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My Radio Friends

Notice, y'all: I'll be incommunicado (at least by phone) from 7 p.m. on. I'll be listening to Don Geronimo's last show before he retires.

This is indeed a big deal for me. Don's been a fixture in my radio diet since fall 1984, when he was on Washington, D.C.'s then-Top 40 station WAVA hosting an afternoon show. In late 1985 he joined behind-the-scenes radio guy Mike O'Meara to host WAVA's Morning Zoo, and the result became my personal Platonic ideal for a morning radio show: funny and successfully soap-opera-y. Don and Mike are good performers as well as DJs, and they have a sense of soap opera drama, and they had storylines going on behind the jokes, storylines from their real lives and storylines for the characters they created, like the low-IQ'd, enthusiastic assistant Charley Stuangstabalac and the beautiful Greek heiress Baklava Souvlaki.

In 1991 I followed Don and Mike to their new station, WJFK (when WAVA was bought by a Christian media company which would make it into a religious-themed station), and then followed their spread into national syndication. (They briefly aired in Eugene, Oregon when I was at college there. I remember Don saying "I cried during Star Trek: Generations. Because it was so bad.") They've aired on at least three separate stations in Portland during my time here; most recently Rick Emerson was kind enough to program them on AM 970. And it's been a long, rewarding listening relationship, filled with wonderful moments like Don's 2004 interview with Brian Wilson, bizarrities like what Don found out about his adoptive family -- lonnnnng story, and talk about something soap oepra-like -- and genuine tragedy like the death in 2005 of Freda Wright-Sorce, Don's wife.

I've been listening to this week's "Ultimate Best Of Don & Mike," which their assistant Rob Spewak and news guy Buzz Burbank hosted. In fact I stayed up last night until 11 to hear to the very end. I likely will do that again tonight. By the end of last night's "Best Of" show, Buzz Burbank sounded like he was trying not to get emotional. Soon I'll hear how they all do on Don's last show.

Thank you for being a fixture for much of my media-savvy life, Donald P. Geronimo.

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chris_walsh
Apr. 13th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
Emotional, as you could expect. Don and Mike reminisced about milestones in their shared career, like the tragedy shows (the day after the loss of the Challenger and later, of course, 9/11) that showed they could deal with the deadly serious as easily as doing their soap opera stunts, playing characters (they did no character voices on this last show, by the way), or reading "Crooks Are Stupid." And they marveled happily at the discovery back in 1985 that they had chemistry, which is why the station took the chance and gave them the morning show.

Don thanked a lot of people who helped him channel his talent throughout his radio career; it was a lot of people. (I was happy to hear him praise Alan Goodman for his understanding of the theatrical aspects of radio, the "Theater of the Mind"; as much as Alan, Don and Mike drove each other nuts at WAVA, they all really respected each other.) They did plenty of reminiscing and joking, like about their attraction to Kim "Boomer" Anderson or how talented Sherri "Liquor" Elliker was. They also praised Frank Murphy's work, and that was magnanimous of them; I know Don, at least, was rather put out by Frank's very passive-aggressive way of quitting the show back when they left WAVA, but he never brought that up last night. Don said more than once "I'm just a stupid DJ"; but he felt he had been blessed by the talent and the love he surrounded himself with through much of his career. He allowed himself to brag about how all of the major players on the upcoming Mike O'Meara Show are people he originally chose. He talked about his amazement and joy that he's found love twice, calling both Freda and Janet "angels" -- he added "It's like I've won the lottery twice" -- and he thanked God for bringing them into his life.

Don and Mike started with Buzz and Rob in the studio with them. They had a heart-to-heart with Rob, both praising and ribbing him about his devotion to radio in general and their show in particular (much of this week's "Best Of" segments were from his personal tape collection, some of it from before he started calling in as Jimmy Stewart), but also sincerely praising his devotion to his family. Then Rob left the studio (and the station, going home early), and they next had a heart-to-heart with Buzz. That ended with Buzz leaving early. Don and Mike talked for a while, after which Mike left for home; Don wanted to end the show with just him speaking in the studio, and nearly the last hour was just him talking directly to the audience, much like his first show back after Freda's death.

Don said several times throughout the four hours that he plans never to do the same type of show again; though he can imagine returning to radio in the future because he loves the field so much, their show's particular format reminds him too much of Freda. He felt the need to move on so that he can be less wrapped up in Freda's memory, and be more present for Janet, his family and friends. He said (news to me) that he and Janet plan to get married. Near the end, he played Jimmy Buffett's "Come Monday," because Monday he will do his damnedest not to be thinking about the program; he also asked people "Don't be an ass. Listen to Mike's show." He said to Mike over the air "Don't F it up." (No, he didn't drop the F-bomb, though I wonder if he was tempted to do so.) One of the very last things he said was "Love you Freda, love you Bart, love you Amy, love you Janet, love you Big Freda..."

He ended the show with The Beatles's "In My Life" and a sound effect: the door opening and closing.
(Deleted comment)
chris_walsh
Apr. 15th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Podcasts of Don's final show are up on this page at WKFK.com. I don't have time to check if that's the whole show, but it's at least a lot of it.
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