Radio legend Alex Jay is still rocking after all these years

Every industry has its legends. One of these radio legends is Alex Jay. I remember him from his days at Radio 5 (now called 5FM). He used the play the coolest tunes, especially the music of my ultimate favourite band, Depeche Mode. I caught up with Alex to have a chat to him about music, Depeche Mode and being a contestant in MasterChef Celebrity (which will air on the pay-TV platform DStv on M-Net - channel 101 - in 2015).
My radio hero Alex Jay and I

What is Alex up to these days? I’m hosting the weekend breakfast show on 94.7 in Gauteng and KFM in the western Cape. It’s on Saturdays and Sundays 7-10 am. I’m also doing a few voice-overs, DJ’ing etc.

How did you end up being a DJ? My band broke up and, needing a paying job, I joined the SABC as an audio “controller.” It was an easy path from engineering & producing to the other side of the glass.

I've followed your show back when you still was a DJ at Radio 5, mainly because you played Depeche Mode music. And yes, I'm a HUGE Depeche Mode fan. How many Depeche Mode CDs/albums do you have in your collection? I used to have THE Depeche Mode collection, vinyls and CDs. Sadly my house was robbed while I was away on holiday in 2012. Less than 12 hours after leaving for the coast I was back in the house surveying the damage. The thieves took half of my CD collection, an entire wall’s worth, everything from A to O. All my signed discs were in that library inc the three-box set of DM remixes the entire band had signed. Plus Snoop’s signature on The Chronic, Michael Hutchence’s on Suicide Blonde, Lars Ulrich’s on the 12” of Enter Sandman, Abdullah Ibrahim’s on “Mannenburg...” Sad loss. I have a lot of DM on vinyl but have stashed it in an off-site secure location.

You interviewed Dave Gahan, front man for Depeche Mode, when they toured South Africa. Is there anything that stands out from the interview for you? Dave Gahan was most surprised by my copy of “Just can’t get enough” on 12” vinyl which had been released in SA on the CBS imprint, a label for which they had never signed. Bastard took it with him as a souvenir! A month or so later Gahan nearly died in L.A. in an apparent suicide attempt. I got no hint of melancholy or depression during our interview. On the contrary he was engaging, funny and sharp. But then downers are downers.

What is your favourite Depeche Mode track and how were you introduced to the band's music? Fave? “Never let me down.” But the 1st DM track I heard was on a cassette provided by the incomparable Scotty. It was “New life.” Boing!

Alex still has that fun element in him, always in a good laughing mood.
Ok, enough of our love for Depeche Mode. How do you think have the radio landscape change since you started out? Radio in SA has changed vastly since the early days of state control. Many voices make the democracy work. There is a debate, a conversation on the air every day. Our concerns, hopes and fears are aired by all and sundry, still carried for free by a broader media than even I dared hope for. It’s good times for SA radio because it truly reflects the reality that is South Africa 2014.

When did you officially join radio as a DJ? I first went on the air as an all-night presenter on the then music-radio 702 in 1982. I was 21.

Can you still remember the first ever song your played as a DJ on radio? I don’t remember the 1st song I played on air but I do remember that, by the time I’d done my third link, I thought “this is fun!”

One of the biggest bloopers you've ever made on radio? I’ve always been able to joke my way out of bloopers and as I don’t really take myself that seriously I just make the misshtake into something else. The only time that didn’t work so well was when I’d unwittingly irritated someone to the point of pulling a gun on me. But thats a story for another day.

Radio DJ can be gruelling. How did it affect you? Radio ain’t gruelling! Being a miner is gruelling. Being a working Mom is gruelling. Being a 4th yr student is gruelling. DJ’ing? Not so much.

What does it take to become a radio DJ? These days anyone with a smartphone or internet connection can broadcast their opinions/music/video/art etc to the world. Radio presenting still requires that you have character, a sharp wit, good general knowledge and a foot in the door. Getting a program manager to take a chance on you is still the toughest part of the career. Where you go from there is up to you and the zeitgeist.

