***Housekeeping note *** As this is a work in progress, I’ll likely go in and edit and change a lot of it as we go along. Like the opening of the project. On my first draft, I opened with my recurring dream about the elusive radio station of my dreams. But a week later I went in and changed it to the reality of the nightmare we’re living through. It may change again… we’ll see….
I keep thinking that this is all just a terrifying nightmare. That I’ll awaken and it’ll be Nov. 9, 2016 and Donald Trump will go down to the biggest defeat in the history of presidential elections. Or that I’ll awaken again today, and the only pandemic affecting the world is one in a dystopian movie that hasn’t yet eclipsed reality.
Sure, the last few years under a Hillary Clinton administration wouldn’t have been pretty, but then again, we wouldn’t be living with the images of children separated from their parents and kept in cages seared into our collective memory. And I somehow believe that our government under Democratic rule wouldn’t have botched the response to a global pandemic as horrendously as this one has.
At this moment the world is in shutdown mode, with the planet’s billions of occupants, for the most part, practicing “social distancing” – a term that entered the vernacular just months ago with the onset of the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19. We’re in the midst of a shared global experience that finds us all staying at home, avoiding any contact with other human beings outside of the immediate household in which we live, as we attempt to halt the spread of the long-feared major pandemic.
It’s only April, but 2020 is shaping up to be the most consequential year of my long life.
I’ve already been staying “safer at home” for only about three weeks so far, but everything has change, and we have no idea how long our collective uncertainty will continue. And now, in addition to battling a global pandemic that’s already killed over 100,000 people, we’re headed for a long-awaited election day in November that will hopefully rid us of the madman who’s inhabited the oval office and has systematically been dismantling the rule of law since Jan 20, 2017.
To be honest, the quarantine hasn’t changed my workday life much. I’ve worked exclusively from my home studio since August of 2008. I was fired from my job hosting the morning show at WINZ, then South Florida’s only progressive talk radio station, ahead of its format change to become the 4th sports-talk station in the market. To add insult to injury, I was fired at the end of my show the Friday before the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver began.
Since that time, I’ve been self-employed. Fill-in work led to a nightly program on the struggling Air America Radio Network, where I hosted a late-night show for the final year of so of the network’s existence. It went under on January 21, 2010, the same day the Supreme Court upended over a century of campaign finance law with its Citizens United ruling.
That night, I moved my show online, where it remains to this day.
Since this project isn’t your typical memoir in a book, I’ll be sharing lots of related multi-media materials – from audio tape to videos, photos, articles and more. I don’t necessarily envision those who partake in the project listening to every clip included, I’m sharing it all to present as complete a story as I can, drawn from the mountains of media I’ve amassed over the past 40 years or so in my life in radio.
I shouldn’t be surprised that the reality of living through a global pandemic with all of the shelter-in-place restrictions we never could have imagined just a few months ago has motivated many of us, myself included, to take stock of our lives and, in my case, to document some of the highlights.
So, I’ll spend my quarantine time continuing to work as usual, but using some of my spare time to put together this multi-media history of my radio life and times…
Radio is the medium that captured my imagination and my heart, and was my professional home for four decades, but radio today is quite different from what it was when I first cracked open the microphone at WUSF in 1979.
As much as I love the idea of having been part of an underground hippie-run station from the early days of FM radio, I was a little too late for that party. It did exist at WUSF, but a few years before I got there.
The Underground Railroad was fairly close to what my imagination conjures up regularly in my recurring dream about finding my elusive perfect station. It was the cool radio station that everyone listened to, until the University of South Florida and station management decided to take that valuable 100,000 watt signal, kick out the students, and play classical music to “serve the people of the Tampa Bay area”.
When I got to USF in 1978, the campus radio station had zero student involvement. Dr. Manny Lucoff – the professor who headed up the Broadcasting Dept in the School of Mass Communications – was the turncoat behind the deceit. He was responsible for bargaining away the Underground Railroad some five years earlier and making sure that the students studying broadcasting had no interest in or presence at the campus radio station.
As is my tendency I bucked the rules, and wound up as one of the only students at WUSF, hosting the only student programming – “Free Form Radio” Friday and Saturday nights, foreshadowing a life filled with challenging authority.
Radio was where we gathered when disaster happened; it was the logical place for community in the pre-internet era. On December 8, 1980, I was in my Tampa apartment studying for an exam with, for some unapparent reason, Monday Night Football on the TV in the background. The world stopped when Howard Cosell announced that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his apartment at the Dakota in NYC.
I numbly stumbled into my car and drove over to the WUSF studios. Late-night Jazz was a bit more palatable than the regular daytime classical programming that didn’t exactly serve the student population. My boyfriend at the time Stu Septoff, our Program Director Mike Cornette and another friend and radio station regular Tim (whose last name escapes me after all these years) were already there preparing for the jazz show. It obviously became a night that none of us will ever forget as we gathered on the radio to celebrate the life and music of John Lennon.
Sadly, I don’t have any recorded evidence of what went out over the airwaves over Tampa that night, but I’m sure we laughed and cried and bared our souls about our love for a man none of us had ever met in person, but who had personally touched us all in the most personal of ways.
