20 Questions

(PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)

Jack Hammer

By Bonnie Blackburn
Jack Hammer’s office has a digital clock that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the start of Fort Wayne’s biggest party: the Three Rivers Festival. And though he’s probably best known for his years as half of the Elvis and Hammer show on WBYR the Bear radio, his new gig is executive director of that huge party. But it’s not as big of a stretch as you might think, going from DJ to festival organizer: it’s all about music, people and fun. Find out how he does it as we play 20 Questions.

What is your real name and why did you change it?
Thomas Jaxtheimer, and I changed it to be on the radio. It’s very hard to pronounce. My own children can’t pronounce it!


How’d you get involved with radio?
98.9 The Bear was running a contest where you could win $1 million dollars. If you won, you’d get $1 a year for a million years. I called in doing a Carl Spackler (from the movie “Caddyshack”) routine, saying things like ‘I figure I can win about $200-$300 dollars in my lifetime is all,’ and it worked and they came and asked me to be Santa. They brought Billy Elvis in first. We met for a drink and hit it off, and we were put together for 12-plus years, which is a really long time in radio.


Do you still see Billy?
I still see him, still talk to him. He pranks me all the time. A lifelong friendship came out of it.


How did you go from radio to the Three Rivers Festival?
Two years ago, in a mutual agreement, I stopped working for Federated Media. I was helping out with the festival and booking some music. Everything was on fire down here and they were (looking for a new director), but I wasn’t sure if I wanted that to be me. I thought it might screw up my unemployment! I came in 30 days before the 2010 festival. I’m just the kind of doofus they needed. No, really, I’m honest and a good guy, and I would like to do this. It is a great festival.


How is running the festival like being a DJ?
When you get time to talk to people about the festival, it’s measured time — in an elevator, over a handshake. I need to be able to give them enough information in two to three minutes that they want to learn more.


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to deal with so far with the festival?
The bed race. DeBrand had won the bed race for two or three years, and other people were griping that the runners weren’t DeBrand employees. It’s a dumb thing that I had to go over it with them whether their runners were employees or (ringers).


What’s your favorite Junk Food Alley meal?
Barbecue and a lemon shake-up, followed by anything sweet and cold, like ice cream wrapped in an elephant ear.


What would you put into a lemon shake-up to make the perfect  summer cocktail?
Gin, maybe some vodka, like a vodka and tonic thing.


Tell us about the planning process for the festival.
It’s all about the sponsorships. Sponsorships and relationships with sponsors are very important to us. They deserve a visit, for me to listen to what’s on their minds. A lot of redoing of forms, looking for artists. There is plenty to keep us going. I have a three-person staff. We’re working hard.


You’ve met lots of entertainers. Have you ever gotten star-struck?
Yes. It was Aerosmith and Steven Tyler. He’s just the best as an entertainer and musician. It was one of those cattle shot meet-and-greet things, and he’s asking me questions and really caring about me! He’s very much a gentleman.


What do you miss about being on the air?
I see so many things I’d like to comment on, whether that’s a news story or people who did something right or wrong. Facebook helps, but I can’t say half the things I want to say!


Besides DJ and festival director, what other jobs have you had?
I fixed movie projectors, I was a shipping clerk. Hairdresser. I sold cars, radios and cell phones. I walked ponies at the zoo. A host of Burger King-Dairy Queen (jobs).


You’ve said you have a “calming” effect on people. To what do you attribute that?
I believe whether I was sitting with the president of a corporation or a guy that sweeps the floor, we’d have something in common. That, plus my monotone, droney voice that sends people to sleep.


The festival is the second-biggest event in Indiana behind the Indy 500 Festival. Does the sheer number of people coming to the festival scare you?
Yes. Because it is my goal to have them have a good experience. There are bad people that fall into that 400,000 (attendees). One thing I won’t scrimp on is police. I want you to bring your family and be safe. I would not consider doing this if not for the Fort Wayne Police Department and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).

Speaking of bad things that could happen, what are the contingency plans for bad weather so we don’t have situations like what happened at the Indiana State Fair?
We’ve had evacuation plans for 20 years. It starts with the National Weather Service. If the winds get to a certain level, we announce (attendees) can come back and see the show later. People are taken under the viaduct or to the City/County building with police escort. Once they leave my hands, they’re in the hands of the Fort Wayne Police Department and Homeland Security.


Your family has been in Allen County for more than a century. Tell us about your forebears.
They came from Bremen, Germany. They didn’t want their sons to be fodder for the Czar’s army. They were merchant-tailors. They were here before 1890. My grandfather was born here in 1903.


What’s your superhero name?
Ham-Star!


We understand from those who will remain anonymous that you are easily distracted. Is that true?
Maybe I have ADHD. I am the dog that goes ‘Squirrel!’ That is me. Which is why I like project work. Having a deadline helps.


What’s your favorite restaurant?
China House on East State Street. I eat there a lot.


Who would be your ultimate “get” for the festival?
Paul McCartney, and if he brought Eric Clapton with him, that would be great.

Posted: Wed, 04/25/2012 - 12:23 pm
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:09 pm