STEVE CROSNO: AN APPRECIATION
by Jack Stauder
Steve and I were best friends in Las Cruces High. We didn’t share every interest, but we both had a
taste for adventure and humor – and taking these to the edge. After high school, I went away to college, and Steve and I parted ways in terms of career and lifestyle. But whenever I returned to Las Cruces to visit family, Steve and I always got together, and we could always relate closely due to our shared sense of humor.
Of course everyone who met Steve, or listened to him on the radio, was aware of his funny side. He was a spontaneous comedian. But with friends his sense of humor often ranged wider and deeper than he usually allowed in public. Irony, sarcasm, the absurd, the bizarre – he relished them all, as I did. With other friends, we loved concocting what we called “farces,” which were quite outrageous practical jokes. “Outrageous” was in fact a positive comment in Steve’s vocabulary. And Steve had an “outrageous” side to him that came out in his comedy. But his humor was coupled with a genuinely warm and friendly personality, which is why so many people liked him over the years.
Steve would even try to find the humorous vein in sad or serious situations. Probably this dark humor helped him to deal with reality. He made wisecracks and wry remarks even as he suffered many ailments. That’s why I think he would richly appreciate the recorded message I kept getting as I tried over and over to call him on the day he had died. A deep male voice would tell me that the number I was calling was not available, and that the person I was calling “may be outside of the reception area.” I think Steve would have savored the irony and double meaning of that message.
While the lighter side of Steve was always on public display, and while he was a champion of having fun, his life had its share of doubt, despair, pain, crisis and sheer hard times. Sometimes people who don’t know Steve too well have asked me why, if he worked so many years as a disc jockey, did he end up in reduced circumstances in his later years? Don’t disc jockeys earn lots of money?
Some do, I guess. I don’t really know how much disc jockeys earn in the El Paso market, although Steve’s experience would indicate they don’t get retirement plans or medical insurance. What I do know is that Steve was never much interested in money. Early in his career, he was lured to a big station in San Diego where he could expect a really high salary and a shot at national prominence. But after not too many months, he resigned that job and returned to El Paso. Why? Because he discovered on moving away how much he loved the El Paso/Las Cruces area and how much it was part of him. He loved the people here, the climate, the land – he would never give them up.
He was a local patriot.
Working for stations in El Paso must have brought him a good salary, but you would never know it from how he lived. There was no luxury in his life. He had no use for material goods unless they were either necessary or had entertainment value. Instead of buying really expensive electronic systems, his strategy was to use his engineering skills to improve the systems he already owned.
Steve was generous to a fault with others, helping out with time and money his friends whenever they needed something, and many times
helping also fans he hardly knew.
Steve of course soaked up a lot of television, radio, music, movies – entertainment was his passion and profession. But many of his fans would be surprised to know that his greatest recreation consisted of simple excursions into nature – camping in the mountains of the Gila, or walking along the irrigation ditches of the Rio Grande. Almost up to the end of his life he was still daily taking long walks early in the morning
and again in the evening with his little dachshund Sharma.
So where did Steve’s money go? It went to the care of his mother in her ailing old age. Over the years, Steve and his sisters sacrificed to provide their mother with the best health care possible, better than Medicare would provide, hiring caretakers to be with her day and night so she could continue to live with comfort and dignity at home. Her children reached to the bottom of their pockets, even mortgaging the house they had grown up in.
When his mother died, Steve had virtually no assets except his home studio and his record collection. To make things worse, during this period he lost his last full-time disc jockey position in El Paso. Steve often fought with the managers of the stations where he worked when they did not appreciate the music he played, when they tried to force another format on him. They brought their ideas from out of town, or
were trying to impose some national trend. But the El Paso market was different, and Steve knew this market (his listeners) intimately. His experience and intuition led him to create what’s now recognized as the “El Paso Sound” or “Chicano Soul” – the unique musical mix that together with verbal comedy became the Crosno hallmark. And his radio programs consistently received the area’s highest ratings.
But some radio managers just didn’t get it, so a number of times in his career Steve changed stations in order to play the music he wanted to play, the music his fans wanted. Call it “artistic integrity.” He was not afraid to lose a job, if it was over a matter of principle.
Eventually, however, he lost one job too many. He was reduced to a weekly show whose advertising earned very little, and he returned to Las Cruces to work out of his own studio in the house where he grew up. The house was rescued at the last moment by a fan who purchased it, and let him live on there as caretaker in his few rooms at the back. Steve was able to go onto early Social Security too at about that time, and get along, as the song says, “with a little help from my friends.”
But overall Steve was not unhappy towards the end of his life, even as serious physical afflictions began to undermine his health. He remained productive and creative. He maintained a wide circle of friends. And he could devote himself to his canine companion, Sharma.
Fans of Steve’s might be interested to know that he was pretty religious, in his own way. He certainly believed in God; he and I used to have long discussions about the nature of God. Steve was also convinced by a number of life experiences that the supernatural does exist a world beyond our own. In his bedroom and studio a visitor would see many prayers he had written out and stuck up, as well as conventional religious items. He often kept burning, especially at night, a large devotional candle in glass with a saint’s image – one of the Catholic candles found in the supermarkets of the area. He burned the candles, he said, as prayers. A couple of times in the past few years when I picked up groceries for him – the essentials were Pepsi and dogfood – a new candle was on the list. I liked to get for him the candle showing the saint with the dog (St. Lazaro?).
What more can I say about Steve, in his memory? Lots. But his many other friends and his huge number of fans will probably say the rest.
I would just like to conclude that he was the best of friends and basically a good person, as he was raised to be. Despite his outrageous streak and complex personality, Steve was actually pretty simple in his relations with people: he was amiable, open, honest, compassionate – and amusing.
Steve had soul, and may his soul rest in peace.