With half a century in radio broadcasting under his belt, JJ McKay has more than a few stories to tell about some of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll.
McKay, 72, known as “Hitman,” is part of the lineup on 103.5/102.9 The Vault, a classic rock station in Georgetown that broadcasts throughout the state and Ocean City, Maryland.
He’s celebrating 50 years in the business in 2021 and shows no sign of slowing down. McKay can be heard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Kicking off his career in 1970 at a radio station in Flagstaff, Arizona, McKay was on the air in the morning and announced at local high school sports games. Over the years, he could be heard on the airwaves around the country under various names, playing everything from alternative rock to easy listening, although classic rock is his hands-down favorite, he says.
A resident of West Ocean City for 30 years with his wife, Maureen, McKay commutes 100 miles to Delaware every day for work.
Here, he talks music and hanging out with rock legends Mick Jagger and Gene Simmons, and reveals his secret classic rock crush.
JJ McKay: When I’m on the air, I stand up all four hours. I’ve never sat down during a live radio show. My whole philosophy is, if you’re up, you’re up. And to this day, people come in to meet me in the studio—the owners will bring somebody in—and they say, “Does he always stand up?” Yeah, I’d get lazy sitting down in the chair.
JM: Well, I was a wannabe musician. I think I was about 13 years old in Baltimore, and I was a drummer. I had two neighbors—one was a bass guitarist and the other was an acoustic guitarist—and we had a little trio. But I got smart real quick, because I said, “We’re done playing, my two guys have taken their guitars and they’re out of here with all the girls, and I’m still putting my drum kit away. What’s wrong with me?” [Laughs] So, I became a singer. I just could just walk offstage with all the girls.
JM: Dick Clark, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. [Clark] was one of my idols. I learned a lot by just watching him ’cause he’s another workaholic. And I enjoyed watching his shows and the New Year’s shows and the whole nine yards. I never got a chance to meet [Hendrix], but God I always wanted to. I’d say, “How’d you learn to play upside-down guitar, buddy? Tell me about it.” I always loved his music. I still do. [Joplin] was the love of my life, but she never knew it. I heard her Pearl album and and went, man. … I would’ve loved to chat with her a little bit. Maybe when I die and go topside, we’ll get back together again.
JM: We were in the Washington Capitals hockey team’s locker room [at the Capital Centre] and they had a couple of pinball machines and stuff like that. It’s only the guys in the band and a couple of the record people and another four or five of us, and we’re bored crazy, so we start playing pinball. I think I lost to Charlie Watts, but eventually I got to play Mick. We’re just there having a good time, waiting for those guys go onstage. To my recollection, I won two games. To Mick’s recollection, we split one and one.
JM: He was cool, man. I think he let me win, actually, but it’s OK [laughs].
To my recollection, I won two games. To Mick [Jagger’s] recollection, we split one and one.
JM: He did. I had met Gene [around 1985] and he was cool as hell. So I told him about my birthday—June 30. It just so happens that was also the birthdate of the radio station KHI. I figured if I’m gonna throw a birthday party for the station, I’m gonna throw a party for me. So, I invited Gene to come down through his record label and damned if he didn’t show up.
JM: Oh, absolutely. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t having fun. I’d have quit a long time ago.