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By Johnny Mars

Johnny 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.


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