Long before there was "Shotgun" Tom Kelly, there was 10-year-old Tom Irwin, who one day got a chance to watch a DJ at work in his native San Diego. He got hooked on radio right then. As he got older, he began hanging out at local stations, sometimes while on his newspaper delivery route. He got his first job in the medium at 16 and went on to become a nationally recognized DJ, first in San Diego and later in Los Angeles, where he has been a fixture on oldies outlet KRTH-FM since 1997.
It was during his early years of spinning records at a succession of stations in Merced, Ventura and Bakersfield that Irwin became, at the suggestion of a colleague, "Shotgun" Tom Kelly, and along the way he topped the persona with a Smokey Bear ranger’s hat that has been part of his image ever since.
Returning to San Diego as an on-air personality in 1969, Kelly worked first at "Boss Radio" KGB-AM, then moved to Top 40 station KCBQ-AM, where he reigned weekday afternoons from 1970 to 1977. The combination of pop music hits and his loud laugh, zany tongue rolls and ribald jokes helped propel the station to record ratings, and in 1976 Billboard magazine named him the country’s Air Personality of the Year.
For a while, after AM stations began losing ground to FM, Kelly’s radio career flagged; he felt his "Shotgun" personality was muzzled in other formats. He’d already been hosting children’s TV shows, winning a couple of Emmy Awards along the way, and he continued that while branching out to do TV commercials. He got back on track in the mid-1980s playing oldies at KBZT-FM and came to be known as "San Diego’s answer to Wolfman Jack."
When KRTH in Los Angeles beckoned, he went. "K-Earth has always been a fun environment," Kelly once explained. "It’s like the Disneyland of radio – the songs are classic, they’ve always been there, and they’ll always be there. And people really dig it."