When he was nine years old, Lewis Stokes’ dream was to become a radio personality. Today, he’s a local radio legend who’s been in the business for 42 years.
He earned his first job in the radio industry as a Junior in high school. Stokes’ now brother-in-law owned a car dealership in Lake City which advertised via radio commercials. One night, his brother-in-law was struggling to record the advertisement, and after Stokes made fun of him for a bit, he let Stokes take a shot at it. After Stokes finished recording, he and his brother-in-law stopped by the local radio station to drop off the tape.
The next day, Stokes’ brother-in-law received a phone call from the owner of the radio station, who offered Stokes an interview for a job. A couple of days later he began his first job as a radio DJ.
In 1986, he paused his radio career to join the United States Air Force (USAF) as a law enforcement agent. While Stokes and his father were driving to a Wednesday night church service, they talked about the idea of Stokes joining the military. His father was a Methodist minister, and didn’t believe that “DJing” was a commendable profession. Stokes began to think about the proposition, and decided to visit a USAF recruiting office in Gainesville. “[I joined the USAF because] I thought the blue uniforms were cool,” he said. After the recruiters “reeled him in,” he began his basic training.
Although he was assigned to the law enforcement division, he wanted to join radio. According to the USAF, Stokes could cross-train to join a different division, but he would have to take a test to demonstrate his skills. He decided to cross-train, and going into the assessment, he was confident that he would ace it. To his surprise, however, he failed the test. His grader went so far as to write that Stokes’ voice was “not compatible with radio.” This setback motivated Stokes and put what he described as a “chip on his shoulder,” which he carries with him to this day. Even though he wasn’t given a job in the radio division of the USAF, he didn’t leave radio behind as he worked at radio stations in the towns he was based in.
After leaving the USAF in 1990, Stokes applied for radio jobs in places such as Charleston, S.C and Tampa, Fla. He also applied for a job in Gainesville. Stokes sent a cassette tape and resume to former Gainesville station Gator Country 101, and landed the job. He stayed in Gainesville for three years before working at 99.1 WQIK in Jacksonville.
His dream, however, was to be close to his hometown of Williston. Luckily for him, radio station Z93 had an opening after it switched from being a “top 40 artists” to a “country” station. Stokes saw the opportunity, applied for the job, and was hired. He was the last DJ on Z93 in and the first on 93.7 K-Country in 1994, where he has been ever since.
Stokes’ has especially enjoyed working at country stations as he grew up loving country music. “To be in radio and work at a country radio station; that’s just the best of both worlds for me,” he said enthusiastically. He relishes the fact that he can develop relationships with artists. He believes radio is his calling in life, and still goes to work today with the same passion he had 42 years ago. When Stokes is on the microphone, he isn’t putting on a character and always stays true to himself.
In his opinion, the biggest change between when he began his career in radio and radio today is the use of technology. Now, everything is digital while the old school way of holding an album and queuing up a record is obsolete.
“I kind of miss the old school way of doing things,” Stokes reflected. Stokes recalls the time he sat with his father about a week before his passing. While they were talking about Stokes’ radio career, his father told him he was proud even though he was skeptical at first. He told Stokes that he made the right decision to go into radio.
By: Aidan Wacksman