The Golden Voice of the Rockies

STEVE KELLER OF GREAT FALLS LOVES HIS DUAL LIFE AS RADIO DJ AND MUSIC ENTERTAINER

By AARON PARRETT

Steve Keller might have the greatest job in the world. He keeps his own hours, works out of his home, and most important—he loves what he does.

Though you may not have ever met him in person, you probably feel like you know him, because you’ve heard him talking to you almost every day for the last 20 years—if you listen to the radio, that is.

Keller is the morning voice of 97.9 The River and afternoon voice of 92.9 Kool. He may also be heard on 107.3 The Mighty Mo, and 105.3 KMTX (down in Helena). If you listen closely, you’ll recognize his distinctive voice in any number of radio spots as well.

His golden voice has that perfect radio timbre, the kind that could sell ketchup to a fellow in a brand-new white suit.

But he’s not just a disc jockey, either

I you like to go out on the weekend and hear live music, chances are good you’ve seen Steve Keller the musician also. He plays in at least three bands, a couple of which play somewhere around Great Falls or central Montana pretty much every weekend.

Between spinning tunes in the radio studio and playing live music in nightclubs, Keller knows music and knows how to brighten people’s lives.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve just always known I wanted to be an entertainer,” he said. “I have just always had a natural inclination to put myself out there and entertain.” It’s clear that it comes naturally. All you have to do is hear him between songs on the radio. He’s got a warm, engaging voice that makes you want to leave the dial right where it is.

“Radio work is all about making a connection with the audience,” he said. “If you’re a DJ, you have to learn to do that with your voice.”

Keller was born in Ione, Wash., not far from Spokane. When he was in high school, he moved to Kellogg, Idaho with his mother and step-father, where he graduated in the early 1980s. Immediately after graduating, he began his career in radio, attending broadcast school in Spokane and going to work in 1981 for radio station KALE in the Tri-Cities area of Washington.

A year later, he was on a news station in Cheyenne, Wyo., for a while, but in 1983, he began his impressive career on the Montana airwaves.

Meanwhile, he spent his leisure hours playing music.

“When I was a little kid, maybe 3 years old, I was hit hard with Beatlemania. My mother bought me a little turntable, and I just couldn’t get enough,” he said. “As a kid I was dissecting a lot of music without really knowing it.”

Keller started guitar at 10 and picked up piano a year later. By 12, he was putting it all together, recording himself playing multiple tracks on a 4-track recorder.

This early foray into recording and production paved the way for his future ability to assemble radio shows and create advertisements—including jingles—in the basement of his own home.

“At 5 a.m., my workday starts down in my basement studio,” he said. “I do all the production myself, from the music to the commercials.”

When Keller talks about what he does, his eyes light up, and the enthusiasm level inches up like the needle on a VU monitor.

While in the air room in front of the microphone, he spins tunes ranging from classic rock to new country, with a wide variety in between. While onstage behind the microphone, he brings a similar flexibility to his repertoire.

With local Great Falls legends The Thrillbillies, he showcases his eclectic tastes and versatility.

“A Thrillbillies performance is really a variety show,” he explained. “We play solid country, like Dwight Yoakum, but we cover the Eagles also. We even do some Monkees songs, but also some interesting stuff by Adele and Bruno Mars. And there’s an emphasis on improvisation: we all lock into a song, and everyone gets to take a ride for a while when its their turn.”

When he’s fronting the Steve Keller Band, he likes to cover more mainstream, classic material.

“It’s a lot of classic covers from the 80s and 90s, but we throw in a few original tunes, too,” he said.

The true mettle of a cover band depends on their ability to energize a crowd on a weekend night in a working-class town like Great Falls, and the last time I saw them at The Loading Zone, it was clear they were having a good time on stage, and the patrons were into it. They’ve been together 11 years now, and they perform like a well-oiled machine that is happy to be plugged in and running.

“One of the great things about being an entertainer is that you can entertain people at any stage of life,” Keller said over lunch at Jaker’s one afternoon. “As long as you’re alive, there’s time to do what you want to do. And I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve been lucky to be able to do it. But I think people sometimes forget it’s never too late to what you want to do with your life.” MSN

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