johnny 385 About Johnny MarsJohnny Mars was born and raised on the west and northwest sides of Chicago. After putting his right hand through a plate-glass window playing sports he decided to pursue what he considered a less aggressive hobby: Music. He found out later that the music he loved best was often the most aggressive. With every dime he could beg, borrow or steal from his folks he bought records. It was the beginning of a joyous routine that continues to this day…except for the stealing part.

In 1975, after he finished high school, he planned on college and the vague notion of becoming a teacher. He was distracted by the campus radio station and soon found himself thinking that a possible radio career might be the way to go. The initial College experience was the best 3 months of his life. But there was more schooling: 2 more years at Columbia College; where he would meet many like-minded radio geeks, including Frank E. Lee. There were internships at major Chicago radio stations and part-time employment at suburban and other campus stations. It was a constant hustle to get on the air to practice– like being a good musician, but with less talent. All this culminated in being sent to work full-time in El Paso, Texas, in the fall of 1978. Having never lived away from home, this was quite an adventure, as well as a test of human endurance. The work routine quickly advanced to 60 hour weeks. This was what was quaintly called: “paying your dues.” It was lucky that he happened to live in a border town, for all matter of mind lubricants were readily available in those rare moments where a chance for reflection and introspection arose and needed to be annihilated.

After a little over a year,he was hired to work the night shift at WXRT. He came to work in his hometown at the radio station he wanted to work. He did not realize how lucky he was. He still feels that way.

Comments (23)
  1. Sanjiv says:

    While I lived in Chi-Town during the 80s and the early 90s, I was heavily in tune with your programming and influence as I was, I felt, the best cab driver in town. I was putting myself through college driving a Chevrolet Caprice cab driving the likes of Ryne Sandburg (a Miller Lite drinking softie), Geddy Lee (socially unskilled), Paul Newman (who liked to stay at the Ambassador East) and a plethora of others that I could mention on and on. That taxi driving experience taught me more than anything else that I had ever done- including what my professors and their proteges taught me in college – including eating raw spine meat pulled from fresh eels that swim around Lake Anguillarra, which is a tad north of Rome…last year. So I want to thank you for……………….providing a cultural sanctity.

  2. GEK says:

    Johnny Mars…late night radio never sounded any better – Thanks. I have been a devoted XRT fan from back in the 80’s wearing my classic blue XRT diamond t-shirt with great pride – of course that shirt is long gone, ownership has changed over the years but thank god you guys are still here. Keep up the good work!

  3. michael says:

    I need some xrt after 8

  4. julie lux says:

    went away, came back and happy to hear my XRT again. Some things never change.

  5. John Mars says:

    Obviously, we have the same name. Just stopped by to let you know I’m now a band manager — we will audition at
    9:30 p.m. on Monday, July 19 at Buddy Guy’s “Legends.”
    If you have time, stop by — we’d like to meet you!

    John Mars
    President & CEO
    John Mars Marketing Inc.
    3N887 Route 31
    St. Charles, Illinois 60174

  6. Randall Mayne says:

    Hey Johnny!!
    Randy M. (of Julie and Randy – Evanston). Wanted to check in to say HI, and say: I won 2 tkts to DMB at Wrigley on Sept 18 (my 51st birthday) from XRT!! YEA!!!

  7. Zeck. says:

    Listening to you on Thanksgiving. Glad you are in our lives.

  8. SHEILA GEARY says:

    Hey. I just came across XRT and you (Thanksgving Day, noonish)..amazing. I’m listening on my IMAC. I called my sister in Minneapolis and she has bookmarked you guys and is listening as she cooks her turkey. (I still don’t cook, thank goodness for friends who do.) It’s great to hang out today and listen to you. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving. ( I went to the 7pm Sunday meeting on Wells (LaSalle?) the one in the cavernous downstairs room. See ya. Sheila

  9. Pete says:

    Johnny Mars YOU ROCK DUDE!!!
    You capture the heart and soul of the everyday old time radio fan!!
    I was sad when you left XRT so happy you are back!!
    Don’t leave ever again!!