Music was the force that led to me a career in radio in the first place. I had always been a lazy student. I got mostly Bs with a few As and Cs sprinkled in despite exerting little effort. In my spare time growing up in Hollywood, Florida in the seventies, I mostly went to the beach, listened to music, smoked a lot of pot and went to a lot of concerts.
I remember lying in my bed perusing the University of South Florida course catalog trying to figure out a major when I kept returning to broadcasting, figuring I could play music on the radio and not much would have to change! It really was that simple and lazy of a decision! But more about that misguided decision which included the reason I went to USF in Tampa instead of University of Florida in Gainseville, which had a much better radio station and Broadcasting Department, another time.
For now, it’s back to the idea of radio as a gathering place in times of crisis.
Although I don’t have any recorded evidence of the comforting magic we created in the WUSF studios the night John Lennon was killed, I do know that we will continue to lose our musical heroes as death is unfortunately inevitable, and all of us continue getting older.
(A morbid thought as I ponder death while sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic in April of 2020. People are dying at a frightening pace, and I realize that many of our rock heroes/legends are way up there in age, I fear we’re in for an era of sad goodbyes ahead…)
I’m surprised there weren’t more instances where I’ve had to deal with the death of a legend on the air. But it happened again on August 9, 1995.
At that time, I was working at Los Angeles’ Adult Album Alternative station, KSCA fm 101.9, co-hosting the morning show with Chuck Moshontz, with whom I had worked a few years earlier on the Mark & Brian Show at KLOS. A listener called in to tell us that Jerry Garcia had died.
Although I’d always liked the Grateful Dead and danced my way through a few of their concerts over the years, I’m not what anyone would consider a Deadhead. Perhaps that made me correct person to emerge as the host for Los Angeles’ celebration of Jerry Garcia’s life that began on the air that morning and continued throughout the evening at Griffith Park.
The beautiful part of putting together a project like this in the 21st century is the ability to pull in all types of media, thus my hesitancy to call it a “book”. In a book, I wouldn’t be able to include the *aircheck from that morning’s radio show!
*Aircheck – Just about everyone who’s ever been on the air in radio has an aircheck tape somewhere. It’s usually on a cassette that’s been recorded on a “skimmer”—a machine set up to record every time the microphone is flipped on, so it just gets the parts where the DJ is talking. Because our unique station was actually focused on the music, our skimmer was set up to record the segues or musical transitions from one song to another, so when listening you’ll get a feel for the songs we played that morning.
In listening back, it’s clear I was shell-shocked. Thankfully, I had a real news pro in Chuck Moshontz working with me. What’s included here is not meant to be a radio show per se, but rather as a slice of that day’s show. Listen to as much or as little as you want.
The tape in the skimmer ran out at that point, but you get the idea of how the day evolved. I stayed on the air for the next few hours, talking to listeners and playing their requests. The one other rock station on the air in LA at the time, KLOS, returned to regular programming, leaving us the only place for grieving Deadheads to gather.
The calls from listeners sparked the idea of a vigil for Jerry Garcia at LA’s Griffith Park that night, and it fell to me to oversee the planning and execution. Although my day had begun at 5am, I was at Griffith Park at 6pm when thousands of people began arriving.
August 9, 1995 was on a Wednesday. I didn’t actually remember that detail. Thanks to the internet, I can just look up the answers to questions like that. So I know that despite the fact that I worked a long, hard, emotional day that began when I awoke at 4am to host a radio show that hit the air at 6, dealt with the death of an icon and hosted a huge event that ran until probably 10pm, I was up the following morning with a 4am alarm to be on the air again at 6 to host a Los Angeles morning radio program, because that’s just what you do.
That’s what happens to me these days. I’ll start talking or thinking about something, and inevitably it leads me to a story. I’ve now lived through 60 turns around the sun with all the experiences those years brought to bear.
Never one to take the easy path or the popular route, I’ve made some epic mistakes and learned difficult lessons, but have also had extraordinary experiences that allow me to look back on my life’s work and accomplishments mostly proud.
Right now, we’re all in a strange place. And by all, I mean ALL. The entire planet is fighting the novel coronavirus which spawned this new nasty COVID-19 pandemic that’s got the whole world practicing social distancing, to use the latest vernacular. Or to put it more bluntly, staying the fuck at home and trying not to get sick and die.
For the past 15 years or so, I’ve mostly left the music world behind and immersed myself in news and politics, nothing I’d recommend to anyone for the sake of their mental health and sanity. When I get down and wistful, my mind goes to music. I think it’s trying to tell me something
I’m using this virus-imposed time at home to take stock of my sixty years, organize not only my thoughts but my media, and find a way to share a cross section of the musical memories, lessons learned, mistakes made and the many other moments that deserve better than to be relegated to the recycle bins of time.
So, this isn’t really a book, though there will lots to read. It’s not a radio show, though it will include quite a few of them- some in their entirety, and some segments… airchecks too.
It’s not on video, but I’ll include video when I have video to include. And pictures too.
It is what it is. But I’m not sure it has a name. It probably does have a title… the same one I came up with a few years back, when I didn’t know what I was giving the title to. Now I do. It’s Radio or Not.