What do  you think of local content on radio? Years ago there weren't that many local music on radio where today it's all over the radio? I am happy with the local content rule, always was. At least 20% of all songs played on the SA airwaves must be local. We can all now see and hear how much the local music industry has grown and improved.

One of your favourite local bands? In terms of local bands I have many, many faves. Prophets of the City, Bright Blue, Wonderboom, Tribe after Tribe, Stimela etc plus newer stars like Blk Jks, Mafikizolo, Prime Circle, Dave Baudains, Mi Casa and many, many more. There is a lot of world-class music to feel proud about.

How do you keep up to date with all the music flooding in at the moment? Staying abreast of contemporary music is easy these days what with YouTube etc providing a nifty, cheap way of distributing music globally. And it’s even easier for radio people now because, through TunedIn, you can hear what similar-formatted stations around the world are playing.

Tell me about your family? My wife Fiona and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary later this month. We are both in shock! My “kids” are all grown-ups now. Elektra is 30 and works at a well-known restaurant in CT, Maxine is 24 and a candidate attorney at 1 of Jozi’s top law firms and son Connor (about to turn 21) is doing a BA in visual communications at Vega in Bryanston.

Do you think any of your DJ skills will rub off onto your kids? They are each following their own direction and have no real interest in following Dad into radio or TV. Luckily they all have good ears and love music. That’s enough for me.

You are always in a happy mood. How do you get that right when other people struggle to get into a happy zone? I’ve been in a happy zone for more than 30 years because I found a job that I love doing. It really is as simple as that!

What do you think the future holds for radio? The future for radio in SA is bright. The way we “consume” radio may change (streaming etc) but the formatics will remain much the same. I’m hoping that campus radio will replace the SABC nationals as music/content providers and info hubs for students though. That’s a genuine voice which needs to be heard.

Besides radio, what other projects are you involved in? As I have some free time on my hands this year I’ve decided to re-do my home studio and get back into creating music. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for decades! Commerce has an uncanny knack of thwarting art. I’d very much like to do a film score.

You must have a hectic schedule, how do you relax? Relaxing in the 21st century is a tough proposition. Still, the companionship of family and friends sorts me out just fine, with the occasional round of golf thrown in for good measure.

You will be on MasterChef Celebrity on M-Net in 2015. Are you a good cook? I am the rank outsider in Celebrity Masterchef SA as I’m the only contestant who doesn’t cook. I used to like cooking but have been out of the kitchen all my married life. Braai, that’s my domain. But I’m such a huge (and very vocal) fan of Masterchef SA that M-Net invited me to be part of the experience. And what an experience it was! Out of your comfort zone and into a hot skillet!

Your favourite dish to prepare and worst dish you ever made? No particular fave but I’m not doing guinea-fowl again! I like to experiment with flavours and textures when preparing a meal but you really do need a good working knowledge of culinary basics before you attempt the avant garde. I was missing large gaps in knowledge but by the end of Celebrity Masterchef SA was getting to grips with cuisine. It’s fun and therapeutic to work with food. It’s also unreasonably labour-intensive! I now have profound respect for all Chefs everywhere.

The celebrities had to represent a charity, which charity did you support and why? Each of the contestants on Celebrity MasterChef SA was playing for a charity. Mine was the Twilight Childrens Shelter in Hillbrow. Those marginalised kids are truly in need of help and it was an honour to do my bit for them. All the celebs chose deserving and appropriate charities and I’m happy to say that M-Net more than came to the party in terms of cash and goods for them. Feel-good haute cuisine! I am so happy, despite my initial misgivings, that I did the show. It was an amazing experience being out of one’s comfort zone, working in 21st century full-digital TV (what a jol!) with a fab cross-section of SA celebs who gave it their all. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Below is a video of a Alex Jay back in the day  South African music and entertainment show, Graffiti.