Joining 'Greens and Grays'


Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

It all started at a 5,000-watt radio station in McComb, Mississippi. But that's a different story." The story belongs to Kinnon Thomas and that is how he started his speech after taking over as chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, with no apologies to Ted Baxter of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Thomas' love of music - he has 10,000 CDs and records - led him to start hanging out at radio station WHNY in McComb at age 12. It was there he caught the radio bug, which led to a career as a disc jockey, ad salesman and station owner before buying the Mirror Image Recording Studio in Gainesville in 1997.

Thomas closed the studio in 2006, but continues to do voiceovers and produce radio and television ads from his home studio in northwest Gainesville.

He chairs the chamber at a time when it takes a leadership role in pursuing a penny sales tax for the 2010 ballot, an idea local business leaders pitched to Alachua County commissioners as an alternative or addition to impact fee increases to fund community projects.

Thomas said he doesn't want to get into an argument about whether growth pays for itself - he said he's seen studies that purport to prove both sides.

"My goal is to bring all the community together, sit down and regain some trust between all the different parties involved, what we call the Greens and Grays," a reference to environmentalists and pavement.

"I think we all are working toward the same goal, to make this as great a place to live as anywhere. Quality of life is certainly important. Green space is important. Development is important. It's all important. We just need to sit down and be friends."

Thomas' agenda also includes exploring ways to get smaller businesses and their employees to use the county's CHOICES health care program.

In addition to being a voice for local business on community issues, Thomas said the chamber's role is to help local businesses be and stay in business through networking events and educational programs like Small Business Week. Membership surpassed 1,400 last year and 80 percent of those are small businesses, defined by federal standards as having 50 employees or less.

This is not the first time Thomas has served such a role. He was president of the West Calcasieu Association of commerce in Lake Charles, La.

"I always thought if you're in business, you should be in the chamber."

The chamber leadership is one of four chairmanships he holds, along with the Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Board, East Gainesville SPROUT Task Force ("the Depot Park task force") and the Innovation Campus Task Force that's trying to create a high-tech business cluster on property currently owned by Gainesville Regional Utilities.

He is also a past president of the Advertising Federation of Gainesville, the Downtown Owners and Tenants and was a member of the county's 2004-05 Blue Ribbon Committee on County Finances.

"You only get out of a community what you put into it," he said. "Getting involved in your community is a great way to meet some really great people and a lot of the people that care."

Thomas' career began when he was a journalism student at Louisiana State University and got a job as DJ and program director at WAIL, a top 40 station in 1968. After a year at KHOM/KTIB in Houma, La., in the mid-'70s, he opened his own country station, Q101, in Lake Charles, La., in 1977.

Over the years, he said he's met just about every country artist on the scene. In Lake Charles, Conway Twitty and the Statler Brothers would come by just about every year.

There is one name that immediately came to mind when asked what artists he has had contact with.

"I spoke to Elvis on the phone one day while on the air," Thomas said. "I was talking to one of the record promoters who worked for RCA. He said, 'Elvis walked in. You want to talk to him?' Thinking he was just totally (joking with) me, I said, 'Sure' and I wound up talking to Elvis for about a minute on the phone. It was right when 'Suspicious Minds' was out - they were working that record."

Thomas sold Q101 in 1984 and bought a station in Ardmore, Okla., during what he calls the oil depression. He sold that a year later and went to work for WQIK "The Hit Kicker" country radio in Jacksonville as regional sales manager.

He moved to Gainesville in 1997 when he bought Mirror Image from Bob McPeek. Thomas' recording studio did a lot of spoken word instructional, lots of different music, demos for students applying to music school, as well as cassette and CD duplication.

"I had a good time with that," he said.

But the good times ended with the advent of home recording "that actually sounded pretty good" and competition, so he closed the studio in 2006.

From his home studio, Thomas is still the voice of Cox Communications' radio ads, as well as the Ocala Community Credit Union and occasionally Gainesville Ford, among others, while producing and placing broadcast ads.

For his work, he has won three ADDY awards from the Gainesville Advertising Federation.

Anthony Clark can be reached at 352-374-5094 or anthony.clark@gvillesun.com.

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