By Dawn Cranfield
Chris Payne – Reno’s Quintessential DJ KRZQ 104.1
Everybody has a story – everyone is worth knowing
I first met Chris Payne in 1985 at Proctor Hug High School in Reno, Nevada, where we were juniors. In the 27 years since we have graduated, I have seen Chris sporadically, sometimes on purpose and occasionally running into him at a class reunion or Starbucks’.
When I sit across the table from Chris now, he does not look like he has aged in the same way the rest of the population has; he still maintains that youthful mischievous smile, the unconventional rebellious clothes (with some additional accoutrements: tattoos, piercings) and an attitude of being young at heart that keeps him connected to his radio audience.
Throughout the past few decades, Payne has been a mainstay on the airwaves; he has been an almost constant voice accompanying up and coming artists, his favorite classic rock songs, and just about everything in between. Payne has been a favorite area disc jockey for 24 years (give or take a year or two when he went to Sacramento to test the waters in California); he brings personal style, tremendous music knowledge, and a warm personality to his listeners.
Payne seems to have been born to a life of broadcasting, when asked if he was working in his dream job, he immediately answered, “Actually, this isn’t a job, this is a career. Radio is a career, it is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 8-years-old.”
His first experience as a radio announcer was as a kid when he would use the single-deck cassette player and radio he received from his parents and, using all of his money on blank tapes, he would record songs from the radio, stopping when the DJ came on and then would record his own version of commentary. When Payne’s friends would come over, he would play back the recordings pretending it was a recording of the show from the radio. “I just loved music,” he states. “The only other thing I would want to do is male porn star.” Okay, on with the interview.
Besides broadcasting on the radio at KRZQ 104.1, Payne can also be found at some of the area nightclubs hosting dance parties. According to him, he does not officially DJ or “spin”, he “cheats, using a DJ program on my computer.” Still, with Payne there, you know it’s going to be a party and you will end up having a good time. He is at Brew Brother’s downtown Reno inside the Eldorado every other Thursday, where he says, “The food is amazing.”
Growing up, Payne was greatly influenced by his parents, particularly by his mother. He gives her a lot of credit for his polite and kind behavior, he also states that she “put the fear of God into me about drugs and what not.” While he says she could be a little neurotic at times, he praised her for her efforts, “People are always saying you are too polite, always saying please or thank you. I always like to jokingly say, ‘I like to blame my mother, or you would have a rude SOB sitting in front of you who didn’t know how to chew his food, or doesn’t know how to say thank you and please, but that is not who I am.’”
Payne’s mother was a dance teacher who taught him to appreciate everything from dance classics to Earth, Wind and Fire. She did not, however, teach him to dance. Ironically he claims he has two left feet, “Which is weird because I know all about timing like beats and rhythm.”
We should all be so lucky to have such a difficult time choosing the best day of our lives, Payne had a tough time when asked; but he was able to pinpoint one and tell the story of August 16, 1992 (he has an incredible memory for dates, picking them out his mind as if they are filed chronologically). He was attending a concert for Pantera at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno when the lead singer, Phil Anselmo, began telling a story in the middle of the song “No Good, Attack the Radical”.
Suddenly, Anselmo looked out and said, “Hey, where is that dude from ZRock?” Everybody pointed at Payne, so Anselmo told him to join the band on stage. He then asked Payne if he knew the lyrics to the song; when he said “yes”, Anselmo finished telling the story as Payne sang the song with the rest of the band. “I was on top of the world,” says Payne, “It was completely surreal.”
As we sit together in the corner of Java Jungle in downtown Reno, Payne is ever vigilant, aware of his every surrounding, constantly scanning the area. “My pop taught me to be as prepared as possible. Granted, if zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, I would not be prepared, I don’t have any rations. I have a sh*t ton of shoes and hats, but I don’t have anything else to offer them,” he laughs. We banter a bit about his abundant collection and affinity for shoes and hats.
While I have a difficult time getting Payne to move out of the realm of music, his whole life is connected to it, there is something else that seems to get him charged up: social media and technology.
For the last two years, Payne has won Best Social Networker in Reno News and Review (2011-12); he has almost 700,000 Facebook followers; more people than there are in Northern Nevada. For the last four years (since 2009) he has won Best On-Air Personality; he says part of the reason is because of his lobbying through social media. Last year when he won, he was between contracts and was not even on the air, he was only working at The Knitting Factory.
Social media has helped with his other Reno News and Review award, Best Public Figure to Fantasize about. In 2011, he was runner-up to the governor. Conversely, in 2012, the governor was runner-up to Payne. This year, he intends to use social media to beat out the governor again for best two out of three.
What I remembered most about Payne still rings true, he is unique, friendly, funny, and genuine. We had a difficult time staying on task between reliving the past and catching up with the lost years, but Chris Payne is one of those people worth spending time with.
“You learn to maximize the potential of a friendship or a connection, and you go from there,” Payne says of people, and of life, “I’m all about watching the next moment happen and being a part of it.”
Payne can be heard on Reno radio station KRZQ 104.1 on Monday through Friday from 2 pm until 7 pm.
This has been the first in a series of interviews about regular people with interesting lives, fascinating stories, and something to share. Everybody has a story, and everyone is worth knowing.