Mike Nelson '96
On today's rock report: the story (and real identity) of a legendary bad boy disc jockey.
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.
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.
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.
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