s working now,” he said.
As Townshend walked off, Thompson’s former morning co-host, Jan Harrison, said, “Good luck,” and Townshend replied, “Don’t need it.”

In the moment

Just a couple of musicians have been downright rude.
      Thompson was backstage at concert where the Black Crowes were the opening act when the band’s manager asked if Thompson would like to interview lead singer Chris Robinson.

“Yeah, sure, why not?” Thompson said.

The interview was live on air.
“Tell me, Chris, what do you do in the band?” Thompson started the interview.

“He goes, ‘I’m the singer. Why don’t you do your (expletive) research.’ And from there the interview went downhill.”

Another singer, Marilyn Manson, could have gotten Thompson in trouble with the FCC for a vulgarity, but thankfully no one complained.

On the other hand, a gracious Jon Bon Jovi spent 45 minutes visiting with Thompson during his band’s height with the Slippery When Wet Tour. No one, though, has been more giving of his time and interest than Eagles’ member and Wichita’s own Joe Walsh.

Walsh was in Wichita to be a judge at the Miss USA Pageant in 1991 and went up to T-95 for Thompson’s noon to 6 p.m. shift. He stayed the whole time.

“He was over my shoulder putting in carts” — tapes used for sound effects and commercials — “and punching buttons and playing, you know, fart noises in between interviews,” Thompson said. 

A friend of Thompson’s who played guitar wanted to meet Walsh. The longtime member of the Eagles not only greeted him, he gave him a quick guitar lesson.

    “The Joe Walsh day was one of the best days of my life,” Thompson said

Whatcha Doin’?

While Thompson still interviews celebrities, some of his most entertaining work is a feature called “Whatcha Doin’ At the Courthouse?” where  — at least pre-pandemic — he’d hang out at the county courthouse and ask people what they were doing.

The interviews are sometimes shocking and most often hilarious.
It might be someone’s chance to vent about an ex, who they blame for why they’re in trouble. Other times, it’s someone’s chance to start over, and things are looking up.

Between clubs and concerts, lots of people tell Thompson they have memories of partying with him. Thompson admits some of his own memories are hazy. These days, like a lot of 63-year-olds, Thompson is more interested in staying active than partying.
      He thinks back to his father.

“Who wants their son to be a hippie DJ? And then I became a hippie DJ, and I was successful at it,” Thompson said. “He was proud of me that I chased my dream.”

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