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Former radio personality turns focus to a clean and sober lifestyle

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Cam Cox poses for a photo at the Kelham House, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Cam Cox poses for a photo at the Kelham House, Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

Cam Cox lived life in the fast lane. As a young radio personality growing up on the airwaves in Oklahoma City, he started each day doing news at KJ103. In the afternoon, he drove across town to WKY for his stint as a traffic reporter, and then each weekend, he flew to Dallas for a couple of air shifts as a DJ.

Cox always had VIP tickets to the hottest concerts in town. He partied with celebrities like Cher and led an increasingly self-indulgent lifestyle. When the crash and burn came, it was swift; Cox ended up spending a decade in and out of federal prison. Now, the former radio personality has reinvented himself and is helping others turn their lives around.

“I finally came to the realization that if I was going to have any quality of life whatsoever, it was time for me to grow up and quit being so damn selfish,” Cox told Oklahoma Gazette. “So much of what I did throughout my radio career fed my ego, and the notoriety gave me a false sense of importance.”

Early life

Cox was born in Oklahoma City in 1965. He grew up privileged and was always an overachiever.

“There was no question I was spoiled,” he said. “In Bethany, our family was big fish in a little pond. I started driving to school when I was 13, and the police overlooked it because of my family’s influence. I was passed through high school because either my father or grandfather was president of the school board during my entire undergraduate career. We had the largest homes and the nicest cars in the community. I had severe entitlement issues.”

His Sunday school teacher introduced him to the radio business when he was 9 years old.

“Phil Boyce was the morning newsman with Danny Williams on WKY,” he said. “I would go to work with Phil many mornings before school and became enamored with radio. By the time my voice changed around age 12, I was ready to find a job in the business.”

His first radio gig came when he was 13 years old at Oklahoma City’s KBYE. A couple of years later, he was on the air at WKY doing Roadwatch 93 traffic reports.

His career took him to the airwaves of Dallas and then on to television news as an anchor/reporter at Ada’s KTEN-TV.

“After that, I began working in corporate communications at Pre-Paid Legal,” he said. “I did that for about five years, living in Ada and then Austin. I came back to Oklahoma City in 1993 and started building houses and doing morning news at the KATT.”

Jack Elliott (left) and Ron Williams, radio hosts at FUN 96.9 FM and longtime, local on-air personalities. (Gazette / file)
  • Gazette / file
  • Jack Elliott (left) and Ron Williams, radio hosts at FUN 96.9 FM and longtime, local on-air personalities.

Fast lane

During his early years, Cox said, he really didn’t face many struggles. When he moved back home, his problems began.

“In 1995, I started a home-building business,” he said. “I was also on the air in the morning at KATT, and then in April that year, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. Coverage of that event became my full-time job. In addition to KATT, I was ‘stringing’ for NBC Radio Networks and dozens of local radio stations around the country. My home-building business suffered from neglect, and I quickly got into a financial bind. Then I started using meth.”

At first, Cox said the meth seemed to help him keep up with the over-scheduling. That’s when his life spiraled out of control.

He began selling off assets and admitted he fraudulently obtained money to support his lifestyle and drug use.

By the early years of the new millennium, his lifestyle finally caught up with him — and so did the feds.

“In March of 2004, I was indicted for committing financial crimes. I continued using drugs for the next year while I was on pretrial release awaiting negotiations and sentencing,” he said. “I served a little over a year in federal prison. When I got out in 2006, I picked up my meth use where I had left off. It was a matter of weeks before I had taken what I had learned in federal prison about new and more sophisticated financial crimes and was using my newfound criminal knowledge to support a more profound drug habit.”

Again, the police came knocking and Cox was charged with a list of drug and financial crimes. He was sent back to federal prison — this time for a longer period.

Turning point

“My attorney came to see me in the Oklahoma County Jail in the spring of 2008. He showed me the papers detailing everything I had been charged with, along with the evidence the state had to support those charges,” Cox said. “He said if we didn’t get the most severe charges reduced or dropped that I would grow old in prison. I knew I was guilty of everything I had been charged with.”

So it was back to prison for the former golden boy of the airwaves.

But this time, he knew it was different.

