SAN DIEGO — Twelve years ago, most of the deejays on KGB-FM (101.5) were just dreaming about a career in radio.
One was in college, but spent more time playing volleyball on the beach than going to class. Several were in high school, and one was still in junior high.
But for Jim McInnes, things have changed hardly at all. Then, as now, he was holding down the afternoon air shift on San Diego's top-ranked album-oriented rock (AOR) station, spinning the latest records by bands like Yes, Journey and the Who.
And in the fickle world of radio, where jobs change as frequently as the Top 40, McInnes, 39, is a real survivor--and the only deejay in town to last as long as he has on a fast-paced rock 'n' roll radio station.
"To tell you the truth, it doesn't feel any different to me than it ever did," McInnes said one day shortly after his 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift on the airwaves. "I've always loved radio, and I've always loved rock 'n' roll.
"And even though it reminds me of how time passes, I'm kind of flattered when somebody says to me, 'So you're Jim McInnes--I've been listening to you since I was in high school.' "
You can bet that happens a lot. Over the years, McInnes has become a fixture on the local music scene that transcends the broadcast studio, and his pop hero status is confirmed by the fact that he continually racks up higher ratings in his time slot than any other deejay in town.
Besides his on-air duties, McInnes has produced nearly a dozen records by local bands ranging from Thunderbolt the Wondercolt in the mid-1970s to Assassin last year.
He's emceed hundreds of major concerts by big-name rock bands like Rush, Blue Oyster Cult and Missing Persons. He's a part-owner of Hit Single Recording Services, the local recording studio that works mostly with local groups.
And for several years in the early 1980s, he fronted his own new wave band, Land Piranha, that consistently drew full houses to such clubs as the Spirit in Bay Park and the Catamaran in Mission Beach.
But his first love, McInnes said, is being on the radio. And, in all likelihood, it always will be.
"I've been involved in professional radio for more than 15 years, and when I come home I get on my ham radio and talk to other ham operators all over the world--just as I've done for the last 24 years, ever since I was a teen-ager," McInnes said.
"So it's obvious to me that being on the radio is more fun than watching television or doing just about anything else, both as a job and as a hobby. I just love it, that's all."
McInnes said that despite his reputation as a rock 'n' roll deejay, he's always seen himself "as an air personality first, and a rock personality second."
And that philosophy, McInnes said, is the reason he's managed to hang in there all these years while many of his mid-1970s contemporaries, particularly the patter-prone Top 40 jocks, have long since disappeared from the airwaves.
"You can't paint yourself into a format corner," McInnes said. "A lot of Top 40 jocks earned reputations as screamers, and when the format faded away they did too.
"Don't get me wrong--I truly like rock 'n' roll. But if someone were to come along tomorrow and offer me a job playing polka records all day long, if the money was right, I'd do it.
"I don't try to come across as Mr. Rock 'n' Roll; radio's my life, not the music I play. An air personality is an air personality, period.
"And I've always thought of it as a career, not an ego trip."
McInnes was born in Detroit but spent most of his youth in Chicago, where he became a self-professed "radio junkie," listening to the radio whenever he could.
He graduated from Southern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in communications in 1970, and four months later landed his first on-air job with WIBA in Madison, Wis. Two years later, he had advanced to program director, "but I missed being on the air," he said.
So when he was offered an on-air position on KPRI-FM (106.5), San Diego's pioneer AOR station, he took the job and moved west, remaining with KPRI for 10 months before switching to KGB in May, 1974.
And despite the many changes the AOR format has undergone since then, McInnes said, he's managed to adjust quite nicely right up to the present.
"Radio, especially rock radio, has changed considerably over the years," McInnes said. "Back then, we were deliberately trying to be more sophisticated, more hip, whereas today the emphasis is more on entertainment.
"And while back then the jocks could pick from a library of about 10,000 different songs, today our choice is a lot more narrow and pretty much determined by our programming staff."
Still, McInnes insists being on radio today is as much fun as it ever was, and the money is better.
"When I started on KGB, I was making $7,200 a year," he said. "Now, I'm easily making seven times that. And as long as the money's good, I plan on being on the air until I retire."