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Omaha Magazine

A Master of Radio Entertainment: Jason Spicoli Speaks Life into 98.5 and The Metro

Feb 24, 2023 10:14AM ● By Chase Murphy
Jason Spicoli

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

Jason Spicoli knew that he wanted to be a radio host since he was 15 years old. The determination and passion required to reach the sound booth had been sown much earlier, however. Spicoli spent his early childhood listening to his favorite radio station, Sweet 98.5, while he “built character” doing odd jobs for his father, an honest and hardworking tradesman. Spicoli received tried-and-true advice from his dad; a lesson that many blue-collar parents impart to their children: “If you don’t want to do what I do when you grow up, find a passion, get educated, and work as hard as you can for that goal.” 

Taking his father’s wisdom to heart, Spicoli’s career began with a program at Central High School. He signed up for a radio and television class, which was held in the old tech building across from the school.  

“I dipped my feet in the water with that program. They taught me the essential basics of radio, and considering it was a jazz station…technically I was a jazz radio host during my career.”

After securing his diploma, Spicoli attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha—but quickly found the program unsuitable for his ambitions. It was during his third semester at UNO that a friend suggested the radio program at Iowa Western Community College.

“Iowa Western in Council Bluffs?” he’d balked.  

Typical of those residing west of the Missouri, Spicoli had been steeped in negative stereotypes about Council Bluffs. However, after surveying the campus for himself, Spicoli came to realize the program at Iowa Western was ideal for a person looking to make waves in local airspace. Spicoli reveled in the beauty of the campus, the kindness of the professors, and the state-of-the-art equipment sequestered away in humble Fort Dodge, Iowa.

picoli and his classmates were slotted for two times, each week, to run and host an hour-long session on 89.7 The River, Iowa Western’s radio station—the metro’s “cutting edge of rock” since 1996. A typical broke college student, he would ask his mother for five or 10 bucks a week to buy more time on the air.

“I would pay other students to take their shifts. You weren't supposed to do that, but I didn’t care. Whatever it takes to be on the radio, I’m going to be better than everyone here,” Spicoli recalled. “I just want to get better at this so I can be on the radio forever.” 

His drive and mentality were reflected in his performance at Iowa Western. Spicoli explained that C’s and D’s were enough for him while enrolled in the generalized, mandatory curriculum. After his arrival at the radio program, Spicoli received straight A’s for the duration of his undergraduate education.

Upon graduation, Spicoli landed an internship with KEZO’s Todd N Tyler, a legendary Omaha radio duo syndicated throughout the region. After two months under their tutelage, an afternoon slot opened at The River, which he applied for and was awarded. Spicoli remained at The River for 18 years, until his transfer to Sweet 98.5 in the fall of 2022.

“You know, it’s hard. You want to stay loyal to your company and the friends that you developed, but also you want to grow,” he reflected wistfully. “I grew up listening to Sweet 98—this was the moment. This is why I got into radio, because of this station. I needed to come over here and see what I could do. Ultimately, it was the right move.” 

Sweet 98.5 was facing a period of decline when Spicoli was brought on. Eluding specifics, Spicoli said, “It was bad.” He and his co-host, Nikki Oswald, infused Sweet 98.5 with fresh enthusiasm and vivacity, hauling the station to #2 on the charts in less than a year—a herculean feat rarely accomplished in radio.

Neil Nelkin, a Nebraska Radio Hall of Fame member, offered insight into how Spicoli and his co-host were able to turn around the station in record time: 

“He relates to the audience in a very intimate, personal way.  He understands them and he fulfills their needs,” Nelkin said.

This style of hosting—engaging with listeners in a real, multi-faceted way—is what Spicoli strives to achieve. To him, the audience is the most important person. He plans and prepares each segment while envisioning a single person driving down the freeway on their way to work. 
“I just want to help them start the day on the right foot.  Whether it’s through humor, the music, or something that the listener can relate to, I simply aim to make their day better, that’s the whole point for me,” Spicoli said. 

“Connecting with the listeners is the absolute best part of my job.” 

Visit, and Jason Spicoli’s social media pages for more information.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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