As interviewed by Candice Wheeler
[Wally Walker grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and attended Edison High School. He began working as a DJ at 88.5 KBEM, a FM station in Minneapolis as a junior in high school. He then ventured around the Midwest working for a variety of “Top 40” radio stations in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Waterloo, Iowa and Austin, Minnesota. He moved back to Minnesota to work at 92.5 KQRS in 1979 and has been a DJ for the classic rock station ever since. You can hear Wally every weekday from 10am to 2pm on KQRS.]
“I didn’t choose this profession to become rich, I choose it because it’s something I enjoy. If you don’t like what you do, what’s the point?”
When I told my mom I would be working with the famous Wally Walker, she laughed and said, “Wally’s been cranking out the hits since I was in high school!” Wally’s humbleness and love for the business has always made me a believer in this career. Plus, he is a normal guy who has a good heart and a big laugh that makes you feel like you’ve been pals forever.
Wally became interested in radio in his early teens when reading a feature story in his parents’ Life magazine about the day in the life of the famous radio DJ, Don Imus.
“I just happened to pick it up and thought, that looks like a fun way to make a living. If they can actually pay me to have as much fun as he sounds like he’s having, I want to do it. That was my initial inspiration.”
Wally was born and raised in Northeast Minneapolis and went to Edison High School. During his sophomore year, he attended an assembly about a radio station students ran called KBEM. He took a bus downtown every day and liked being on-air so much he usually worked more than his required three hours.
“I would get down there and wouldn’t get home until late in the night because I was having so much fun!”
He had been on the air for over two years by the time he graduated high school.
“Now don’t tell anyone this, but I haven’t had any days of college. But I made a living working in radio. But it’s a different time now. Now you have to go to college.”
Wally worked at a radio station in Austin, Minnesota for three months, and then went on to work at a similar station in Waterloo, Iowa for a year and half.
“After Waterloo I got a job in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was working at ‘Top 40’ stations during that time — I had never done all rock until I got to KQ.”
He returned to his hometown in 1979 when he began working at KQRS.
“The reason KQ is still here is because this is really good music. There are a lot of kids who listen to their parents’ music. Jim Morrison’s been dead for over 30 years but I still get calls from 18-year-olds, and I never tell them this, but Jim’s been dead longer than they’ve been alive. It just goes to show you the staying power of this music.”
Wally is obviously a big classic rock fan but he said doesn’t listen to music much outside of work.
“I’m just a basic blue-collar guy who likes a bottle of beer as much as anybody else does. I don’t go home and listen to ‘Start Me Up’ by The Rolling Stones every night.”
Wally has seen many great concerts working at KQRS.
“Concerts are for the memories. You’ll go to a show and you’ll see a lot of us baby boomers there, we just keep going. Springsteen kicked off his tour here in 1984 and that was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life because the crowd was worn out after it. He played for about four hours. The guy really wanted to give you your money’s worth.”
KQRS did small concerts back in the eighties called “Low Dough Concerts” at a retired Minneapolis venue called Duffy’s. The concerts were 92 cents and would feature new artists.
“Back when John Mellencamp released his first album, he came to Duffy’s and played “I Need A Lover.” Picture this: John Mellencamp, or John Cougar back then, onstage with only 20 people in the crowd, and half of them weren’t even paying attention to him. I thought he was really good but the concert was 92 cents and nobody cared. We had no idea he was going to be playing much larger venues than Duffy’s.”
He said he thinks music was more meaningful when he was a kid.
“It was magical how things were exploding back then. It started with Elvis and that kind of thing, but I wasn’t really into Elvis. I was into the British invasion. The Rolling Stones and The Who changed things. They had loud guitars; we didn’t have loud guitars back then. That is where rock and roll came from. Finally some bands over here picked it up and took it to a new level, but those bands defined what the rest of the people were going to do after them in the seventies and eighties.”
KQRS plays a variety of songs that have researched well but aren’t necessarily the most popular.
“We always play Foghat’s ‘Fool for the City’ and ‘Slow Ride,’ but they have other great songs like ‘Stone Blue’ and ‘Drivin’ Wheels’ that we don’t play. There’s a lot of early Black Sabbath we used to play but don’t anymore. Heck, I can’t remember the last time we played ‘Heaven and Hell.’ I think that’s a great song. Ronnie James Dio, man.”
Wally Walker said he has always wanted to work in radio.
“It all comes down to the basic rule: if you’re not having fun with what you’re doing in life, you’re not living. It’s something fun and different I get paid to do every day and that’s why I’ve been able to do it for so long. And hey, I’m still employed so I must be doing something right!”