On today's rock report: the story (and real identity) of a legendary bad boy disc jockey. It's none other than Mike Nelson '96, whose freshman thrash band was once booed off the stage at the Leavey Center.
It's Safe to say that the time Mike Nelson '96 spent playing other people's music at Santa Clara went better than singing his own. His freshman year, Nelson's thrash band kicked off the Fourth Annual Alpha Phi Star Search with—in the words of the student newspaper—a "performance of total anarchy." The screaming punk explosion apparently got little love from the crowd expecting a genteel night of lip-synching.
"Ten minutes of booing from the audience of 800 ended the fracas," recounted an article in The Santa Clara. Though the article didn't report what the judges—skater Peggy Fleming and former San Francisco '49er Roy Foster—thought of the band.
More than 15 years later, Nelson still has the microphone, though now he has the crowd, too. Better known as the disc jockey "No Name," in April 2009 Nelson found himself perched at San Francisco's Live 105, one of the biggest alternative music stations in the country and the latest stop in a remarkably resilient radio career. He recently took over the afternoon drive slot.
"I've just had a lot of great opportunities come my way, and I've grabbed every one of them."
His pepped-up ruminations on kissing face-transplant patients and other news of the day won't be everyone's cup of tea (or laced triple espresso), but Nelson has clearly connected with a fan base. In a field where three-year runs are respectable, Nelson has been a near constant presence on Bay Area airwaves since his days at Santa Clara—a charmed existence for which he's grateful.
"It's basically like air-guitaring your way through life," he says.
Radio has provided Nelson the foundation for a résumé that includes his own cable show, House Detective, on HGTV; voicing the Candid Camera-like Boiling Points on MTV; and giving life to Not Chuck the Pit Boss in Pixar's movie Cars. Nelson also gets dressed up as an "unemployed zombie" to host Creepy Kofy Movie Time on TV20 in the Bay Area—a gig he says amounts to Wayne's World meets Headbanger's Ball.
"I've just had a lot of great opportunities come my way," Nelson said. "And I've grabbed every one of them."
"Funny, loud, and not normal."
Nelson has been "No Name" for even longer than he's been a professional deejay, adopting the moniker at Santa Clara's student-run station mainly because nothing better came to mind. And certainly it was an improvement on "Stinky Toes," the name bestowed by the football team in testament to his notoriously unwashed gear.
|At the helm: Nelson in the studio.
Photo by Charles Barry.
Nelson came to Santa Clara as a 240-pound inside linebacker, though his athletic career ended along with the program his freshman year. Suddenly a guy who ate lunch with tackling intensity had loads of something he loathes: time to kill.
The student radio station became the new refuge. Nelson threw himself into KSCU, jumping at the chance to share his passion for punk and to meet heroes like Johnny Ramone of The Ramones, his first radio interview.
His junior year he interned at KOME, then one of San Jose's largest stations. His college show earned praise from the deejays and, in typical 100 percent style, Nelson spent his spare moments in the production room making tapes to prove himself. His big break, though, came with just answering the phone at the station.
"He was funny, loud, and not normal," remembers Carson Daly, then a deejay at the station, and now a host of NBC television's late-night show Last Call with Carson Daly. "He needed to be on-air."
In short order, Nelson got a chance at hosting the graveyard shift with one stipulation: He could only speak from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. By his senior year, he was under contract, a deejay working in the country's fourth-largest market.
It's not all been smooth sailing. In 2008, he was unceremoniously fired from his six-year gig co-hosting the morning show on Alice 97.3—after he helped make the station a Bay Area institution. Nelson shrugged it off. The perils of the business have been clear since his first program director tried to talk him into doing something more sensible with his sociology degree.
With no job, he toured the country on his Harley bagger, riding Route 66 with Daly, a trip that was televised on Daly's show. And Nelson hung out with his family, especially his two young sons.
"I probably spent more time with my two boys than most people do in a lifetime," he says.
The family side of Nelson is a fair contrast to the beer-guzzling party animal he serves up for public consumption. But the guy raving on the radio is the same one who met his wife, Christi, on his 19th birthday, married her 11 years ago, and credits her for saving him from the downfalls of the rock-n-roll lifestyle.
"If you're a knucklehead, marry a smart, smart woman," he says. "She definitely kept the train on the tracks." (The priest who joined the pair in holy matrimony was SCU's Paul Soukup, S.J.—who may be the only Jesuit to get a shout-out on the No Name Show.) Nelson's duality seems fairly summed up by the bright tattoo on his right forearm. It is one of many inked images over a body that, while doughier than in his football days, is still sturdy enough for him to challenge Mexican wrestlers in arm-wrestling bouts on Cinco de Mayo.
The tattoo features an anvil and lightning bolt below the words "One hundred nails," a stock rock-n-roll montage that turns out to hit very close to home. When Nelson's oldest son was born, the infant's belly became so distended with gas that the doctor said the pain was like an adult swallowing 100 nails. The tattoo Nelson had inked is a reminder that parenting, childhood, and life in general aren't easy, but we're equipped to overcome—as his son did.
"We come into this world able to deal with the worst adversity," he assesses. "But somehow over time we forget that."
Certainly Nelson dealt with getting fired. After a nine-month vacation, he was hired by Live 105. Still, he knows the next day on-air could always be his last.
Back when he had his first contract offer at KOME, he asked his dad, an industrial roofing contractor, what he should do. His dad in turn asked Nelson if he liked what he was doing and could pay his bills. When Nelson said yes, the older Nelson offered advice his son has been following ever since. "He said, 'You have the rest of your life to get a real job. Do it for as long as you can,'" Nelson recalls. "That's what I've been doing."
What he's also been doing, when a drive brings him through the South Bay, is tuning in KSCU and requesting a song or two. Maybe something from punkers Jawbreaker, circa 1994.