Brian James’ rock ‘n’ roll dream began with puppets and tap shoes.

The Augusta native was a puppeteer, tap dancer and singer in his younger days. When he entered Cony High School some 40 years ago, he wanted to keep performing but realized he needed to up his cool quotient. So he bought a guitar and joined a band with hopes of becoming a rock star. But hopes fade.

“Then I thought maybe I could be on the radio and feel like a rock star,” said James, 54.

On Tuesday, James was treated like one by colleagues and listeners during his final day at Portland classic rock station WBLM, after 33 years as a deejay. He’s now starting a job as program director and afternoon drive host at rock station WTOS in Augusta. During an on-air send-off, dozens of listeners called or sent online messages to tell James – known as The Guru – how much he meant to them. One listener said he knew of someone who abandoned thoughts of suicide after James played a Beatles song one day.

“You forget what kind of impact you can have being on the radio. It’s a very solitary thing; you’re talking to yourself in a room with no immediate response,” said James. “To hear people say ‘we love you’ and ‘we’re so sad to see you go’ was really emotional.”

James said he teared up at times Tuesday, especially when looking around at people he has worked with for more than 30 years, including WBLM’s morning hosts, “Captain” Herb Ivy and Celeste Baranyi. The station put audio highlights of James’ send-off on its website. 

“These people are my family. I watched people get married and divorced, lose parents,” James said. “I teared up whenever I looked over at Celeste.”

Brian James, center, with WBLM colleagues “Captain” Herb Ivy and Celeste Baranyi during his on-air send-off Tuesday. Photo courtesy of WBLM

James ended his time on WBLM Tuesday the way he’s ended most of his shows over the past 30 years, with the line: “If the conniption fits, wear it.” He thought up the phrase in his first year or so at WBLM, largely because other deejays at the time had daily sign-off lines, and he wanted his own. He thought about the ’80s phrase “Dude, don’t have a conniption fit” and analyzed it. Maybe it was OK to have a conniption fit – defined in dictionaries as a sudden outburst of excitement or anger – if it’s a pure and true expression of yourself.

“It’s me saying, you do you, be yourself, even if it’s a little weird,” said James.

He also got his on-air handle, The Guru, from ’80s culture. He remembers watching Budweiser beer commercials on TV that featured a dog named Spuds MacKenzie, billed as a real “party animal” and “the guru of good times.” So James became The Party Guru on air and, later, just The Guru. Fans often simply call him “Gu.”

James said he was grateful that WBLM – nicknamed the Blimp – gave him the chance to say goodbye to listeners on air, when sometimes radio job changes are made without much publicity or fanfare. He called being able to say goodbye on-air “a gift.” Ivy also wrote a feature story about James’ departure and his long career for the station’s website, featuring lots of old photos and excessive ’80s hair.

Ivy praised James’ contribution to the station’s popularity, writing on the website that James “has helped build the Blimp into the Classic Rock juggernaut it is today.”

“As sad as we are that Brian is hanging up his headphones on WBLM, we are happy for him and the next chapter of his life,” Ivy wrote.

James said one of his main reasons for moving to WTOS was that he wanted to “grow old where I grew up” and be close to family, while staying in radio. WBLM is looking for a new deejay now and is planning to audition listeners on the morning show for the job. Interested people should write 250 words on why they want to be on the station and send it to [email protected]

During his days at WBLM, James hung out with some of the biggest names in rock, including Van Halen, AC/DC, Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He also saw hundreds of concerts, and getting free concert tickets, he says, is one of the big reasons deejays become deejays.

He represented WBLM at the Monsters of Rock show in 1988 at the Oxford Plains Speedway, featuring Van Halen, Metallica and other big acts. Rain delayed the show and James, still fairly new at the station, was given the task of telling the soggy crowd that they’d have to wait at least another half-hour for the Scorpions’ set. The crowd booed and swore at James, who responded in kind.

He said, “Oh yeah?” into the microphone, then let loose with a profane phrase ending with “off.”

“I just did it and sort of dropped the mike and walked off the stage,” James said.

If the conniption fits, wear it.

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