Craig signs off on his career in radio

For twenty-two years, The Craig and Al Morning Show was as reliable as tap water. Then, in 2009, the Missoula radio institution that had called three different stations home finished its run at KYSS-FM. Allen K was retiring, but Craig had no plans to hang up his headphones any time soon. He’d just inked a five-year extension with the pop country station.

When that five years was up, he was immediately hired by Trail 103.3, where he was given relatively free rein to indulge his musical tastes on weekday mornings while entertaining listeners with the same trivia games, rock ‘n roll history lessons, and wry, self-deprecating humor that led to several “Best Radio Personality” awards for himself and Al from the Missoula media over the years.

Craig has been such a constant presence in the fabric of Missoula that people feel like they know him. We’ll soon have to find a new radio BFF, though. After spending two-thirds of his life behind a microphone, Craig is retiring this month.

“Forty-six years, never out of work. I never even got fired,” he says. After starting his career at age 21 at an a.m. station in Lemmon, South Dakota, he worked everywhere from L.A. to Florida before settling in Missoula for good in 1992. 

“I was going to live in L.A. for ten years. I was going save all my money and come back to Missoula and open a biker bar. I made it six months. Just too many people,” said Craig.

Craig’s easy laugh and curious mind make him an ideal interviewee, and he quickly put his studio guests at ease when they came in on weekday mornings to promote their event or cause. Music is clearly his favorite subject, and he keeps a warehouse of rock ‘n roll history inside his smooth-shaved head. He’s a stalwart devotee of sixties and seventies rock, which he and Al played for ten years on Z100. His email signature reads, “Never trust a band without a guitar.”

When the pair moved to KYSS, most of their fans followed them. But not all.

“When I went from Z100 to country, some people said ‘[screw] you.’” He was relieved, but not that surprised, when his audience followed him to the Trail five years ago.

“I was always worried, being on the radio, people would pretend that I was cooler than them, but in many cases I was dorkier than them. People like what I do for the most part. Or they hate me, because that’s an emotion too. At some point I kind of figured out that if nobody dislikes you, probably nobody likes you either because you’re not doing anything that affects anybody in a meaningful way.”

While Craig was holding down the morning fort by himself for the last ten years, the music business was being turned on its head. The relationship between record labels and radio had changed fundamentally, and now he found himself playing songs by artists who’d recorded worldwide hit songs on a laptop in their bedroom. The way people consume music has also changed, and the bottom has dropped out of the record industry. How has all of this affected the radio landscape?

“Ten years ago,” he said, “had somebody asked me what’s the best way to get into radio, if I were going to be really honest with him, I’d say find some work. Get a good honest job because I don’t know if [broadcast radio] is going to make it.”

He points out that, especially before the download era, people bought their music based on what they heard on the radio. Although the entertainment pie has been sliced thinner with the advent of satellite radio, streaming, podcast and other choices, he’s more optimistic about radio’s future now.

“Radio’s going to survive,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m just thrilled that there are young people who care as much about the business as much as I did. They’ll figure it out and make it succeed. They’re smart. They’ve grown up on tech, they’re absolutely unintimidated it by it.” He added, with a laugh, “A bunch of dinosaurs like me are going to die and they won’t have to listen to our [bull] anymore.”

As for retirement, Craig looks forward to traveling with his wife, Patty, and spending time in his newly-built backyard shop, putting a wrench to his collection of old motorcycles. Surely there will be a shop radio on a shelf, tuned to a rock ‘n roll station, feeding his jones for British Invasion bands like the Kinks and the Stones. At some point he’ll probably hear the song, “For Real,” by Tom Petty, one of his favorite artists. He feels a connection with the lyrics, and quotes them. “‘I did it for you, I did it for me. I did it for real, would’ve done it for free.’”