  10. Florentine Hoelker says:

    Johnny Mars!
    I have never heard music or DJs as good as I heard in Chicago for the 15 years I lived there. You were part of that, and I was so sad you left, but now I see you’re back! I still listen to you guys online when I can, since Cleveland radio stinks. Listening tonight, I am aghast at what I have missed the past 5 years, and thankful I can still listen. XRT is classy, smart, quality radio–the best I’ve ever heard.

  11. mary jo says:

    am I guilty of projected-listening or does the majority of the music you’re playing THIS Sunday afternoon sound like it has a lost love theme?

  12. Karin van Dyck says:

    jes keep it up 4 ever, Johnny Mars

  13. Kidd says:

    Mars, been awhile but I hope you still r frequenting the LSAC! Keep rock, Johnny! Go Stones!

  14. tony says:

    For the vast majority of my life I have lived in Chicago (41 years). For the last 7 months my my family and I have lived in Evanston. I have listened to XRT regulary since the mid-to-late 70s, and it is difficut to appreciate just how cool and informative Johnny Mars was to Chicago radio. As the host of The Big Beat (taking over for Skafish) and his nightly show (he did a short stint in the mornings), Johnny introduced so much cool music to my (and Chicago’s) ears. Never an opportunist and always a fan, he always introduced great, new music. Thanks for intoducing us to so many bands — from The Bolshoi to The Sea and Cake from The Feelies to Aphex Twin. A true Chicago treasure.

  15. Jim Blaha says:

    Johnny, I have always admired your work and am glad to see you feel lucky, because you are! I only say that because WXRT has been my favorite station for 37 years (minus the six years I lived in San Francisco and worked at KQAK-FM. I love the diversity of music and know for a fact there is stuff I hear on 93.1 U won’t hear elsewhere. (I talked to you about a year ago about attending St. Pat’s and going to sock hops there. See ya!

  16. sam says:

    have been a loyal xrt listener since the late 70s at depaul, and have always enjoyed your show . they should put you back on nights , but do not give up the sunday shift. it is too good !

  17. LEL says:

    “XRT is the Place …. Johnny Mars in your face.”
    So glad you are back. I used to listen to you at night driving home. You were/are the most mellowist dude on the dial. STAY!!!!!

  18. Thanks for being so nice @ Sheffield Garden Walk!

  19. glenn says:

    Not sure if you’re aware, but around 10:30 this morning, Sunday, 08.21.11, in the middle of a song, the emergency weather intro sounds interrupted the song playing, then the radio went back to the song in progress…

  20. Jennifer Pickering says:

    I have been listening to XRT and Johnny Mars since about 1977-78 when I was in high school. I have always loved the station, but it became a really significant part of my day-to-day life when I was working in a darkroom in the late ’80’s. The radio became the dominant sensory input when I was there. It got to where I could hear a couple songs in a row and I knew if the regular DJ was on the air or not, depending on what was played. I especially liked Johnny Mars hosting The Big Beat. I heard some amazing stuff then. I was so upset when he left that I stopped listening regularly. Then, while channel-surfing on the car radio one Saturday, I heard his voice back on XRT! A lost member of the family is back and I am SO glad to hear it.

  21. St says:

    Johnny… Good to hear you again. Long time listener. One of the best jocks around. “called up my local DJ. Didnt have a lot say … Bu t the radio played all my favorite tunes”.
    Thanks for XRT and the best DJs around.

  22. ViktoryaC says:

    Dear J.M., Appreciate your dedication to broadcasting all these years and also value your contributions to new music/musicians. The (DJ) song remains the same, absence makes the heart grow fonder and quality always wins! You take care, it works if you work it. Best, V.

  23. Ann says:

    You just made me laugh and laugh.


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