It was April, 1969. I was a junior at Princeton University and the program director of WPRB. Dave Herman was an inspiration for his work on The Marconi Experiment, a free-form show on WMMR in Philadelphia (the sister station of WNEW-FM in New York). Impulsively, I decided to cold-call the Operations Manager at WMMR and ask if they had any plans for the day Herman went on vacation. “Well,” he replied, “he’s going on vacation next week, and the guy who was supposed to fill in can’t do it. Do you have a tape?”
“Yes,” I said, which was a lie. I stayed up all night making one, drove it down to Philadelphia, and WMMR was desperate enough to put a radio rookie on the air in a major market station. In that fortuitous moment I had a professional career, which, in spite of twists and turns, detours and false starts, hasn’t ended.
I feel very blessed to have survived as a radio lifer. On the first three Sundays in April on the Sunday Supper I’ll celebrate my 50th anniversary by airing highlights of some of my all-time favorite interview. (No presents, please, but with the first, on April 7, as part of WFUV’s spring membership drive, you can show your support with a contribution at support.wfuv.org.)
I worked on weekends at WMMR during my senior year, then, two days after graduation, packed all my belongings into a VW and drove out to Chicago for a full-time job. It turned out to be a fertile time in the Windy City, with Steve Goodman, John Prine, and others coming into their own as songwriters.
I spent the ‘70s in Chicago, including seven years as the program director of the pioneering progressive rock station WXRT. My anniversary special will begin with a conversation I had with Steve Goodman just before he released his first Arista album. I’ll also include interviews from Chicago with John Lennon (on the phone in 1974, but still…), Randy Newman, Lowell George (taped just two weeks before his death).
In 1979 I moved to New York to program the legendary jazz station, WRVR. Sadly, the station changed ownership (and format) a year later. Not wanting to become a radio gypsy, with a home and family in Queens, I had to adaptable and became the producer of a nationally syndicated program, Rock USA. It featured regular interviews, and two them, with Jerry Garcia and Ray Davies, are scheduled for the anniversary specials.
Following the demise of Rock USA, I took a variety of freelance jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Then in 1985 I got hired by WNEW-FM to produce Pete Fornatale’s Saturday Morning Sixties and Mixed Bag. Thus began a partnership that would last 11 years (including five at K-Rock) and a friendship that would last until his tragic death in 2012. Along with producing his interviews with legends like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen, it gave me a chance to do many interviews myself. My anniversary specials will include some choice examples, like Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Leon Russell, Elvis Costello, and John Prine.
In April, 1997, my life changed forever when I joined WFUV as the host of Sunday Breakfast. I’ve had the privilege over 22 years of welcoming literally hundreds of artists into the studio, so singling out favorites is a fool’s errand. Some that made the cut include sessions with Phoebe Snow, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, and Peter Yarrow with Noel Stookey. There was Rick Danko four months before his death and Dave Carter a mere four days before his. There were off-site conversations with Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Graham Nash, and Tony Bennett and, perhaps best of all for their eloquence, Rosanne Cash and Bobby McFerrin.
It’s been a long, strange trip, but I’m grateful that it continues, even in a one-hour format following my stroke last summer. I look forward, with your support, to many more years of shared music and conversation with icons and newcomers alike.