Familiar face joins the Chieftain for 2014

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From paperboy, to high school newspaper writer, John Larson started out in the journalism business.

Elva K. Österreich/El Defensor Chieftain: John Larson

Born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky, Larson also put in time working at a bowling alley during high school.

But a few months out of high school he joined the Air Force after getting a promise he would not be sent to Vietnam. That, of course, was the first place he went after training. Larson’s first choice in the Air Force was journalism but they slid him into a different choice, military intelligence.

He always knew he wanted to be a journalist but his other love was music. At his high school paper Larson wrote a music column right in the midst of the Beatles era of the 1960s.

After his four years in the Air Force, John hit Murray State University in Kentucky to get started on his journalism degree. He went to Murray for two years before being “seduced by the dark side,” embarking on a long, joyful career in broadcasting.

Although in Nashville, Larson did write a music column for a blues magazine, he spent many years as a radio personality guiding listeners through a variety of music and interview programs. Larson’s voice was heard in Nashville, Seattle, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Paducah in western Kentucky.

Throughout his experience on the radio Larson had the opportunity to interview a lot of people, preparing for his eventual position as El Defensor Chieftain reporter.

“You connect when you hone your interview skills,” he said.

His first interview on the air was with Kris Kristofferson in 1974.

“It was a good interview, I still remember it,” he said. “But, he was a bit upset because his favorite guitar had just been stolen.”

Working in New Orleans, Larson’s interview with Mohammed Ali was the best.

“He was very intelligent and had a very wry sense of humor,” Larson said. “He was humble – off air — and in town for the Leon Spinks fight.”

Larson interviewed Tennesee senator Al Gore when the senator wrote a book about climate change in the early 1990s. He also wrote about Lady in Red Jean Hill, witness to the Kennedy assassination. Emmy Lou Harris and Steve Earle came up on his interview lists.

Before moving to Nashville in 1990, Larson did a stint in Santa Fe as program director and personality at KNYN in the late 1980s. That’s where he got hooked on New Mexico. He decided he had to go to New Mexico for vacations. Then finally decided he had to come back for good.

On one of those New Mexico vacations, Larson drove through Magdalena to get to and from the Very Large Array.

“It was getting toward sundown and we stopped at Evett’s for a burger,” he said. “We got back to Nashville and said, ‘Let’s check out Magdalena.’”

By 2002 Larson and his wife, Vanessa Quiñones, had some money saved up. They bought a house in Magdalena, quit their jobs and moved to New Mexico.

The couple were hoping to take it easy a bit, Quiñones would work on her art — watercolors, pen and ink, glass jewelry and fused glass — and Larson would work on his book.

They opened a little gallery in Magdalena, Quiñones Glass Art.

But the art business is difficult to make a living from and the book was coming along slowly. They both had to get jobs.

Quiñones got hers at New Mexico Tech and Larson went to work for KMXQ radio for the first few months, then joined the Mountain Mail News in 2003.

“Since we moved out here to New Mexico I haven’t wanted to leave,” Larson said. “It’s weird, I think I left the state maybe three times in last 10 to 12 years.”

For Larson, who still loves journalism, New Mexico is all about the people, the stories, the lives.

“I like the people,” he said. “I made more friends here in a shorter period of time than I have in the whole previous 50 years of my life. I like the clean air, the mountains, low humidity and the food, of course.”

Now Larson has taken up with El Defensor Chieftain.

“I am proud to be part of something that’s got such a legacy providing news information community service to Socorro and Socorro County,” Larson said. “I’ve learned since living here that to understand what’s happening here in Socorro, it helps to know the people and it’s the people that I really appreciate.”

He said he still has a lot to learn about the area.

“There are a lot of stories, a lot of history and a lot of wisdom here,” he said.