KPTL's afternoon man thrives on spontaneity

The late afternoon belongs to Scott Gahagen at KPTL AM 1300 and FM 102.9.

Gahagen's the one with the fun oldies and the mystery box that he rattles next to the microphone each weekday at 3:20 p.m.

He also partners often with Stacey Giomi at Carson High School football and basketball games, and there are days you'll see him on the sidewalk doing a live remote.

"It's funny," Gahagen said early one afternoon before going on the air. "Different people know me for different things."

Anybody listening to KPTL in the mid-afternoon knows Gahagen for the mystery box. Callers are supposed to identify what's in the box by the sound it makes when shaken.

"I stole that completely from a disc jockey (Russ Syracuse) I heard when I grew up," Gahagen said.

At least one time, Gahagen had to improvise. He wanted to portray a champagne bottle but could find only a vase. The illusion worked because a caller eventually guessed bottle of champagne - and Gahagen had a soggy box because he didn't drain the vase entirely.

Gahagen has no grand plan on what to fill the mystery box with each day.

"I don't even know what's going in today," he said at 1 p.m. "Everything in this office has been in the mystery box."

Gahagen gestured toward a stick of deodorant, a golf ball, a CD, the stapler, a hat, a computer base.

"Even the lava lamp," said Gahagen, whose walls are lined with LP album covers (vinyl within). "It was amazing how quickly they got it: the second caller."

Gahagen likes to keep things spontaneous on the air. Recently, Tony Orlando consented to an interview. Gahagen figured he's get to talk to him for a couple minutes.

"I didn't expect to do a long interview with Tony Orlando," he said, "but I talked with him for 20 minutes. All kinds of spontaneous things happen on radio. That's what I try to do with KPTL: make it more spontaneous. One DJ with his records."

Gahagen is on the air generally from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Sounds like a cushy 15-hour work week, but most of Gahagen's efforts go to away-from-the-mike duties.

"The smallest and easiest part of my day is being on the air," Gahagen said.

As KPTL's program director, Gahagen is responsible for filling all 24 hours with programming, be it oldies from the '50s, '60s and '70s or local sports, events and interview shows.

He produces some of the advertising that appears on the station, has to fill out 27 pages of commercial affidavits each week that verify that commercials aired on both stations.

"A lot of it is taking phone calls from people who want to do programs," Gahagen said. "For the past couple years, I've been working 70- to 80-hour weeks. Any time you have a computer, you have computer challenges. A lot of work goes into that ...."

Gahagen, 44, has had two stints at KPTL. During his first tour from 1979 into the mid-1980s, the station manager had him use the radio name Scott Carson.

Gahagen got to use his real name when he returned in 1993. In between, he spent seven or eight years out of radio in his native Bay Area.

"I missed radio," he said. "It's kind of an addiction. I joined a Toastmasters club just to express the thoughts I have. Radio is one of those things that once you do it and stop, you miss it."

Despite the mystery box, Gahagen relishes radio talk that's real and not just some concoction of jokes. Just about anybody of significance in Carson City has done time behind a KPTL mike.

Before the FM simulcast started earlier this year, KPTL had a limited listening range within the Carson City-Reno area. The FM signal, however, has taken Gahagen's voice into Sacramento and farther east into Nevada.

Still, Gahagen doesn't see himself as talking to thousands of people.

"I feel like I'm talking to one other person," he said. "One of the great things about radio is the fact that it is an intimate medium. It's a hot medium as opposed to TV, which is a cold medium."

The public may know Scott Gahagen for his on-the-air work, but he derives more joy behind the scenes.

"I get a lot more reward programming than being on the air," Gahagen said. "I've heard myself talk for 40 years and I know what I'm going to say."


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