Back in the Nixon era, John Pete introduced Twin Cities radio listeners to the music of Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Shawn Phillips. Long after he retired, Pete kept making mixtapes as if they were radio programs, featuring hip new artists like the National and Billie Eilish.
“Music was his whole thing,” said his wife, Deb Peterson. “He was into alternative music; he wasn’t into the hits. He kept me young, and he was older than me.”
John Pete (born John Peterson), an influential DJ and programmer on KQRS and other Twin Cities radio stations, died Sunday after a battle with COPD. He was 82.
“He was still haunting Down in the Valley [for new CDs] and staying absolutely current with the new music coming out,” said longtime friend and former KQ colleague Shel Danielson, known as Allan Stone on the air. “He always had great, great ears and great taste in music.”
When Danielson started in 1969 at KQ after it had switched from an easy-listening station, he and Pete would receive 20 to 40 new albums per week, divvy them up and look for tunes to play on the free-form underground FM station without a confining playlist.
“We complemented each other,” Danielson said. “He would get excited about Steely Dan. I’d say, ‘Wait until you hear this B.B. King album I found.’”
Playing everything from Santana to John Prine in that era, KQ had an impact on aspiring Twin Cities musicians like Prince and the Replacements.
“KQ could not have happened without John back in the day,” Danielson said. “He was really an important part of the Twin Cities scene.”
In 1993, Deb Peterson met Pete when he was the overnight DJ at Cities 97. She’d call in to ask about music. Eventually, they got together for coffee and then a concert (Daniel Lanois at the Fine Line, where her niece waited on them and Pete had to be on the radio at midnight). They married in 1999, with her walking down the aisle to a boombox playing the Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental, “Riviera Paradise,” the tune Pete would always play for her on the radio.
Pete was born in St. Paul where he became a champion diver at Central High School. After studying at Brown Institute, he worked in Great Falls, Montana, and then at various radio stations in the Twin Cities, including KRSI and WLOL, as well as outlets in Detroit and San Diego.
Between radio gigs in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Pete managed popular local bands Daisy Dillman and the Flamin’ Oh’s, whose music he’d championed on KQ.
“It was a big deal when we were working together because of his history with KQ,” said Robert Wilkinson, lead singer of the Flamin’ Oh’s. “He was committed, he had his feet on the ground with a good vision and a good heart. He was a good manager and a really, really great guy.”
In addition to his love of music, Pete was an avid reader of science fiction and murder mysteries. “He was very inquisitive,” his wife said. “He was very opinionated about politics. He would have wanted to wait and not go before the election.”
A diminutive man with a quick smile, Pete was not afraid to speak up. “A friendly curmudgeon,” as Danielson put it. Pete wasn't afraid to challenge the rules, as evidenced by the time in the early ‘70s when he was at KRSI and his buddy John Fineberg was at KQ, the two progressive stations in town. To spoof competing Top 40 stations KDWB and WDGY, they conspired to play the exact same songs at the same time for more than an hour.
“When I had four minutes of news and weather I was required to read, John read four minutes of public-service announcements,” Fineberg remembered. “Then we went right back to playing identical music.”
On his final shift at KQ, Pete signed off with a message, via Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee”: “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.”
Pete, of Maple Grove, is survived by his wife, a brother, four children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A memorial service is likely to be held in the spring.