SAN DIEGO — It's Sunday night, and (Shotgun) Tom Kelly is broadcasting live from the Corvette Diner in Hillcrest, playing host to his three-hour oldies show on radio station KFMB-AM (760).
He slips on a pair of headphones and barks into a 30-year-old, chrome-plated microphone: "Oh yeah, next we got 'Chapel of Love' by the Dixie Cups, and this one goes out to Tim and Patty, who have recently become engaged. Can you dig it, baby?"
While the record plays, Kelly jots down more requests and dedications. Some, he takes in person, from people lined up outside his neon-lighted, 1950s-style broadcast booth in one corner of the Hillcrest restaurant. Others, he takes over the phone, from people listening to "Shotgun's Jukebox Radio Show" on their radios.
The requests and dedications pour in at a rate of 20 or more an hour, and Shotgun Tom tries hard to play them all: Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's "Young Girl," for Dorene from her much-older boyfriend, Ray; The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace," for a group of teen-agers eating meat loaf and sipping cherry Cokes inside the restaurant; Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her," for an elementary school teacher named Laura from her fiance, both listening at home.
Later, Kelly muses about the show. "Anybody can play oldies," he says, "but it's the people who request them, either in person or by phone, that really get me charged up. And the fact that I'm out here instead of in the studio makes it even more fun. I can look out there and get an instant reaction to everything I say, to every song I play."
Indeed, audience participation has been a key component of "Shotgun's Jukebox Radio Show" ever since the remote broadcasts, which air on KFMB each Saturday and Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m., began in November.
"The idea was to go back to the 1950s and early '60s, when live, all-request radio was the rule rather than the exception," said Terry Kehoe, general manager of the restaurant.
"Radio today is mostly pre-programmed and sometimes even pre-recorded, so you rarely hear requests or dedications," Kehoe said. "This way, however, the listeners not only determine what gets played, but they also get the chance to hear their names on the radio.
"And if they come down here, there's the added bonus of seeing the deejay in person, inside a broadcast booth that's filled with vintage equipment--the microphone, the 'on the air' sign, the sound board--that's as old as the music," Kehoe said.
Since the live broadcasts made their debut three months ago, business at the trendy diner has risen by as much as 20% Saturday and Sunday nights, Kehoe said. At least some of the credit, Kehoe believes, goes to Kelly himself, who for much of the 1970s was San Diego's most popular Top 40 deejay, first on KCBQ-AM (1170) and then on KFMB-FM (B-100). At one point, Kelly was honored as this country's "air personality of the year" by Billboard magazine.
"A whole generation of San Diegans grew up with Shotgun Tom," Kehoe said. "I keep running into people who remember listening to him 10, 15 years ago, and they're surprised that he's here.
"In San Diego, he's as much a legend as Wolfman Jack is nationally. A lot of people come in here just to see him."
Among them is Michele Call, who recently celebrated her 20th birthday at Corvette with a few girlfriends.
"I first met Shotgun Tom when I was in second grade, at Toler Elementary School in Clairemont," she said. "He came out to present me with the school's monthly good citizenship award, and I had my picture taken with him. I've been a fan of his ever since, and it's great to see that he's still around."
Later that night, Call and Kelly once again posed for the camera--after the birthday girl's friends had asked for, and received, an on-air dedication of "Michelle," by the Beatles.
Other Corvette patrons came for the music. Joyce Moreno, who gave her age as "49 and holding," said she was a teen-ager in the 1950s, "and being here certainly brings back lots of memories."
"This is what radio was like when I was growing up," Moreno said. "I enjoy everything about it--the atmosphere, the people, the dedications, and, most of all, the songs."
The songs are also what Karen Swink enjoys most about Shotgun Tom's live broadcasts from Corvette--even though she's only 20.
"I was born with the radio on and the records going," said Swink, who wore a black poodle skirt and chiffon hair ribbon during a recent evening at the diner. "And to me, the songs from the 1950s and '60s that my parents listened to had so much more substance than the music that's out today.
"They take you back to the days when everything was a lot more simple and innocent," Swink added. "And even if you don't remember those days, it's fun to pretend."
At first, it appeared that 9-year-old Mike Minnich shared those sentiments: "My parents play these old songs all the time," he said, "and I like them."
But when he walked up to the broadcast booth at Corvette and asked Shotgun Tom to play "Wipeout," he didn't mean the 1963 instrumental surf-rock original by the Surfaris.
Nope. Minnich wanted to hear last year's rap remake by the Fat Boys.