Jim Slone is in the Arizona Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame, has won a Country Music Association Award or two and sat on the CMA’s board for a spell in the early 1980s.
He once controlled eight radio stations — five in Tucson, three in Texas — under the umbrella of Slone Broadcasting. His flagship country station KCUB on the AM dial was No. 1 in Tucson for a dozen years straight and in 1976 was named by Billboard magazine as the world’s best radio station. Not the best in the country, but the best in the world.
And last Wednesday, he received an honor that brought his five-decade radio career into full focus — he was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame.
“They’ll put a picture of me up on the wall that they will photoshop to get my double chin out,” he joked last Tuesday as he switched planes in Dallas, Texas, en route to the ceremonies Wednesday night in Nashville, Tennessee.
Slone joins several of his former colleagues and peers on the wall, which he quipped was getting so crowded that his photo would likely be as small as a postage stamp.
“That’s alright with me. I don’t care,” said the 79-year-old Slone, who effectively retired when he sold his namesake company to Citadel Broadcasting in 2001 for a reported $63 million. “I’m at the age where it’s nice to be recognized by your peers for your achievements and the things you’ve been able to accomplish in your life. It’s very nice.”
Slone was honored for a career that covered all facets of country radio, from deejaying to managing a station to owning a broadcasting company that had stations on both sides of the dial covering a variety of genres.
Slone joined seven other 2016 inductees including DJs and station managers from around the country. The Hall of Fame is a project of the Nashville-based Country Radio Seminar, which promotes country music radio.
For Slone, the father of three and grandfather of four, the award is more than just another attaboy to add to his trophy case. It’s an affirmation for all the years he put into radio, most spent in Tucson.
As a young man, Slone toyed with a music career of his own. He started his radio career in the 1950s when he was tapped to tape-record basketball games for KENM while attending Eastern New Mexico University. The job led to a bigger role at the tiny station as an early morning announcer.
He deejayed at a couple stations in his native New Mexico before moving to Tucson to DJ at the country station KHOS. After two years behind the mic, he was promoted into management at the station in 1965.
In 1971, he was invited by Tom Chandler to join his floundering AM country station KCUB. Slone was intrigued but only if he could come on as an owner. There was one little problem, he recalled last week: he had no money to buy the station. So Chandler offered to let him buy stock in the company — 49 percent — and then earn more stock with every benchmark he hit. It took him a couple years before Slone had controlling interest in the station and was then able to buy out the other stockholders.
“It was kind of a rags to riches story,” Slone said.
By 1974, KCUB went from being in the ratings basement to the top, where it stayed for nearly a decade—from the mid-1970s to mid-’80s—propelled in part by the Billboard honor.
When he sold the station months ahead of the 9/11 attacks, Slone believed he was getting out in the nick of time.
“It was time to go,” he said. “The business was changing very dramatically and I got out just in time, as they say.”
Five years into his quiet retirement, Slone jumped back in the game. He bought the Spanish-language station KVET-AM 1030 in 2006 for $2.5 million and changed its mission and name. KCEE 1030 AM became a Great American Songbook jukebox, spinning all the songs that were near and dear to Slone’s soul.
“I just put on there all the music I liked. My whole thing is I love the music. I just picked the songs I liked and put it on there,” said Slone, who ticked off a playlist that included hits by Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons, Beatles, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and a host of others. Former Arizona Daily Star entertainment writer Dan Sorenson called it Slone’s “giant public iPod.”
“That was kind of a hobby,” Slone said.
He held onto KCEE “for three years because I just wanted to have some fun.” In spring 2009, his fun was over and he sold the station to Good News Radio Broadcasting. KCEE is now at 690 AM and still plays pop standards; 1030 on the dial is now KVOI, a talk radio station.
That was Slone’s final turn in Tucson radio. These days you will likely find him “loafing” — “That’s l-o-a-f,” he says, spelling the word for humorous effect — at home, or working on his “memoirs,” extended captions on the hundreds of photos with celebrities and superstars that he has amassed over the years.
“I enjoy telling all my stories with Tammy Wynette and people I got to know. Stories about when I met Muhammad Ali, a story about the time I met Elvis,” he explained. “I like to write so I write those things and send them to my friends. I do two or three a day.... They say, ‘We really enjoy reading what you’ve done with your life because you’ve led an exciting life and our lives are dull and yours was fun’.”
Some of those stories have been told and retold over the years, including the one from the mid-1960s when Slone was still with KHOS and he hired George Jones to do a Tucson concert. The country singer was a no-show. A couple years later, Slone tried again and Jones again was a no-show. On try No. 3, shortly after Jones married Wynette in 1969, Slone was able to get Jones to make good on the missed concerts.
Slone said he is thankful his health is good “and I’ve led a good life and I’m grateful for all of the good things that have happened to me.”
“I won’t tell you the things that were unpleasant,” he said.
This was the third time that Slone had been nominated for the Country Radio Hall of Fame.
“It’s all about the music,” he said. “I love music and radio was a vehicle to play music.”