If you turned on the radio one morning and didn't hear Jack Pattie's voice, would this still be Lexington?
Don't laugh. I'm serious. Pattie, who turns 58 this month, has been on the radio in Lexington continuously since 1975, most of that time in the morning "drive time" slot on WVLK-AM.
Pattie will celebrate that 35-year milestone Friday by inviting listeners to stop by the Red Mile, where he will broadcast his 6-to-10 a.m. show. (The $15 breakfast buffet is optional.)
"Jack is a wonderful human being and the last of a dying breed of local broadcasters who embed themselves in the community," said Jim Jordan, the former WVLK executive who hired Pattie — twice.
Pattie left WVLK in 1980 to become program director at rival WLAP-AM, but he was fired a few months later. "I was clearly not cut out for management," he said. Jordan hired him back, and Pattie has done WVLK's top-rated morning show since 1983.
"People should listen to Jack and appreciate him," Jordan said, remarking on the radio industry's cost-cutting shift to nationally syndicated programs. "When he goes away, there won't be any more like him."
Pattie, a Lexington native, enjoys his local celebrity, but he has never developed a big ego. Radio is just something he always wanted to do — ever since he was a small boy and saw a TV commercial that featured a disc jockey sitting in a studio. "I thought, 'That's pretty cool!'" Pattie said.
While a student at Bryan Station Junior High, Pattie played keyboard in local teen bands and befriended WVLK personality Denny Mitchell. Pattie was soon spending a lot of time hanging around Mitchell at the studio, which was then in the old Phoenix Hotel. If the station manager saw him, he threw him out. But Pattie kept returning.
Pattie's interest in radio flourished at Tates Creek High School, where student teacher Terrell Whitaker — who also worked nights as a news anchor at the predecessor of WTVQ-TV — started a student "broadcast" in the cafeteria during lunch.
One day in 1968, Pattie skipped school so Whitaker could take him to meet the manager of WAXU, a tiny country music station near Georgetown. Without warning, they left Pattie alone in the studio to run things for a while. He had found an after-school job.
By his senior year, Pattie was working at WAXU every afternoon and evening. "I totally lost any interest I ever had in school," he said. "Not that I had much to begin with."
After high school, Pattie studied at a broadcasting school in Nashville. He worked at Florida radio stations for three years, then he returned to Central Kentucky. Pattie said he and his wife, Marta, have never thought seriously about leaving.
Pattie's call-in show has always been folksy and local — "Tell me about your first car," or "Tell me about your first date," — or a friendly interview with a Kentucky personality. The mayor and governor take calls on his show once a month, and Pattie and prosecutor Ray Larson do a "Forensic Friday" show each week about famous crimes.
In recent years, Pattie said, he has been urged to do more shows "off the news." But while most radio talk-show hosts now push right-wing politics, Pattie, a registered independent, would rather be a "trusted friend" than a pundit. Radio is about entertainment and advertising, and a good salesman has credibility. Pattie has developed a lot of it over the years as a spokesman for many Lexington merchants.
"The best form of advertising is word of mouth," Pattie said, adding that he has never been forced to plug an advertiser he didn't believe in. "If people think of me as a trusted friend, and I tell them to go see a client or try something out, they'll do it. It's an awesome responsibility."
When Pattie is not on the radio, he still enjoys playing keyboard in bands and appearing in community theater, which he has been doing since he was a boy in Lexington Children's Theatre.
Pattie's drama career took a new turn in 2005, after he appeared as Santa Claus in a local production of Miracle on 34th Street. The role renewed a latent interest in playing Santa at hospitals and charity events during the holidays. "When I was a kid, I thought I would like to do that when I got old and fat enough," said Pattie, whose white beard now stays on most of the year. "It wears me out, but it's a nice way to be worn out."
Despite four decades of broadcasting, don't expect Pattie to sign off anytime soon, at least if he has any say. "I'm going to do it as long as I'm having fun and they continue to allow me to do it," he said. "I still can't wait to get up every morning (at 4 a.m.) and come to work."