The late Greg Aust wasn’t in Seattle very long, only about a year and a half in the early ’70s. But Aust was a popular 10AM-1PM host, with an air shift right after Seattle legend Robert E. Lee Hardwick and before Jim French and “super commuter” Jack Morton. In his lifetime, Aust worked at radio stations all across the country. Regionally and nationally there is a lot of interest in Greg. “Searching for Chuck McKay and Finding Greg Aust” (read it here) has had the most online hits of the “historical” articles archived at QZVX. A previous feature article on Aust’s career lags not far behind. Part of that intrigue, of course, relates to Aust’s infamous 1975 “Chuck McKay Incident” (listen here) at powerhouse rock station CKLW in Windsor/Detroit. Over the years, Aust was known by many different on-air names. In addition to his real name, Greg was Chuck Williams, Chuck McKay, Greg Austin, Steve Austin and Jim Applegate.
I plan to write an article that will document the “inside” story of what really happened at the CKLW studio in the wee hours of that morning in ’75. Let’s break ground in that regard right now. I will introduce four key people who agreed to interviews. Their “inside” knowledge will help me separate fact from fiction and rumor. The goal will be to offer a definitive article on the circumstances surrounding the Chuck McKay Incident or so-called “meltdown” at CKLW.
First, I’d like you to meet Kim Elliott. Kim is Greg’s half sister and she is a capable family historian. She’s the proprietor of an antiques, collectibles and resale shop in Descanso near San Diego. A year ago Kim was trying to reconnect with Greg and she posted to that effect online. I was hunting for Greg too, and it seemed like working with his family members would be a big plus. I contacted her and that is how we became acquaintances. Both of us were disappointed when we eventually discovered that Greg had passed away a few years before. This photo of Kim is from 61 years ago. It’s not every day that a toddler goes shopping at the mall with mom and ends up as the cover girl on “Good Housekeeping Magazine.” That’s what happened to Kim and here is the proof.
Kim put me in touch with her brother (and Greg’s half-brother) Jeff Elliott. That was an interesting turn. Jeff 50K Elliott was, like his older brother, a major market radio personality. Jeff lives in Julian, near San Diego, and he has been a big help on this project. We communicate often and Jeff has provided me with valuable family information and his personal photos.
Another person with first hand knowledge of the McKay Incident was Bill Hennes — CKLW program director at the time of the now infamous broadcast. He currently operates a media consulting firm and founded TodaysTopHits.com and AllAboutCountry.com. Hennes lives in Florida.
Bill Gardner was helpful as well. Gardner — the Billboard Magazine Major Market Air Personality of the Year in 1974 — was perhaps Greg’s closest personal friend for nearly 50 years. Gardner is now a pilot for Grand Canyon Airlines based in Las Vegas.
Drawing on these different people, QZVX will attempt to piece together all of the parts of the puzzle that surround the McKay Incident at CKLW. Was Aust “melting down” or was it an on-air bit that got out of hand? Was Greg armed with a pistol that night? Did he have other job offers, as Aust claimed, or was that all bluster? Why did Aust keep pouring it on when he knew his mouth would get him fired? Why all the references to his mother, what was that all about? (We will not be investigating the validity of Aust’s boast that he was a virgin (at age 25)….that seems to be unlikely based on what we know about Greg). Surprisingly enough, the family’s side of the CKLW story, as interpreted by Jeff and Kim, is not very different from Bill Hennes’ perceptions from the management side of things.
Now let’s shake the family tree a bit. Being a DJ himself, Jeff 50K and Greg obviously had lots to talk about. Greg was five years Jeff’s senior, so he got into radio first. That was in 1968 or ’69, five or six years before Jeff first sat before a microphone. The Aust and Elliott siblings lived across the country from one another. The Elliott kids, two brothers and two sisters, lived with mom and dad in the San Diego area. Greg and an older brother were the Aust kids. They were raised in Kansas City, Missouri by their dad and his wife. The two sides of the family were half-brothers and half -sisters. Everybody had the same mom, but different dads.
“The kids on both sides of the family knew of one another through their mom, she was the common denominator. But the children didn’t actually meet until they were grown. Maria Elliott, mother of the Aust boys and the four Elliott boys and girls, was well-known locally as manager of “Maynard’s by the Sea at Pacific Beach.” It was kind of an alternative hangout — a prominent ’60s and ’70s beach side bar where bikers drank, dined and peacefully coexisted with surfers, hippies and various elements of the counterculture. The Elliott kids spent many an hour helping out in the kitchen at Maynard’s — which had a reputation for providing great tasting but inexpensive food. Former customers still rave about “Spaghetti Night,” “Taco Night” and “Spanish Omelet” Sunday.
Since Jeff and Greg knew of one another only through their mother, initially Jeff didn’t realize he had a brother who was a prominent DJ. When Jeff was getting into radio, Greg wasn’t around to encourage him or to help. Jeff made the leap into the biz on his own. When Greg came to the West Coast to visit his mom and the California family, Jeff and Greg found they had lots in common. They hit it off and, when Greg visited San Diego, they would hop in the car and drive around to nearby radio stations. Greg Aust had many contacts and connections. He moved around enough that inevitably he knew where to locate somebody they could call on. Before Email made it easy, Jeff and Greg exchanged airchecks by mail. The brothers kept in touch over many years. However, it was hard to remain real close to one another: Greg was always moving from station to station around the country, while Jeff preferred to stay closer to home in Southern California.
In 1989 there was an interesting development. Greg was visiting family in San Diego. He and 50K were between radio jobs. Jeff and Greg hatched a plan: They would team-up and develop a distinctive morning show that could be pitched to major market stations. Jeff would become “Buddy Love” and Greg would be “Max Packer.” Together they’d present “The Love & Packer Show.” Jeff says: “We put a fair bit of work into planning and developing the show. Then Greg, being Greg and all, lost interest and he went off to another job in another city. That was the end of that“! Jeff still has a memento from those days. Below is a copy of a printed promotional piece that was in progress at the time.
It seems like almost everyone who worked ’60’s, ’70s and ’80s radio, has heard of Greg Aust or knows of one of his aliases. On the other hand, very few radio veterans knew that Jeff 50K Elliott was Greg Aust’s brother. (Greg’s friend Bill Gardner is an exception, he knew.) Fact is, 50K had his own impressive radio career that was independent of his brother. Jeff was on-air from 1975 until 1994. Although his preference was to hang around the FM rock stations near San Diego, he also worked in Arizona, Texas, Oregon and at 91X — a Mexican border-blaster FM that rocked San Diego (Inducing memories of Wolfman Jack).
Jeff retired from commercial radio in the mid-’90s. Yet he has retained an interest in voice over work and video production. In the past month, Jeff and his video whiz friend, Bob Meadows, have created an online nostalgia series “Time Machine.” Until we hear from Jeff again in the future, simply press the play button below and you will be transported back in time to the music and events of that Golden Year 1967.