Get Rhythm

Elmer Aho looks at his vast record collection. Aho doesn’t just keep it classic when it comes to the music, he also prefers the traditional methods of listening as well, favoring 33s and 45s over more modern, digital versions of songs. (Photos by Tom Buchkoe)

Elmer Aho looks at his vast record collection. Aho doesn’t just keep it classic when it comes to the music, he also prefers the traditional methods of listening as well, favoring 33s and 45s over more modern, digital versions of songs. (Photos by Tom Buchkoe)

by Erik Lennartson

Teacher-turned-radio-disk jockey Elmer Aho has been spinning classic country tunes for the good-hearted women and good ol’ boys living in the U.P. for nearly three decades.

From 7 p.m. to midnight each Saturday, Aho hosts American Country Gold on 103FXD, playing everything from Jimmie Rodgers to Johnny Cash.

It’s clear time has not eroded Aho’s unrivaled passion for the traditional country hits he started playing at WJUD in 1988.

“When I started in ’88, it was about the time pop country was taking over for traditional country. The songs I played were picked from the ’20s to the mid ’80s,” Aho said. “I’ve pretty much stayed with the traditional country. If I stray too far to the new country somebody is calling up.”

Even if Aho’s passion for traditional country were to wane—though that scenario isn’t likely—his loyal and loving fan base doesn’t want to hear anything but Hank Williams, Sr., George Jones and Patsy Cline.

With the advent of the world wide web, Aho’s show has received national airtime in other states, and Europe as well.

“My show went on the internet about three years ago, so now it’s going around the world. I get calls from all over the U.S., I get emails from Ireland, calls and emails from relatives in Finland. Whenever I pick up the phone it could be California, or Texas or Maine,” Aho said. “I get emails from overseas, occasionally a phone call. (People from) Ireland, Finland, Virgin Islands have contacted me. My show goes on the radio in Finland on Sunday night. There’s a difference in the time zone, so they take it off our website and play it at 9 in the morning in Finland. My show covers 13 transceivers in Finland, which is all of Finland and most of northern Europe.”

Though his fame in other states and Europe was not intended or even expected, Aho seems comfortable with filling the role of country music ambassador to the U.P.

“I get calls from people asking me to play certain songs for their kids even,” Aho said. “Grade school and high school kids call me because their parents listen to it.”

Apparently, mamas are letting their babies grow up to be cowboys. Aho said the parents of these kids listened to his station with their own parents, dancing with their kids from generation to generation to traditional country and bluegrass. His legacy has the potential to last generations beyond his time, since he has recorded shows and even pre-recorded shows to play whenever he cannot make it to the station due to weather or other obstacles.

But Aho isn’t just a traditionalist when it comes to music. As technology changes the way we listen to music, from full albums on spinning vinyl to songs we pay for individually and listen to through tiny ear buds hooked up to handheld devices, Aho continues to prefer the original sound of a record.

“I’m still staying pretty basic,” Aho said. “I play mainly the 33s, but I use 45s, cassettes and CD albums. A lot of traditional country, even older songs, are put on CDs. Don’t want to get too fancy.”

Although his career has led him into radio broadcasting, he also has a passion for songwriting. Not only did this passion lead him into being on the radio, but songwriting has even taken him to Nashville to meet with producers and record labels.

“I’ve written a lot of songs; that’s where this passion came from,” Aho said.

Travelling down to Nashville, he’d meet people from label companies that would work with and produce for traditional country and bluegrass artists. Aho primarily worked with Broadcast Music, Inc. His records consist of self-written and performed songs with both Aho and his guitar, or with a backing band. One of his records, “Gwinn Model Town Blues,” still has requested playtime to this very day. The lyrics were written and performed by Aho and a backing band filled in the rest.

Elmer Aho sits in his radio booth at the 103FXD station in Marquette, where he broadcasts his show, American Country Gold, every Saturday night. Aho has been hosting the show for nearly three decades. (Photo by Tom Buchkoe)

Elmer Aho sits in his radio booth at the 103FXD station in Marquette, where he broadcasts his show, American Country Gold, every Saturday night. Aho has been hosting the show for nearly three decades. (Photo by Tom Buchkoe)

Nashville is a tough town for new singers and Aho found himself feeling the “singin’ man’s blues.” Not realizing much progress as a country singer, Aho figured the being a DJ was the next best thing, allowing him to pick all his favorite artists and play them for a wide demographic of listeners.

“I often say my fan base ages from 2 to 102,” Aho said, letting out a laugh.

Being in the radio business for over two decades has made him quite the legend in Marquette.

“I didn’t know I had a Finnish/Yooper accent, but I found out in a hurry. Because of my voice, it’s not hard to recognize me wherever I go,” Aho said.

It’s his distinct voice and that Yooper accent that have become Aho’s trademark.

“All I have to do is walk into a restaurant and say, ‘Hello,’ and someone in line behind me will recognize me just from my voice,” Aho said.

His voice and choice of music has made him an iconic figure in the community. He humbly accepts the position, though. As stated before, he never expected or even intended to make such a mark, but it comes with the territory of legacy and influence.

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