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Celebrating Radio Royalty: The Premiere of “Faders Up: The John Aielli Experience” at SXSW

This poignant film, showing this week, celebrates John Aielli, the beloved Austin radio personality who passed away in 2022


The airwaves have long been home to voices that resonate deeply within communities, shaping cultures, and leaving indelible marks on the medium of radio. In Austin, one such voice has reigned supreme for over five decades—the inimitable John Aielli. Now, his legacy takes center stage in the highly anticipated documentary, Faders Up: The John Aielli Experience, which made its official world premiere this past Sunday at the Paramount Theatre as part of the SXSW Film Festival.

Directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas and David Hartstein and produced in association with Dox, Faders Up is a tribute to the iconic radio host, known for his eclectic style and captivating presence on the airwaves. The documentary vividly portrays Aielli’s life in and out of the studio through exclusive archival footage, stylized recreations, and heartfelt accolades.

We were lucky enough to attend the premiere at The Paramount Theatre this past Sunday and were blown away by the film—and the enthusiastic friends and fans of Aielli who showed up to see it. While waiting in line for the doors to open, we heard people reminiscing about their memories of Aielli, whether personal experiences with him or fond recollections of endearing things he’d said on the air. 

The SXSW world premiere of “Faders Up: The John Aielli Experience” on March 10, 2024, at the Paramount Theatre. (Left to right) Andrew Miller, Sam Wainwright Douglas, Sarah McCaskill, Shelby Hadden, David Hartstein, Field Humphrey, and Graham Reynolds.

A tribute to John Aielli’s enduring influence on Austin’s artistic scene

The premiere of Faders Up was a momentous occasion attended by fans, friends, and collaborators who came together to celebrate Aielli’s enduring legacy. With screenings scheduled throughout the SXSW Film Festival, audiences had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of one of radio’s most enigmatic personalities.

Described as a “window into the local culture” by co-director Sam Wainwright Douglas, Aielli’s KUT radio show, Eklektikos, was a tapestry of interviews, music, live performances, and offbeat observations that kept audiences engaged for hours on end. His soothing voice, almost melodic in its cadence, was a constant presence in the lives of Austinites, earning him a dedicated following and freedom to express his authentic self on what came to be KUT’s longest-running program.

For co-director Hartstein, bringing Aielli’s story to the screen was a labor of love and a tribute to his profound impact on Austin’s artistic landscape. “To be able to bring that to light in the movie and demonstrate John’s contribution to the open, tolerant Austin of today feels like a fitting tribute,” Hartstein remarked.

The documentary received unwavering support from KUT and KUTX, further underscoring Aielli’s significance in shaping Austin’s cultural identity. Matt Reilly, Programming Director at KUT/KUTX, praised the filmmakers for capturing Aielli’s essence, describing the documentary as “an amazing story” that pays homage to a true radio legend.

Throughout his illustrious career, Aielli was a connective force between listeners and community arts organizations, using his platform to champion local talent and foster creativity. As the Austin American Statesman noted, he was a beloved radio personality and a top public radio fundraiser, embodying the spirit of community engagement and cultural stewardship.

As the credits rolled on the premiere of Faders Up: The John Aielli Experience, it was clear that Aielli’s influence would continue to reverberate through the airwaves and beyond. In celebrating his life and work, the documentary serves as a poignant reminder of the power of radio to shape communities, inspire creativity, and unite listeners in shared experiences. 

To see the film for yourself, check out the additional screenings this week, on Wednesday, March 13, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema South Lamar.