“I knew that if I was ever going to get out of the proverbial revolving door criminal justice system that I would have to do things differently this time. Instead of treating the time as ‘crime school,’ I focused on reinventing myself,” he said. “I enrolled in Louisiana State University through a prison satellite program and took courses in psychology and sociology. I was released late in 2012. I can honestly say I have been off drugs since March 2008 — with a one-time use relapse in 2013.”

Sober living

Cox said a combination of maturation, prioritization and survival led him to turn his life around. He credits his years in prison as one of the most sobering times of his life.

“When I was assigned an inmate number, I quickly realized the days of backstage passes and VIP seating had ended,” he said. “I honestly believe the time I spent in prison saved my life. I was 40 years old before I came to the realization that this world was not here just to serve me and my selfish desires.”

After his release, Cox left behind the radio business and his old lifestyle. It was quite a change, he explained, going from big-time announcer to owning a sober living house.

But he smiles when he talks about his passion for helping others.

“It was a gradual process, but I have learned the best way for me to get what I want out of life is to help others get what they want out of life,” he said. “Every single day, I have the privilege of working with individuals who are putting in the work to improve their present situations.”

His big project these days is Kelham House Sober Living transitional facilities in Oklahoma City for those who are struggling to re-enter society.

Each venue can handle 20-30 people and helps them get their lives back on track.

“Many of these people are fresh out of jail, and if they didn’t have a place like this to go, they most likely would go back to their old lifestyle,” Cox said. “So often I hear, ‘If I didn’t have you, I would be using again.’ That makes me feel good to know I am making a difference and helping them become a law-abiding citizen.”

Getting sober is not rocket science, Cox said.

Learning to help others comes naturally, and he uses some of the skills he gained while getting sober.

“I learned this business the same way I learned the radio business, by just doing it,” he said. “I spent a decade with the feds trying to rehab me. Finally, through trial and error, I got to where I am today. I have been where my clients are; I know firsthand the struggles they are facing, and that’s where I can put to use every bit of compassion and common sense to help them through these times.”

Longtime friends

Looking back on his life and his career, Cox said some former friends and colleagues from his radio years are supportive — others not so much.

“There’s a stigma that goes along with the choices I made,” he said. “Some friends avoid me, but others who I considered true friends have stood by me. I appreciate them and value their friendships.”

One of those longtime friends is radio personality Jack Elliott, who worked with Cox at WKY in the early 1980s.

“I have a million Cam stories,” Elliott said. “One day, I was doing production before my 3 p.m. air shift. It was about 11:15 a.m., and Cam called on a mobile phone, asking if I wanted to grab lunch at Johnnie’s. I said, ‘Sure. Sounds great.’ He picked me up at the front door. I walked out, hopped in his car and off we go.

“Remember, this is early 1980s and most people didn’t have a cellphone at that time, but Cam had two!” he recalled. “After lunch, I said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be at school?’ He said he was taking an ‘extended lunch break.’ Then I said, ‘Hey, I’ve known you several years, but just how old are you?’ Cam looked at me and said 15. So I’m in dismay. This kid is 15, no driver’s license, no learner’s permit. He has a car and two cellphones.”

But that was Cam, Elliott said.

“That’s the way he lived, always 10 years older than his actual age,” he added. “To this day, I consider him a great friend. He has had his share of issues over the years, but I am so glad he has managed to overcome those.”

Looking back, Cox gets wistful thinking what he might tell the 13-year-old version of himself.

“My life today is much different from where I thought it would be when I was that little 13-year-old kid starting out in the radio business,” Cox said. “But what I am doing is so rewarding, and I am proud of the people I work with. It’s impossible to explain the heartbreak and pain that goes along with a lifestyle of drugs and crime. It’s something no one understands unless they suffer through it. I’ve been there. Sure, there are times when I miss radio, but this is who Cam Cox is today, and I like him.”

Learn more about Kelham House Sober Living by calling 405-301-2005 and searching for the halfway house on Facebook.

Print headline: Air time, Longtime Oklahoma City radio personality Cam Cox dumped his celebrity- and drug-filled, selfish lifestyle and dedicated himself to helping others in recovery.

Editor's note: A cutline was edited to correct the radio station for which Jack Elliott and Ron Williams now work for.

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