Former DJ trades air waves for Air Force

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber Corcoran
  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When he was 8 years old, he would sit in his bedroom and act like Casey Kasem, radio personality and host of the American Top 40, using a tape recorder with a condenser microphone as an 8-track cassette tape or record played in the background.

His aforementioned disc jockey career didn't get its start however, until after being the seventh caller in to a radio station and going to pick up his prize.

"I asked the DJ if I could see the room where they make their announcements and play the music," said Maj. Steve Katsaris. "I then asked to announce a song, but he didn't want to get fired for putting a kid on the radio. I told him I could do it, so he asked if I announced one, what it would sound like. I blurted it out, and he ended up letting me on because he thought it was cute."

Fortunately for both the DJ and Katsaris, the program director who happened to be monitoring the station, heard the song announcement and was intrigued. The director contacted Katsaris' parents and offered to let him come back to the station, work with the DJ's one Saturday afternoon and learn more about the business.

Katsaris, Chief of Helicopter Training at Air Force Global Strike Command, started a path down the broadcasting lane by purchasing his own equipment and DJing at roller rinks, high school and middle school dances or any event he had a chance to hone his skill. As soon as he turned 18, he began working in night clubs and evolved into a very prominent talent in the industry.

Building his experience, Katsaris was on track to continue further into the broadcast world by obtaining an undergraduate degree in radio, television communications.

"There was no surprise as to what I wanted to achieve," said Katsaris. "I was making my transition from radio to television and heading to CNN in Atlanta for an internship. Typically, if you do well during an internship, you obtain ground floor entry into that network."

But Katsaris had another dream that had always lingered in the back of his mind.

While attending the University of Central Florida, Katsaris lived next door to an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet and shared with him his other dream.

"I told him my real dream was to fly," said Katsaris. "He looked at me funny and said, 'if that's what you really wanted, then why didn't you?' I told him I didn't think I had the mathematical aptitude to be a pilot. I was under the assumption that you had to be able to do calculus in your head and master arithmetic without a calculator."

The ROTC cadet convinced Katsaris to speak with the professor of aerospace science at their school. The professor set him up with appointments to test his hand/eye coordination, aptitude and physical fitness. His transcripts were pulled to make sure he had the grades; after being told he could most certainly obtain a pilot slot for his graduation year, Katsaris finally arrived at the fork in the road.

"I was within four months of being too old to enter pilot training, based off when I would graduate," he said. "So it was a now or never type of decision, especially since I didn't have resources to pay for the training on my own."

Katsaris decided to enroll in an accelerated ROTC program immediately. As the professor predicted, Katsaris picked up a pilot training slot.

Katsaris' new path was paved quickly thereafter. He flew 20-25 hours in the T3-A Firefly during flight screening and moved on to Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., for undergraduate training in the Cessna T-37. He then selected the helicopter track and went to Fort Rucker, Ala., to learn to fly the UH-1H Iroqouis. Katsaris was next ordered to Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., where he learned to fly the UH-1N Huey and he finally settled at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., for his first official Air Force assignment as a second lieutenant.

Throughout his Air Force career, Katsaris continued to blend the worlds he knew by DJing and lending his broadcaster skills.

"I've always volunteered to emcee various functions and would lend a hand when needed," said Katsaris. "I was the emcee for Guardian Challenge in Air Force Space Command and assisted with the Global Strike Challenge here, providing the voice for the trophy return ceremony and events at the convention center."

While stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Cali., Katsaris was given the title of "The Voice of Vandenberg" by Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, AFGSC vice commander, who at the time was Col. Weinstein, 30th Space Wing commander.

As his schedule allowed, he would travel to clubs in San Francisco or Los Angeles and was highlighted as a special guest DJ for one-night engagements. Though, the further he progressed in his Air Force career, the less time he had to DJ.

"When you do something for so long, it's hard to walk away from it; the energy, the pulse of the club dance floor," he said. "I loved the challenge of finding the pulse. Once I found it, I took it in and elevated it to the next level."

Katsaris discovered a different pulse during his Air Force career; one that had started out as a childhood dream - flying.

"As my schedule demands continued to rise, I decided to back away from DJing entirely," said Katsaris. "I couldn't keep up with the music industry and also be the best officer I could at that point. I know where my priorities are and that's to the Air Force."

After more than 25 years of service, including the eight years as an enlisted member of the Florida Army National Guard before his fork in the road decision, AF retirement is right around the corner for Katsaris. At this point, he's confident he'll still fly after his military career has come to a close.

"I may go the commercial route and fly for an airline or continue in rotary aviation as a helicopter pilot," he said. "Who knows, maybe I'll combine the two paths and fly a news chopper and broadcast at the same time; it'd be an interesting mix. I don't know the exact path yet, but whatever I do, it's going to be what makes me happy - flying. The Air Force allowed me to make that dream a reality and made that happiness possible."