BREEZY POINT — After a lifetime in radio broadcasting, John Collins rarely gets nervous when he slides the soundboard switch to speak to his listeners at KLKS Radio in Breezy Point.
If he did, Collins would remind himself that he’s only chatting with Fritz, the former pharmacist in Pequot Lakes.
Allen Gray, founder of KLKS Radio, told him once to just imagine he’s speaking to one person, not the thousands who are listening to him within a 75-mile radius of the Breezy Point radio station.
That one person, Collins decided, would be friendly Fritz, who used to have the station on throughout the day in his pharmacy.
“Allen told me when you’re talking on the radio, there’s only one person listening. If there’s more than one person, they’re not listening to you, they’re talking to each other,” Collins said with a smile. “So I think of Fritz. I still think of him sometimes.”
Collins is a 1966 Motley High School graduate and grew up on a beef farm. He said growing up he always wanted to work as a broadcaster and got his big break at age 19 while a freshman at then Bemidji State College. He met a guy from Texas in his speech class who was an on-air announcer at KBUN Radio in Bemidji. Collins said his fellow student wanted to leave Bemidji to move back home to marry his sweetheart but his boss told him he would have to find his own replacement first. He offered the job to Collins, who happily accepted the $1.40-an-hour gig.
Collins worked part-time on the air at the radio station throughout college, spinning records that includes waltzes, country, rock and jazz music — a wide range of music and entertainment.
“I’d always wanted to be in broadcasting. I’m too lazy to work and too nervous to steal,” Collins joked during his shift at KLKS last week.
He was drafted into the Army after college and spent a year working for Armed Forces Radio and Television in Thailand. He mostly worked in radio, but also did television voice-overs and worked in the projection booth when the base would show movies to the troops.
“I had so much fun I feel guilty about it,” Collins said of his military experience from August 1971 to August 1973.
After the service, Collins took a variety of jobs, including as an ironworker and selling water softeners.
“Yes, I became the Culligan Man,” said Collins.
While working for Culligan in Brainerd, he went out on a call to a home of a woman, a schoolteacher, who needed a water softener. That woman turned out to have gone to junior high with him in Motley. The two instantly connected. Eighteen months later, Collins and his wife, Donna, were married. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on June 6.
Collins returned to radio part-time at KLKS about 20 years ago, taking over the midday on-air shift when the late Roger Awsumb, or Casey Jones as many knew him, retired. He had missed radio.
“Roger was the greatest,” said Collins. “How do you follow an act like that?”
Collins said he enjoys the listeners who tune into KLKS. He serves as a trip coordinator for the station and many of them join him and his wife on various trips and tours.
“People think of this as their station. I call them my stringers. They tell me what the roads are like, how much rain they got and how big the hail was,” explained Collins.
Collins reads the obituaries on air at 1:30 p.m. each day and will announce any lost or found pets, the K-Lakes Pet Hotline is a service the radio station provides to its listeners.
“We’ve had lost llamas, dogs, horses and cats,” said Collins. “Once a lady reported that a green parrot had flown in her window in Pine River. It turns out the parrot had cabin fever. It was the pet of somebody nearby.”
Collins has had a few embarrassing on-air moments. Early on at KLKS he didn’t realize his microphone was still on when he called his wife to tell her he’d be home in a couple of hours.
“I was saying, ‘Oh honey, I’ll be home. I love you’ and all that smoochie stuff,’” Collins said with a laugh. “A lot of people heard some gushy stuff on the radio.”
One morning Collins was supposed to work at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, the early morning shift, but when he arrived at the station, he didn’t have his keys to the building. He had to drive home — from Breezy Point to Pine River — to retrieve them from a pants pocket. He was about a half-hour late getting the station on the air — and heard about it from at least one listener who had taken notice.
One of Collins’ mentors once told him long ago that in radio, the role of an announcer is like that of a party host.
“You don’t have to say much,” explained Collins. “You’re never the main attraction. I like it that way. I like to think I’m at a party and I’m the host with a lot of talented people and I’d like to introduce them.”
Collins enjoys interviewing people on the air. One day the late artist Les Kouba showed up at KLKS. Kouba had been taking photographs of woodpiles for his artwork. Collins interviewed him on the air — one of his favorite on-air experiences — but regrets to this day he didn’t record that interview.
In his free time, Collins enjoys drawing, watercolor painting, woodworking and loves to shoot pool. He also loves to travel. He’s been in all 50 states. When he got out of the Army, Collins loaded up his Volkswagen Beetle and took off, visiting 48 states. He also has a license plate collection featuring a license plate from every state. He’s lived in nine states.
When he signs off on KLKS at 3 p.m. each day, Collins regularly announces that he’s got to go home and feed his cat. And yes, he really does. His cat is named Chip and is 15 years old.
“I enjoy doing what I do,” said Collins. “Quite often radio is entertainment but sometimes it’s immediate information and it’s great to share that.”
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.