Article first published in Vol. 14, 1996.
By Rosemary Hoy and Leonie Pompa
At two, he astounded adults with his knowledge of math. At six, he conducted his first choir. At 16, he amused audiences during his live radio show. Steve Crosno knew at an early age what he wanted to be when he grew up -- an entertainer.
"My father would take me to the store and we'd have a little routine that we'd do for people. My dad taught me numbers, numbers like 1,047 or 345… and my dad would say, 'Son, what's the square root of such and such or how much is such and such?' and I'd give him the answer," says Crosno. At first the butcher was very impressed, but then figured out that he'd been had. Crosno says, "That would really make 'em laugh and I really like making people laugh."
As a first-grader, Steve Crosno already knew how to work an audience. He remembers: "The eighth grade choir was putting on a play and they wanted a first-grader to be conductor. My mother said she 'd pay me a quarter if I did it, so I agreed. I went out on stage and took a bow -- and I got a laugh. So I decided to really ham it up. I tapped my baton on the stand to get the choir's attention. Later, when the audience started to get loud, I did the same thing to get their attention."
That evening Steve Crosno received big applause and big laughs. " I thought, forget the quarter. I'd do this for free," he said. His sense of humor and love of entertaining have served him well for several decades.
Steve Crosno became a disc jockey for KGRT in Las Cruces in 1956 on his 16th birthday, hosting an hour-long show on Saturdays. Three years later he went to work for El Paso's KELP, a Top 40's radio station. He later moved to San Diego to work for a national radio station that offered him a substantial amount of money. However, the job didn't make him happy.
"I missed the people of El Paso and the climate. The people here are really warm and friendly," says Crosno. Steve Crosno came back to EL Paso in 1961 and returned to work for KELP, where he quickly became popular among young people.
El Pasoan Angela Pratt, a teen-ager in the '60s, remembers Crosno as a "wild and crazy guy with a very good sense of humor." Crosno was a master at using audio clips from radio and television shows and working them into his commentary. Pratt says, "He didn't make fun of things because he was bitter; he just wanted people to loosen up."
Another reason for his popularity, says Pratt, is that "he seemed to listen to young people. He made them feel like they were being listened to." Pratt adds, "Steve was quite in tune with living in a bicultural setting. I thought that was important. Different ethnic groups didn't feel alienated by him."
In the late summer of 1961, "Crosno's Hop" debuted on Channel 7, and ran for nine years. Crosno says, "It was a dance show for local television and was broadcast live on Saturday afternoons. All local kids were encouraged to go to the studio and participate in the taping of the show. The kids were charged 50 cents if the show was full and 25 cents if the studio needed more kids for the show. All money earned went to charity and to pay for security."
Caption: Chuco Soul - Mural by Jesus "Cimi" Alvarado celebrating Steve Crosno. Image courtesy digie.org
Though the show may have seemed reminiscent of "American Bandstand," Crosno says, "I didn't want to copy 'American Bandstand.' Besides, a friend of mine by the name of Rudy Telles had a show called 'Off the Record,' where they rated records and I didn't want to copy anybody's stuff."
Still playing the hottest music today, Steve Crosno has been in the entertainment business forty years. Crosno currently is a disc jockey for 93.9 FM, La Caliente, a Tejano station very popular with many El Pasoans.
"I was very lucky that the owners of La Caliente picked me up because it doesn't matter how famous or popular or how long you've been around, " he says. "Especially now that one owner can own three stations, another owner owns another three. If those owners are not nutty about you, there's six stations where you can't work. From an employee's view, it's scary.
"I realize that after almost forty years I could just have been out. Luckily, there were some people who said 'you know what, I bet he would fit in here and even help our station."
Crosno admits Tejano music is hard to define. "But I have noticed one thing. One person's definition [of Tejano] doesn't match the next one which doesn't match the next one. So it's still forming its image. Selena and what happened to her really galvanized people. It's a pretty sad thing that somebody has to get murdered to boost music."
When asked what has kept him in the radio industry all these years, Crosno says, "What drives me to keep going is the people and making them laugh -- in a way I guess I'm looking for love and acceptance. The neat thing about music and comedy is that it brings people together, especially if you design it to do that." Crosno has always managed to remain popular with fans across all ethnic lines and ages.
Steve Crosno speaks humbly of his celebrity status here in El Paso and always has time for his public. "In my opinion, anybody who would act like they don't have time for their fans doesn't deserve to be an entertainer. Without your audience you're nothing."
It appears that Steve Crosno will have an audience as long as he wants one. From rhythm and blues to Top 40 to disco to Tejano, he has always played what listeners have wanted to hear. He says sixth-graders even call him for requests today. Steve Crosno: El Paso's oldest teen-ager? Maybe so. And aren't we glad!