San Diego salutes our own, Tom Kelly

 Before I had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I was a kid in San Diego with DJ dreams


Radio personality "Shotgun Tom Kelly" poses for a portrait at his home studio.
Radio personality “Shotgun Tom Kelly” poses for a portrait at his home studio.
(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

I once got to introduce President Ronald Reagan at a campaign rally in San Diego in 1984, later gave him one of my ranger hats, and in 2013 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Irwin, known as “Shotgun Tom Kelly,” is a longtime radio and television personality in Southern California and can be heard on SiriusXM 60s Gold(Channel 73) from 4 to 9 p.m. He is working on a book titled “All I Wanna Do is Play the Hits” and lives in San Diego County.

It’s been a more than a 50-year career, and it’s still going strong. I once got to introduce President Ronald Reagan at a campaign rally in San Diego in 1984, later gave him one of my ranger hats, and in 2013 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I was born and raised in San Diego and have always been proud to say that San Diego is my hometown. As young as 10, my dream was to be on the air in the radio industry, and I was very fortunate to have my dream realized when I was just 16. I was attending Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley, and I was the school’s announcer every morning on “The Morning Bulletin.”


"Shotgun Tom" Kelly visits with President Ronald Reagan in the oval office in the late 1980s
“Shotgun Tom” Kelly visits with President Ronald Reagan in the oval office in the late 1980s
(Thomas Irwin )

Then, in 1966, I got my first on-air job at KPRI-FM playing standard music through a work-study program. At the time, FM was not the radio giant it is now. AM radio dominated the airwaves with stations like KCBQ and KGB-AM playing the hits, and that’s where I wanted to be, behind the microphone of a Top 40 radio station, playing those hits.

Shotgun Tom Kelly in radio school. It takes hard work to sound like a natural.

When I started, I needed a Federal Communications Commission first-class radiotelephone operator license to work at the big AM stations. So as soon as I graduated high school, I enrolled in the William B. Ogden Radio Operational Engineering School in Huntington Beach. I graduated from Ogden after six months with my first-class license, and I was on my way.

My first AM radio job was in Merced at KYOS-AM, then I worked at KACY-AM in Oxnard, and later, I was hired in Bakersfield at KAFY-AM.

It was in Bakersfield that I got a chance to host my first television kids show. I was “Nemo, the clown” every Saturday morning on KERO-TV, channel 23. I was in heaven. I was playing the hits and slowly making my way back to my hometown. One day, I got the nerve up to send an audition tape to Charlie Van Dyke, the program director of KGB-AM. He hired me for the 9 p.m. to midnight show. A year later, in 1971, I was the afternoon DJ at KCBQ-AM, at the same time I was asked to host “Word’s A Poppin,” a syndicated children’s game show on KGTV, channel 10. Now, I was working in two media industries, radio and television.

In the late 1970s, I worked at various radio stations in San Diego, including B100-FM and K-BEST 95, and in 1983 I began hosting the KUSI-TV “Kids Club.”

In the 1980s, Rep. Duncan Hunter reached out to me to voice his radio spots. He suggested that I present one of my ranger hats to then-President Ronald Reagan, and arranged for a presentation at the White House. It was an honor. President Reagan got up from the Resolute Desk, walked over and said, “Well, Shotgun, I hear you were the emcee in San Diego and kept the people entertained while they were waiting for me.”

I said, “Yes, Mr. President, and I bring you my ranger hat.” He put it on for a photo.

At that time, I started voicing radio and TV commercials. One of my commercial clients, Mad Jack’s, an electronics retailer, was selling a new piece of equipment, the Sony CD player. I was fascinated with the size of a compact disc and instantly wanted to replace all my dusty vinyl records. The player was portable, which was a new innovation. Of course, I immediately purchased one and installed one in my car.

In 1997, I got my big break and went to Hollywood at K Earth 101and succeeded one of my all-time radio heroes, “The Real” Don Steele.

I worked there for 20 years, and eventually was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Stevie Wonder was one of my presenters during the event.

Shotgun Tom, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

Working in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Regis Philbin, Vin Scully, Tom Jones, Elton John, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, John Stamos and many others. When I met Clint Eastwood, he knew who I was, and we talked about our favorite jazz DJ Chuck Niles. Regis Philbin and I talked about people we worked with at KFMB. To this day, Mike Love and I are good friends.

Now I work from a home studio and am on satellite radio. I am heard all around the world. I hope my Southern California listeners say, “Tom Irwin made good in San Diego and Hollywood.”

(Note:  Tom is a member of the Modesto Radio Museum, and for years was the station announcer, “The Voice” of the legendary Top-4o KFIV.)

*** To read the Museum’s tribute to Tom click here: “Quite a Ride, when you ride Shotgun.”  

***In his own voice, here are a few of Tom’s favorite radio memories:

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