Rex Gabriel: rocking the radio at C101 for 25 years
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Paul Marshall
Everybody knows Rex Gabriel.
The popular radio host has chatted with his listeners for 25 years from his microphone down at the C101 studios – and his no-holds barred, let-it-all-hang-out show makes thousands of people feel like they spent their mornings having a cup of coffee with Rex instead of driving to work every day.
But what they may not know, Gabriel says, is that the show is just a piece of his very full life. “I’m happiest when I’m building something,” the self-proclaimed Renaissance man admits. Projects can be large, like the “Bait Shack” themed party room he built in his backyard, to detailed and minuscule, like the sculptures he makes of his favorite animated movie characters.
Then there’s the fishing. Gabriel loves spending time out on the water, catching fish or just enjoying the great Texas outdoors. He can also be found riding his motorcycle, doing long-distance bicycle rides or even moonlighting as a model with his girlfriend when he’s not sitting in the box – all of which, he says, adds up to an interesting show.
“People keep listening because I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he says. “If I’m in love, I’m telling them about this amazing person in my life. If I just suffered a breakup, I tell them about the heartache. If I caught an awesome fish the day before, it’s time to brag about it on show the next day. That personal touch keeps folks coming back every day; they feel like we’re friends and we’re just having a conversation.”
Gabriel’s talent was recognized early. He was born in Houston, but moved to San Antonio at a young age when his parents temporarily split up. “Even back then,” he says, “my mom would say that Mrs. Dunn, the choir teacher, would say, ‘This boy needs to be onstage!’”
As he grew, he learned to tap into his talent. “I always played guitar and wrote songs,” he says. “It started when I drove around with my dad as a kid, and he’d replace the lyrics of the songs with the dirtiest things you can imagine. It stuck, because I started to go to comedy clubs with my guitar, replacing lyrics to popular songs with their dirty and hilarious counterparts, and quickly became a guitar comic.”
The songs were about bad relationships and other pitfalls, and Gabriel’s career skyrocketed. “Almost immediately I was hired to open for comedian Ron White,” he says. “I also opened for George Lopez, Carlos Mencia and the cast of people who have become really big in the comedy world who were coming through San Antonio.”
Radio was the logical next stop. Gabriel was approached by a station doing a live broadcast at the Funny Bone in San Antonio, who told him he was made for radio because he was such a talented storyteller. He was invited to come out for a week and do the morning show, and he ended up with a contract by the end of it.
“It was instant; I immediately loved doing it,” Gabriel says. “I’ve never done anything but comedy and morning radio as a career with any kind of passion, and that’s what’s kept me at it for the last 25 years. I love to turn on a microphone and be able to tell a story. It’s important to tell a story well, and that’s what I’ve managed to do every day.”
Gabriel spent two years on KISS radio in San Antonio before management came in one day, announced they had changed the format to oldies and fired everyone. “I remember thinking, ‘I love this; where the hell am I going to work?’” he laughs.
Then the call came: Tim Parker, who he had worked with in San Antonio, was doing the morning radio on C101 in Corpus Christi. He called and asked if Gabriel wanted to move to Corpus and be on his morning show, and the rest, as they say, is history. “I hopped on my motorcycle and headed down here, did the interview and have now been doing the show for 25 years,” he says.
As Gabriel has lived an increasingly full life over the years, the show has evolved, as well. “The stories have gotten better and more interesting as life has gotten more interesting,” he says. “Interesting life equals interesting radio show.”
And it’s also given him the opportunity to talk on air to some of the most interesting celebrities and entertainers – which he says requires the special skills of really listening to the people and engaging them in conversation instead of just asking the same formulaic questions. “The ones you don’t expect are always the most fascinating,” he muses. “Marilyn Manson was really interesting to talk to. And Slipknot are the nicest, most welcoming people ever.”
To celebrate his golden anniversary, C101 has big things planned for this spring – a 25th anniversary celebration of sorts. The station is planning to give away premium memorabilia such as stickers, T-shirts and coffee mugs featuring a special 25th anniversary logo. Gabriel wants to thank all of his fans for helping him survive and thrive here for the last 25 years, which is definitely something to celebrate in the entertainment industry.