BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Jim Battan figured one of two things would happen.
Better known as “Coyote J. Calhoun” or “Coyote J” to his many radio listeners over the years, Battan had just returned to Birmingham in 1987 to be a disc jockey on Z-102 WZBQ in Tuscaloosa. Prior to that, Battan had had one of the biggest radio shows in the city, had quit to try his hand at standup comedy, worked in a few markets and then came back to the Magic City.
“Look at it this way: At best, I’ll be a star,” Battan told the Birmingham Post-Herald at the time. “At worst, I’ll be back in radio.”
Over the years, Battan would be able to be both: a local star in his own right, as well as help shape what would become contemporary Birmingham radio.
“Coyote, without a doubt, would be on the Mount Rushmore of radio personalities in Birmingham,” said Brett Elmore, owner of WJLX 101. 5 in Jasper.
It was this very reason that Elmore had twice tried to get Battan back behind the microphone. Before then, the last time Battan had hosted a radio show was in 2011 on Rock 99. The first time, Battan had turned him down. However, a few months ago, Elmore tried again.
“I told him ‘I’ll give you a key to the building. You come in and do your thing and I’m going to stay out of the way,'” Elmore said.
Battan took Elmore up on his offer, launching “Coyote J’s Sunday Night Cemetery Of Rock,” which runs Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to midnight on WJLX.
“I knew if I was going to do something interesting, it would have to be in a smaller market,” Battan said. “Everyone is going to satellite, where there is no room for a disc jockey like me, who likes to have autonomy over music and do things his way.”
Battan first made his mark in 1975 when the then 22-year-old disc jockey made the drive from Pensacola, Florida, to Birmingham, where he got a job at WERC-AM doing Top 40 songs. It would not be long before he would become one of the most popular media personalities in the city. For Battan, it was a time when DJs were just as popular as the artists they played.
“It was like nothing you could imagine,” he said. “Now, no one cares who is on the radio.”
Battan decided to leave Birmingham and the radio business in 1979, in the face of a changing music scene–disco.
“I had had enough of KC and the Sunshine Band,” he joked. “I hear they’re still playing, and God bless them, but I had had enough of them.”
Battan, who admits to having some social anxiety in his personal life, then spent a couple of years trying to be a standup comic in Los Angeles, a career choice that put him away from the safety of a studio and in front of a live audience.
“Doing standup for me was like jumping off the Empire State Building,” he said. “Radio allowed me an environment to connect with people without the extra baggage of being nervous.”
Realizing his true calling, Battan returned to radio, with stints in San Diego, then Denver, briefly back to Birmingham at WAPI 95 ROCK, then to Mobile and New Orleans. It was in the Big Easy that Battan first developed “The Edge,” a show he carried on in different formats for over 30 years that combined hard rock and more alternative music.
“That’s where it really clicked,” he said.
By 1987, Battan had come back to Birmingham, mostly as a way to settle back in town with his wife and newly-born twins, as well as take over as a DJ at Z-102 in Tuscaloosa. By that point, Battan had already been known as a personality who could skew the line between appropriate and offensive on air. Before, he had aired a fake broadcast of his on-air death, which got him suspended for two weeks. He even wrestled a bear at Boutwell Auditorium in 1976.
Then, he was sometimes labeled a shock jock, but denies the term today.
“I was just shocking for the time,” he said.
However, one of his more shocking broadcasts at the time came in 1988, when during one show, he complained about station management and songs that were being requested to play. All of a sudden, station director Steve Russell called in.
“What the hell are you doing,” Russell said.
“I’m playing one of my favorite bands, Steve,” Battan said. “I’m playing Boston.”
“Is this on the air,” Russell asked.
“Ladies and gentlemen: Steve Russell, our program director at WZBQ,” Battan said. “Yes, Steve, you’re on the air.”
“Get me off the air now.”
“Lighten up, Steve. It’s just a bit. Just a joke.”
“Get me off the air now.”
“No. If I take you off the air, then you’re going to give me a bad time.”
Russell then hung up when Battan tries to ask him to tell his audience about the station’s music policy. A few seconds of silence linger on the air before Battan speaks up.
“I tell you what, ladies and gentlemen, Let’s not let that ruin our party,” he said.
Later in the show, after Battan had called station management “fascist, communist, socialistic programming fatheads,” a door could be heard opening with Russell trying to get the microphone away from Battan. The call, which has over half a million views on YouTube today, marked a kind of infamy in Battan’s career.
However, like other parts of his career, this too was not real. It was just radio.
“A lot of times in ratings, I would just come up with a stunt,” he said. ” I would say ‘Let’s poke the bear and get people talking.'”
In reality, the confrontation between Russell and Battan had been scripted and pre-recorded.
“The only thing that was scripted was he came in to fire me,” he said. “Everything before that was ad-libbed.”
However, because of the ratings the station received at the time, officers with the Tuscaloosa Police Department arrived at the station to see what was happening. Battan said they were shocked to find only him and his sound engineer in the building. Being told to leave, Battan said he was shocked to see several cars parked outside the station of people who had tuned in for the show.
“I got in my car and thought ‘I’ve got to lose these people. What am I going to do?'” he recalled.
The on-air firing may have been fake, but the stunt was enough to put Battan in hot water with management, who didn’t like how he would sometimes make fun of sponsors or say things that others deemed inappropriate. However, instead of firing him, the station suggested going in a new timeslot under a different name–“Jock Mahoney”–so that advertisers who were angry with him wouldn’t know he was still on the air.
“They wanted me to quit,” he said. “What they were trying to do is they wanted me to quit because they were afraid I was going to sue them.”
Battan would do one show as “Jock Mahoney” before he quit Z-102. He would then go back to Birmingham to go on I-95, start a MAD Magazine-esque humor magazine about Birmingham culture, and then, in 1995, joined WRAX The X, where he hosted “The Edge” until the station closed in 2005.
From there, Battan hung his hat at Rock 99.5 before retiring in 2011. For him, leaving radio seemed like a fitting close to a long career. He had done everything that he had wanted to do.
“Being off the air was almost a relief,” he said. “I felt I didn’t have to sweat that stuff anymore.”
After leaving radio, Battan would try his hands at different things. He produced music for the German rock group Feeding Fingers. He would also host “The Edge” as an online show until 2019.
With a couple of shows under his belt at WJLX, Battan said he has been touched by the reactions from fans who have followed his career over the years.
“I don’t know how to describe it; I was just surprised people were interested in me doing a show,” he said.
Elmore said on Coyote’s first show, the station’s online listenership doubled — nearly tripled –within a few hours and has maintained steady traction ever since.
“Radio is not dead,” Elmore said. “The way corporate radio is doing radio is what’s killing radio stations. I believe in being live and local.”
Every Sunday night, Battan drives from his home in the Birmingham suburbs to Jasper. For him, it was important to be back in a real radio studio and do what he had always done: reaching people through the music he loves.
“I know how hearing something on the radio makes me feel, how excited and revved up I get by music that I love,” he said. “For some reason, I want people to feel the same thing.”
Now 71, Battan said he’ll keep doing his new show as long as he can, this time with nothing to prove.
“When I start something, I run with it until it dies, or at my age, until I die,” he said. “I expect I will do this for a good while.”