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DJ's chatter is all in Apache
The Arizona Republic
 Sept 15, 2003

GLOBE -- It's Lyle Keoke Jr.'s birthday. His sister, Liz, has called up Ricardo Sneezy's all-request Apache-language radio show to dedicate a traditional powwow song to him. Sneezy swings the microphone toward him and sends out the dedication in his native language. Then he hits a button on the CD player, causing tribal drums and chants to blare out of the studio speakers and transmit throughout the reservations of central Arizona.

After about a minute, he fades it down. Sneezy knows both he and his audience can only take so much powwow music. Plus, there are a lot of requests to squeeze in. Next up, dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Lynell Davis from their friends, is When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge. Hammond organ chords replace the tom-toms.

Sneezy, who was born, raised and still lives on the San Carlos Reservation, took over the Indian Trails show on KRXS (97.3) about a year ago. The previous host kept it traditional, lots of chants and accordion-heavy chicken- scratch music. "Nobody went for it," Sneezy says.

He opened up the phone lines and the music selection. He pulled a Fats Domino song out of the station's oldies' collection. He brought in a Rod Stewart CD from home, sparking a request for Maggie May.

It quickly changed from a show of Native American music to a show of music Native Americans like. That still includes some Native American artists like the Fenders or Jim Felix. But more and more, the song list is not much different from the mix of country and oldies the station plays the rest of the day.

Sneezy presses a green button and speaks in the alternately breathy and guttural tongue of his native people. Phonetically, it sounds like this: "Konahona nesta aia shikab. Loshe shiwino Ricardo Sneezy K-R-X-S F-M ninety-seven-point-three, iko."

The station serves Globe, but its 50,000-watt signal can be heard throughout central Arizona, including most of the Phoenix area.

Next, Sneezy moves onto a spot for Cobre Valley Motors. The copy is written in English on the stand near his microphone. He translates it into Apache as he reads it. There are apparently no Apache words for " '99 Mercury Grand Marquis," so he says that in English.


Strands of requests


Sneezy's wife, Victoria, and daughter, Rica, answer phones at a modular desk outside the studio. They write requests on yellow Post-It notes and bring them into the studio stuck end-to-end in long strands.

Calls are mainly from the San Carlos Apache Tribe near Globe. But the show also draws listeners from the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the Gila River Indian Community outside Scottsdale. They also get requests to and from prisoners in Florence.

Loretta is sending out Made in Japan by Buck Owens to the Ward Family.

Born on the Bayou goes out to Girly and Rebecca. "It's their birthday," Sneezy says energetically, in English.

There's a lot of love sent out. Some belated birthdays. And a few memorials. Sneezy plays a mournful gospel song "in loving memory of Lesley Aaron Nash."

"I'll try to ease out of it with maybe some country Western music," he says, off the air. "Or, I know what I can do." He swivels his chair and flips through the stack of CDs behind him. He pulls out one with the greatest hits of Louis Armstrong.

He leans into the microphone hanging in front of him. He asks softly, in Apache, if the parents out there have hugged their children or told them they loved them. "If you want to see somebody's good smile, do it and try it and you can get a good smile out of someone."

He says the next song is dedicated to his own wife and daughter. He starts the cascading strings of Armstrong's What a Wonderful World

He hits the red button to take himself off the air and says, "All right, let's go to Lamont's Mortuary." He flips to the commercial copy in his logbook.

"That's one advertisement I don't like to do," he says. "Because Indians when you talk about death, they think you're crazy." He tries to translate the ad so it doesn't offend anybody. "But every time, I have a problem with that. There's still a gray area there."

On the air, he tells listeners "you never know when you're going to go. You need to be prepared. You need to preplan and the people at Lamont Mortuary . . . "

Sneezy grew up with classic rock and oldies. He listens to Anne Murray and jazz to mellow out after his job as director of surveillance at Apache Gold casino, the largest private employer on the reservation.

He initially turned down the job at KRXS because he weighed 400 pounds and worried that he wouldn't be able to climb the stairs to reach the second-floor studio. After a year going up and down the flights twice a week, Sneezy says he has dropped 30 pounds.

Halfway through the show, Sneezy has to cut off dedications. "Requests eko stahalso ohiko. No more requests." His show runs two hours - 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's popular enough that the station is considering a third hour.


Avoiding controversy


Sneezy tries to avoid political songs by Native American artists and avoids discussing controversial issues on the air.

"I see a lot of people that just still - they have this cloud over their head," he says. Some of that anger is from long-ago injustices, some from current squabbles within the community. "I'm just trying to put good thoughts into people's minds."

The Bob Marley song is ending and it's time for the San Carlos Telecom spot. He cues up Play that Funky Music, White Boy, and goes through the requests. Justin wants to send Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones to his girlfriend and Ramus wants to dedicate Hard Luck Woman to his mother.

Reach Ruelas at richard.ruelas@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8473.