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  1. Music

Nick Van Cleve leaving Tampa Bay radio after four decades

Longtime Tampa Bay rock radio DJ Nick Van Cleve says he'll soon be signing off.

After 15 years hosting mornings on classic rock station 107.3-FM The Eagle, Van Cleve, 66, said his last day on air will be April 1, because to sign off on April Fool's Day "has a kind of warped appeal."

Van Cleve is a St. Petersburg resident who grew up in Ohio, and came to the area in 1978 to work nights at the original 98 Rock when the station was located on Starkey Road in Largo. He also worked for local stations 95YNF, 102.5 The Point and Thunder 103.5.

Van Cleve said there are a number of reasons he is stepping away now, among them the thought of "sleeping in a little bit."

"It's a logical stepping off point for me and my wife," he said. "We want to spend time in North Carolina and do some traveling. I did some backpacking in Europe and got the travel bug. And I've grown weary of getting up at 4:30 a.m."

Many of the moments he'll remember best involve the bands he came in contact with on the air or backstage.

There was 1986, when Bon Jovi played softball against the WYNF radio DJs at Al Lopez Park, and he took some heat for drinking most of the band's beer because "the jocks assumed the big cooler of beer was for them."

He remembers watching Van Halen stroll into the station for an interview in front of thousands of fans, as David Lee Roth pointed toward specific women who were then ushered to his limo. He remembers Joe Walsh goofing on him about 98 Rock's "limp blimp" — the station's promotional blimp was underinflated and floating flaccidly over the old Tampa Stadium during a 1980 Eagles concert.

Once, in the mid-'80s, he had the idea to park a van near the Howard Frankland Bridge and broadcast remotely with co-host Jeff Jensen while waving to fans during the morning commute. They caused a traffic backup for miles in both directions, he said, and infuriated the highway patrol.

Along with contemporaries like Ron Diaz, Mason Dixon or Jack Harris, Van Cleve is one of a handful of local DJs and hosts who've remained on the air in the Tampa market so long.

He reminisced about the days before the 1996 Telecommunications Act paved the way for corporate ownership of most of the market's stations, paving the way for highly researched and tested playlists with less variety.

"The big difference was the format, album oriented rock, which meant you could go deeper into albums," he said. "We had albums where it was drop the needle and win.

"Forget the Nielsen ratings, you could drive by the beach and listen for the car radios and you'd know how your station was doing. We called it a 'wall of sound'."

He had been thinking about stepping away in December, but said he stayed on to help The Eagle compete with 98.7 The Shark after that station flipped formats from adult contemporary to classic rock late last year.

Van Cleve was born Nick Vanderhorst, but took the radio name Van Cleve after his high school chemistry teacher. Saying Vanderhorst on the air, he said, "sounds like a sneeze."

His favorite bands of all time are The Beatles, Steely Dan and U2, but after spending the last 15 years at a classic rock station, he said he'll be okay if he never hears Journey's Don't Stop Believing or Boston's More Than a Feeling ever again.

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

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