Debuting back in 1987, way before pirates were ever deemed cool and a full 8 years before “Talk Like a Pirate Day” was ever conceptualized, Skulltime for Kids hit the airwaves of Foothill College radio station KFJC 89.7 FM in Los Altos Hills, California.
Captain Jack, the creator of the show, told me that the original idea for the program was born during a graveyard shift that he did with a fellow DJ in which they pretended to be pirates. He said that those initial late night shows were hilarious and that other station staff members encouraged him to base a show around that concept.
So, in 1987 Skulltime for Kids began as a Wednesday afternoon “children’s show,” hosted by the pirate Captain Jack.
The early years were a solo operation, with Captain Jack playing children’s records and spinning tales about his pirate life. He always alluded to a character called Skully, who was the “phantom bartender on Skull Island,” but it wasn’t until 1992 that another DJ offered to join the show in order to bring Skully to life. By 1996 or 1997 Skully was a regular fixture on Skulltime for Kids and around that time I started listening to the show (and joined the staff of KFJC).
There are a lot of things to love about Skulltime for Kids. There’s always plenty of banter about pop culture and music trivia and over the years I’ve found the show to be the “go to” place for news about dead celebrities, as they do rousing tributes to recently departed pop culture fixtures. Both Captain Jack and Skully are also thrift store junkies, so they often play amazing vintage children’s records with songs and stories from the past.
Various other station members (and even visiting musician Will Oldham) have come on the show playing a number of characters, from Bubba (voiced by former Music Director Ken “Spiderman” Hamilton), to the Sea Hag, to Crow’s Next Willy (Will Oldham’s alter ego).
When I talked to Captain Jack and Skully about some of their favorite moments from the show, they both shared with me the fun they had in crafting a 9-week-long “Skull Island Saga,” in which they revealed an elaborate backstory about how Skully used to own Skull Island. Skully told me, “we were trying to get Skull Island back…and then Bubba came in…He’s a Budweiser truck driver…and he ends up saving the world.” Apparently the ongoing drama included cliffhangers and a helium balloon sent up to save people.
Captain Jack told me that one of the other central characters on Skull Island was the Blood Ape, “a fabled experimental musician.” He said that they actually made a Blood Ape demo that was made available to lucky listeners.
Surprisingly, the majority of what happens on Skulltime for Kids is not scripted and just occurs in the moment as improvisation. Since it’s an afternoon show, there are some children who do listen to the show, although Captain Jack and Skully point out that some of the content is a bit “over the line” for kids. The talk can get saucy, but it’s all veiled under clean language and tempered by pirate voices. Like crotchety old punk rockers, they talk about the good old days, music, heroes from the past, and their dreams for the future. Throw an old Disney record or two into the mix, and it’s pure genius.
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