Soul Survivor

updated 07/08/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/08/1996 01:00AM

A BREATHLESS CALLER IS PUT ON the air at New York City radio station KISS-FM. "You have the most beautiful voice," Barbara from New Jersey tells the deejay. "Oh, God, your voice just melts me." The deejay simply grins. After all, Isaac Hayes and his legendary larynx have been liquefying fans for nearly three decades.

Only now he's doing it five mornings a week, from 6 to 10, across the dial from the likes of Howard Stern. Exactly how did this soulful '70s crooner with two Grammys, an Oscar for the Shaft score and 22 solo albums wind up hosting his own drive-time show?

"Radio has always been a dream of mine," says Hayes, 53. "I just never told anybody." After cutting promos for KISS, Hayes was offered a permanent slot. He went on the air in April with a free-form show mixing guest chat and spontaneous songwriting.

Hayes has been making music ever since he sang in an Easter pageant at age 3. Raised in near-poverty by his sharecropper grandparents, the Covington, Tenn., native picked cotton and worked in a slaughterhouse before his 1969 debut album, Hot Buttered Soul, established him as an R&B sensation. Married and divorced three times, Hayes hit bottom in 1976 when financial mismanagement forced him to file for bankruptcy. Converting to Scientology four years ago "turned my life around," says Hayes, who in 1995 ended a seven-year recording drought with two CDs. He's planning another based on songs he writes for his show.

The hardest part of Hayes's second act turns out to be the schedule. "I'm a musician, so getting up at 4 a.m. is kind of unnatural," he explains. "I usually so to bed around that time."

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