Jesse's Journal: In Memory of Jim Kelly

“SAKEZLES, James, 64, of St. Petersburg, passed away March 17, 2018. No family has come forward.”

This is how the Tampa Bay Times chronicled the life and times of one of South Florida radio’s leading figures. No cause of death, family members or personal information was listed, only his age, place of residence and date of death.

But James Sakezles deserves a more extensive obituary. As Jim Kelly, Sakezles was famous as a radio disk jockey at a time when DJ’s were important figures in the music business. According to his friend Craig Sherritt, Kelly/Sakezles “had an amazing career spanning many decades."

A Miami native, Jim started in the radio business at age 14 in the 1960s at WQAM. Among his gigs, he was a DJ on Love 94 for about 17 years during the 1970s and 1980s, and a DJ (along with Rick Shaw) on Magic 102 in the 1990s. It is sad that such an accomplished member of our community has died in total obscurity. (I wrote an email to the Miami Herald about him, but received no response as of publication time.)

Jim was a bit of a recluse the last ten years of his life, unemployed (due to the radically changing radio industry and his age) and in challenging health. He lived in Wilton Manors for seven years until three years ago, when he moved to New Orleans for two years, and spent his final year in St. Petersburg. Jim Kelly came out as gay in Miami during the late sixties, long before Neil Rogers, G. Michael McKay or Al Rantel came out. More recently, Jim Kelly was featured in the PBS documentary “The Day It Snowed In Miami.”

According to Sherritt, “as a young boy, Jim grew up in Westchester (part of Miami-Dade County) and started his career in the radio industry in Miami at the tender age of fourteen. The job was part-time and behind the scenes at first. He took the bus to work after school and on weekends and, interestingly, it was all unbeknownst to his parents until several years later."

Sherritt continued: "Jim was a pioneer who eventually worked with, knew, or was friends with most of the well-known local (and some national) media personalities of each successive decade, starting in the late 1960s. Jim was a DJ at the top radio stations in South Florida for much of his long, distinguished career. He was also the voice for many local and national radio and television commercials from the mid-1970s through the early 2000s. Through Jim, I met some of the most fascinating people in the media, who worked in front of the microphone or camera, or behind the scenes.”

According to retired DJ and journalist Brad Casey, “John Knox, another radio jock from back in the day, called me last week to inform me of Jim’s passing. Knox, Russ Carlton and I worked at WQAM and WINZ. Jim worked at WFUN and also Love 94. We were all friends and got together frequently. Russ moved to Los Angeles and became a victim of the AIDS epidemic years ago. I last saw Jim a couple of years ago on a visit from St. Pete. I am sorry to hear of his passing.”

Sherritt added: "Sakezles/Kelly was my closest friend for nearly four decades. Jim was an incredibly smart, intuitive, witty, charming and talented man, and a consummate professional who always strived for near-perfection in everything he did. Jim is irreplaceable, both as a personal friend and as a radio personality. I will miss his frequent sage advice, and we will all miss his silky, smooth voice that soothed so many of us during his 64 years of life.”

This article owes its existence to my friend and former Dade County Coalition for Human Rights colleague Craig Sherritt, who enlightened me as to the life and times of his friend Jim Kelly/James Sakezles.