Elton John sang about a ‘Rocket Man’ but local resident Harold Peterson is definitely more of a ‘Record Man’ – and he has a room in his home to prove it.
The 82-year-old, who previously lived in Escalon but now has a home on Walnut Avenue near Valley Home, is still hosting a weekly radio show and serving up some sounds of the past, playing time-tested jazz tunes.
“When I was about 10 or 11, I started listening to them,” Peterson said of jazz musicians. “That was over 70 years ago … this has been a lifelong thing for me. I’ve always like jazz, it just seems like the songs have a spark to them, a spark that other music doesn’t have, at least for me.”
Peterson hosts a jazz show on KCSS, the radio station at Stanislaus State in Turlock, every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. He has been there for about five years, and prior to that, hosted a show for two decades at radio station KUOP in Stockton.
“I bring my records with me each week, just a few,” Peterson said of the show. “I introduce the recordings and maybe have a comment or two on them to let people know more about it.”
For Peterson, the more you know the background of jazz, “the more interesting it becomes.”
He is also a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the swing and jazz era.
“Benny Goodman started the swing era in 1935 in Los Angeles,” Peterson explained. “He had broadcast from New York; it was prime time here (in California) but it was way late in New York, so you could say that we started the swing era in California.”
Peterson said there are also some hard to find musicians, such as those who played in the Harlem bands in New York City, who focused more on clubs and live performances, without having their music played too much over the airwaves.
His record collection numbers in the thousands, filling up shelves on all four walls of a room at his Walnut Avenue home. However, he soon will be downsizing and has decided to put his collection of ‘78s up for sale. He has most of that music on LPs and CDs as well, so he won’t actually ‘lose’ any music – just the format of the old 78 records and, as Peterson admitted, “a part of my heart.”
He said though he is now 82, he is happy to still take to the airwaves each week.
“I have a free hand, they let me do whatever I want,” he said of playing the jazz music on KCSS.
The 5,000 watt station is at 91.9 FM and can be heard in Modesto, Oakdale, Manteca and Turlock, as well as surrounding areas. KUOP, the first station he broadcast for in Stockton, had a much larger reach at 50,000 watts. Regardless, Peterson is pleased to introduce listeners to a form of music they may not have encountered before.
Over the years, he has brought guests in to the show, at one time interviewing Benny Goodman’s daughter on the air and also having interviewed Woody Herman.
Peterson was born and raised in Escalon, attended Escalon High School and played football, basketball and baseball for the Cougars. He and his wife Sharon raised their six children – five boys and one girl – locally as well. His grandfather, Otto Peterson, was one of the first settlers in Escalon.
Peterson’s love of music began in his childhood and he remembers purchasing his first record in Stockton, saving up money he had earned working in the fields.
“From then on, I’ve never stopped,” he said of buying records and listening to them.
“It’s a great escape,” Peterson added of music, noting that he hopes the radio show continues to entertain. “I love listening to the music and hopefully the listeners enjoy it as much as I do.”