Waterloo native, St. Ambrose grad makes ‘beautiful noise’ in Los Angeles
Joel D. Elliott II is West Coast radio producer, works ‘red carpet’ events
Waterloo native and Los Angeles radio producer and sound engineer Joel D. Elliott II talks about his career during a recent trip to back to Waterloo. (Photo by Patrick Kinney)
WATERLOO – Joel D. Elliott II is all about “taking the next step” – from the basketball floor at Waterloo East High School to the red carpet of Hollywood award shows.
Also known professionally as “Joel D,” the Waterloo-born graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport is now a successful broadcast production and sound engineer in Los Angeles, sometime musician and deejay at some top-drawer events.
He’s worked several major award shows and also serves as a technical producer for Fox Sports Radio broadcasts, including, among others, the well-known Dan Patrick Show, a syndicated sports talk show featuring the longtime former CNN and ESPN sportscaster.
During a recent visit back to Waterloo, he sat down for an interview for the Grout Museum District’s “Black Stories Collective” exhibit and oral history project.
By covering events like the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Emmys and the Oscars, Elliott’s rubbed elbows with stardom as a West Coast audio producer for the Sheridan Broadcasting American Urban Radio Networks since 2006.
“My first awards show was the Soul Train Awards with Don Cornelius,” Elliott said. “I got to talk to Big Don before he passed.
“I did three Soul Train Awards,” he said. “My first one was in ’06. From thereon we always did the Oscars; we did the Grammys, middle of the year, the Emmys, and then toward Thanksgiving the American Music Awards. You’re on the red carpet with the mikes,” recording interviews for uploading and sharing to network affiliate stations, “so they can take a piece and act like they were there.”
In 2005, he also joined what was Clear Channel Broadcasting; and joined Fox Sports Radio in 2012, advancing to the Dan Patrick Show. “I have 400 affiliates I feed that show to from the network. Dan is in Connecticut, and we stream his audio. That’s where I am every day at 5 a.m. (Pacific time) because he’s on the East Coast.”
Through Elliott’s radio-network connections, “I’ve met just about everybody,” he said. At a burial of a time capsule of items from well-known network TV shows on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for example, he got to interview legendary comedienne Carol Burnett.
He wasn’t “stargazing” or mugging for pictures with them, since he was on the job. “It was just the fact of being in a conversation with them,” he said. “Since 2006, I pretty much have seen all the celebrities at all the events, especially the NAACP Image Awards. Everybody comes there.”
He learned early to take advantage of opportunities through basketball as a standout at Waterloo East High School. He joined a European basketball tour of Iowa Big Eight prep conference stars in 1983. He played at St. Ambrose University, an NAIA affiliate school which also played larger Division I NCAA teams like Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles — which whetted his appetite for California.
He also did every job could get his hands on working in local television at station KWQC in the Quad-Cities while a communications major at St. Ambrose, where he also did news updates for the school’s broadcast stations. He also took a couple years to pick up some management training in retail positions with Kmart in Michigan, from where his father’s family hails, and Indiana. While he encountered some overt racism at that time, particularly in Indianapolis, he also received support across color lines from key individuals.
Whether it was neighborhood families sharing rides to school; white friends at St. Ambrose who walked him through how to dress up his class papers in their physical presentation as well as content; or a producer who told him bluntly in the early 1990s that to make it in L.A. he needed to be in L.A. — success has been all about making connections. That was true from his earliest days as a young musician at Waterloo’s Antioch Baptist Church, to his current membership at Faith Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif., also attended by one of his earliest Hollywood contacts, actor Blair Underwood.
But he’s given back home in Waterloo too, where he played drums as a youth at church events. For several years he co-hosted the “Throw Back” radio show at now-defunct Waterloo urban contemporary radio station KBOL, pre-recorded from Los Angeles but featuring local content gathered from his frequent trips back home.
“I just kept involved in Waterloo and tried to keep the show fresh,” he said, based on his frequent trips to town. The nonprofit station went off the air in February 2021 after 16 years of operation. His show was on about eight years.
Of all the venues and shows he’s done, “Your home can be your toughest critics,” he said. When his “throwback” show was “good enough for Waterloo” in terms of the long run it enjoyed in KBOL, “that showed me we were probably doing something good.” He also has an online “throwback” show Saturday evenings on hot923thebeat.com, originating from Los Angeles.
Being an expert sound technician, honed from his background in communications, opened all kinds of doors in California, Elliott said. “In L.A., they don’t even turn on the lights if the sound man isn’t there yet!” he said.
“I’m doing different gigs. Now I’ve established who I am, and people can call and hire me,” he said. He’s also worked as a production manager job at The Canyon in Santa Clarita, Calif., one of a chain of live-band supper clubs in the Los Angeles area which feature tribute bands as well as “name” performers.
“I can relate to all these tribute bands from growing up right here (in Waterloo), because we didn’t have Black radio when I was born,” Elliott said. Waterloo’s original Black radio station, KBBG 88.1 FM, was not quite five years old when he graduated from high school.
“When they see a Black guy about to mix their band, they always wonder, ‘Is he familiar with what we sound like? Is he just an R&B cat, rap dude?’ They’ll come one time with their (sound) guy. And then, the next time, — ‘We know you got it.'”
His career is “the culmination of all the background in music, playing music, and then the red carpet, seeing all the people (celebrities) and with Fox Sports Radio, the interviews Dan does every day.
“As far as the Waterloo influence on me, basketball was the main thing I did, but at the same time, it was the foundation I built in the church — the backing and supporting of people,” and family, through his musicianship, encouraged as a youth and beyond by his parents, Maggie and Joel Elliott Sr.
He’s also found a sense of collegiality when he encounters other Iowans on the West Coast, though he admits some Iowans’ towns are so small he has to look them up.
He did a live Friday social-media music show on Facebook during the coronavirus shutdown for the benefit of hometown friends.
“Waterloo would show up!” he said. The site flooded with favorable comments. “They were in there, ‘two-on-a-mule,’ and we were just having fun online. It was ‘We’re on here to support you!’ I really liked the fact you get to a comfort level where the city supports you for what you’re doing. You feel like family.”
Patrick Kinney’s blog, View from the Cedar Valley, is on Substack. This column is republished through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.
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