Tony Roldan's Days At KSHE
"Thumbs Thornhill" gave traffic reports for KSHE from his 10-speed bike in the 1970s
Tony Roldan takes a break from his work as a volunteer with Caritas charities at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood.
photo by Diana Linsley.
February 17, 2017
Tony Roldan of Kirkwood is as much a part of real rock radio history in St. Louis as bands like Head East and Mama's Pride, as much as nightclubs like Rainy Daze and the Castaways, as much as Sweetmeat, the mascot pig of KSHE-95.
Who is Tony Roldan?
Rocker Roldan is better known as "Thumbs Thornhill." He rode around the Gateway City in the 1970s on his trusty 10-speed bicycle. He was a live and lively traffic reporter on two wheels equipped with a Citizens Band (CB) Radio to communicate traffic snarls and highway headaches.
"I had to duck into phone booths sometimes to call in my traffic reports to the station in Crestwood," said Roldan. "I was always waiting for KSHE to buy me a traffic helicopter. That never quite happened."
KSHE listeners would have been disappointed with reports from a whirring helicopter. They were all in on the joke of Thumbs Thornhill filing traffic reports from a bicycle amidst the alternative music sounds of groups like the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, REO Speedwagon and Pavlov's Dog.
Roldan wasn't always on the road for his radio gig. For several years, he was behind the microphone and the turntables for the midnight to sunrise show. Fond memories of those wee-hours gigs still spin like sugar plums in his altered mind.
"I was like a lot of kids who grew up in the area and hung outside the window of KSHE Radio when it was in Crestwood," said Roldan. "We'd all talk to the DJs about the music in between them spinning the records.
"Finally, one day Ron Stevens invited me inside," said Roldan. "He even introduced me to the station manager, Shelly Grafman and said, 'Hey, this guy wants to do something.'
"Grafman said, 'Ron, you are the program director. If you want him to work here, that's your call.' So, then I went to work," recalled Roldan. "A great fellow who teaches radio now at Webster University, Jim Singer, taught me how to work the boards and I started doing radio."
On the midnight to 7 a.m. shift, Roldan played the long-plays of now classic bands Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, America, The Eagles and more. FM stations like KSHE-95 leapfrogged in the ratings over old Top 40 formats of KXOK-AM Radio 630 in St. Louis.
"I was at KSHE until 1975 and then went to work at KADI," said Roldan. "But eventually my dad, who was not so impressed by my radio career, brought me into his export business, Roldan Products Corporation."
These days Roldan is a little more mellow than when he was peddling radio traffic reports on his specially equipped bi-pedal traffic bike.
Roldan spends his time with new gigs: as a concierge with the Aberdeen Heights senior living center in Kirkwood, as a volunteer with Caritas charities at St. Gerard Majella Church in Kirkwood and as a partner with OnStL.com in the city of St. Louis.
"I have been at Aberdeen Heights for three years now, and I love the place and the residents. We have a lot of talented people there," said Roldan. "And I have to say I am excited to be in the paper, because residents line up to pick up the Times when it comes to our concierge area every week.
"My other big love is working with Father Thomas Bryon as a volunteer for Caritas," added Roldan. "We load trucks every week to distribute donations of food and supplies to assist the needy throughout the metro area."
Caritas at St. Gerard Majella Church has some KSHE connections, including parishioners Roldan and John Beck, a Kirkwood resident who is general manager of KSHE and Emmis Communications in St. Louis.
"KSHE really got involved with Caritas a couple of years ago," said Roldan. "The KSHE crew decided to do a fundraiser by selling some of their albums and mementos for Caritas. John Beck even donated new music and memorabilia from the station.
"We had kind of a big garage sale with sealed albums from the Monkees, ELO, Led Zeppelin – and some were signed," said Roldan. "We raised $9,000 and gave all 100 percent of it to Father Bryon for Caritas."
Dave Fitzler, left, and Tony Roldan, both volunteers for Caritas, load boxes of food into a van for distribution to the needy in the St. Louis area.
photo by Diana Linsley.
Gina and Dan Bauman of Des Peres, who are co-presidents of Caritas, said the charity is all-volunteer and distributes food, clothes, furniture, personal care items, bicycles and even laptop computers, provided they're less than five years old.
"Caritas is very much a grassroots operation," said Gina Bauman. "We are really excited when an enterprise like KSHE gets involved and helps us out with volunteers and money."
Rock Radio Alumni
Roldan said he still gets together with a lot of KSHE alumni. Soon he begins spouting off names familiar to St. Louis ears: Mark Klose, John Ulett, Radio Rich Dalton, Jim Singer, Ron Stevens. They have lots of stories to share, including tales of visits to the cinder block station in Crestwood from rock stars just getting started in the music business.
The iconic radio station, which is noted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, will mark a half-century in business this year. The FM station has its own internet museum of rock history memorabilia.
"I keep in touch with a lot of KSHE buddies and I've actually become a partner in the OnStL.com project with some of them, including Ron Stevens and Joy Grdnic," said Roldan. "It's kind of a virtual newsletter that promotes St. Louis artists, writers and entrepreneurs.
"Ron and Joy are married and they have been doing things to promote St. Louis forever," said Roldan. "They were on the air from 1971 to 1979 at KSHE and I'm pretty sure that's where they met and decided to get married."
The OnStL.com site now has several thousand followers and offers up talent from names like Beatle Bob, Autumn Rinaldi, Katharina Fresta Modica, Tom Stockman, Chris Clark, April Floyd, Tara Daniels and more.
The one thing OnStL.com lacks is a live, streamed, rush-hour traffic report from a man on a bicycle with a catchy name like "Thumbs Thornhill." Alas, Real Rock Radio's Roldan offers that it's unlikely he will ever get back in the saddle of a 10-speed, CB-equipped two-wheeler again in this lifetime.