After 31 years, Charlie Zdravesky goes off the air
By Simon McComack
Charlie Z gets behind the mic at KUNM.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Charlie Zdravesky says he doesn't remember much about his first “Hot Lix” show.
That might be because it happened more than three decades ago. Since 1978, Zdravesky—better known as Charlie Z or Mr. Hot Lix—has hosted his signature oldies radio program on Saturday nights from 8 to 10:30 p.m. on KUNM 89.9.
A self-described troublemaker, Zdravesky has often clashed with upper management. He was one of the volunteers who went on strike for a year and a half in the late ’80s, when KUNM's top brass wanted to radically change the station's programming.
He lists an "unworkable environment" at KUNM as one of the reasons he's stepping out of the DJ booth for the final time this Saturday, Aug. 29. "People always say, Hey Charlie Z, the old hell-raiser," Zdravesky says. "Well that's all well and good, until you start raising hell with the management. Management doesn't like that, and I guess if I was management, I wouldn't like it either."
"It's really one big, dysfunctional family over there," Charlie Z says of KUNM.
Zdravesky says he's critical of KUNM's administrative costs and how much the higher-ups pocket every year. "It's really one big, dysfunctional family over there," Charlie Z says.
The 65-year-old journalist was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 as part of the Inter Media Group's investigation of the New Mexico State Penitentiary. For 15 years, beginning in the early ’80s, Mr. Hot Lix produced Outta Joint at the Joint, an annual concert for inmates and their families at the state prison. "We didn't really do it for the guys that were in the pen," Zdravesky says. "We did it for their families. The families are hit just as hard as the people who are locked up. We wanted to provide a relatively normal day for their kids."
When you tune into “Hot Lix,” however, you usually don't hear Zdravesky talking politics or spouting off about anything controversial. He mostly likes to opine on food. A lengthy discussion about a tomato sauce recipe is the kind of thing Charlie Z gets wrapped up in. That's what separates his show from your average oldies radio program.
Even though “Hot Lix” has been on the dial for 30-plus years, its host doesn’t like thinking of the show as an Albuquerque radio fixture. “I don't want to sound too egotistical about it,” Zdravesky says. “I'd like to think people are going to miss it and it’s [been] something people look forward to.” We spoke with the longtime DJ about his final show and about he'll miss most. Here's a hint: It's not the tunes.
Talk about the early days of hosting a radio program.
Back then, they didn't want you projecting your personality. They used to get pissed off if I mentioned my name on the air. They just wanted something generic. That's never been me.
Are there other reasons for leaving besides your contentious relationship with management?
I'm 65 years old. I don't have the energy I used to have. When I tell people I'm going to be stopping the show and they're like, Oh no! You can't! What do they think—I'm gonna be coming up there when I'm 80 years old with my walker, playing oldies? I can't do it.
Any thoughts on what you’ll be feeling during that last show?
I don't know. I feel OK. Maybe at 10 o'clock, on the 29th, I'll get all choked up or something, but it's OK. I've done just about everything you can do on the radio in 31 years. I've interviewed some great people. I mean some really heavy-duty folks like Timothy Leary, Wolfman Jack and Graham Kerr the Galloping Gourmet. We've had a lot of fun. We've actually had a few interesting parties during my show.
What else will you miss most about hosting “Hot Lix”?
You don't really have time to sit down and listen to the music. You're answering the phone or trying to figure out what you're going to say next, or cueing up the next record or CD or whatever. It's not like I'm going to miss listening to the oldies. I guess I'm going to miss interviewing people. It's great. You just ask the questions you really want answered. I'm gonna miss learning from the people I interviewed.
Is KUNM going to replace you or your program?
I've heard a rumor that they're going to continue oldies on Saturday nights. They can't call it “Hot Lix” because I own the name. It can't be the same, because it won't have my interests, like food and travel and raising hell. That's my personality.
Will you continue to play music somewhere else?
No. I don't even listen to music at home. I'm not a musician and I don't listen to the radio. I have a decent collection of music, though. I don't have a television. I like it quiet, and I read a lot.
Do you find it ironic that someone who's been hosting an oldies show for more than a quarter century doesn't listen to music?
What will you be doing with your newfound free time?
Going to bed a little earlier. I'd like to see a few more movies and go out to dinner and just kind of relax. At 65 years old, I feel like that's what it's supposed to be about.
I figured out how much I would have made if I had done the show for even minimum wage and it was something like $100,000. What really made it worth it is the listeners. When somebody hears your voice at a restaurant and they say, Hey, I listen to your show, you're Mr. Hot Lix. Or someone calls the radio station and says, Hey man, thanks. That really means a lot.
The Last “Hot Lix” airs Saturday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. on KUNM.