Chapter 2 of the Distinguished Alumni Story
Moving from school to radio
October 30, 2015
After a couple attempts at college, a few cases of luck, and plenty of shenanigans along the way, West Chicago alumni Ray Stejskal currently takes on the persona of Ramblin’ Ray Stevens on US99.5.
Stejskal is the winner of the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Before accepting the award, he discussed his life after high school and how he got to where he is now in a presentation in front of students.
Unlike his ‘golden child’ twin sister, Stejskal goofed off a bit in school. But with the help of his parents’ influence, he was able to attend Arizona State College.
“I was there for three months. I didn’t graduate at 3 months, but I had a good time while I was there. I had a Jeep there with me for the first three weeks because in the third week I thought I could make it across the river, so I sunk my Jeep and it went floating down the river. I’ll never forget that moment, thinking ‘what am I gonna tell my parents?’” Stejskal said.
With his parents no longer approving of his actions, Stejskal came back to Illinois and attended College of DuPage.
Around 1985, Stejskal had his first experience as an entertainer when attending a party at a hotel.
“The deejay that’s supposed to run the party doesn’t show up, and I talked to the guy who was the hotel manager who says ‘we’ve got a problem because we have 500 people here that are going to go nuts unless we get the party started.’ So I said ‘give me the mic and I’ll take care of your parties. I did pep rallies when I was over at West Chicago, I can handle it.’ I didn’t know what I was doing, but they liked what I did,” Stejskal said. “When I got home my mother looked at me and said ‘I think you need to be in entertainment’.”
As if by fate, an unexpected positive response to a strange request led him to working on the radio.
While attending a parade, a man from the 107.9 radio station came up to Stejskal and said that he needed a car for the parade. Stejskal responded saying that as a coincidence, he needed a job on the radio and proposed a deal to lend his car for the parade in exchange for a chance on air. To Stejskal’s surprise, the deal was accepted and he has been on the radio ever since.
Stejskal works for US 99.5 and has been with the station for 25 years ever since he was given the opportunity to stop being a ‘big fish in a little pond’ at a bar night hosted by the station.
“Once you sit in an air conditioned studio on a 100 degree day, you understand that this is probably something you want to do. I knew that first time I was on it that I could do it, there was never a doubt in my mind,” Stejskal said.
Despite only having positive comments about the station, Stejskal anticipates moving on at some point.
“It’s the jewel of country radio stations, but I’ll put a cap on how long I’ll be there. There will be other things that I’ll want to do, but this has been such a cool ride and it’s hard to walk away from it,” Stejskal said.
Connecting to the audience is an important part of being on the radio.
“Radio is not talking to a million people. I have a million listeners but we’re talking to one person, and it’s always a connection of community and that one person and helping each other out. I think by the way our radio station runs, by the way that we give back and the way that we help each other out is the reason we’ve been fortunate enough to be at the top of the heap for so long,” Stejskal said.
By connecting to the audience, an important relationship can be formed.
“It’s making connections, one person at a time. That’s what it’s about. I always get a kick out of all the people that have a million twitter followers, and they’re only following two people. I feel like if somebody’s got a connection with you and they want to share it, you have to share it with them.If you can do that with them, make somebody’s day, that’s what will help you have that relationship,” Stejskal said.
It is not possible to answer every request, but Stejskal does his best to help out as many people as he can.
A significant part in Stejskal’s contributions to the community is helping those affected by cancer.
“If you’re healthy then thank your lucky stars. I hate cancer. It’s unbelievable how I’ve been touched by cancer through what I do and it is probably why (I’ve received the alumni award). It wasn’t because I was a great student, it’s not because I’m a great human being. I have flaws just like everybody else. I’m trying to raise good kids and make a living, but what I do is I give back,” Stejskal said.
Stejskal has made many efforts to try to end cancer.
“I’ve raised personally $28 million for the St. Jude Children’s Hospital and I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve met, that have died, and I’m sick of seeing it. So my legacy won’t be that I gave away concert tickets, it won’t be that I was given the Distinguished Alumni Award by West Chicago High School, although I appreciate it, it will be that we did everything we did and everything that we could to stop childhood cancer,” Stejskal said.
A specific example that Stejskal holds close to him is a call that he arranged for a 12-year-old girl named Emily who was stricken with cancer.
“She was very sick, very cute, and full of life. Her deal was that she wanted to meet Taylor Swift,” Stejskal said.
Stejskal knew Swift since she was 13 and had an old phone number of hers that had never been changed.
“I text Taylor Swift and say ‘if you get a chance, hit me back’. A couple minutes later I get written back from a blocked number. So I’m talking to her and I say to her ‘listen, I don’t know what you possibly can do. To be honest I don’t know if this little girl is going to make it by the time your tour gets to Chicago.’ Somehow, I’m not sure if it was my call that actually did it or not, but she ended up calling her and skyping her and sending her tickets to her show,” Stejskal said.
Stejskal encourages giving back what you obtain in life to help others.
“I think that if you can take four hours out of your week, which isn’t a lot, to give back then why wouldn’t you do it?” Stejskal said. “I’ve ridden my bicycle 400 miles in four days from Chicago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for ovarian cancer, I’ve run a relay with six other people from Madison to Milwaukee to Chicago for breast cancer, we try to stay involved not only by just doing fundraisers but by participating and doing stuff for the community.”
Being able to give back to the community by doing what he does gives Stejskal pride in his work.
“It’s just odd to me that you can have such an impact on somebody just because you get up in the morning and goof around. What I’m doing is not rocket science. Trust me when I tell you that your parents are all working harder than I am,” Stejskal said.