Tell me about growing up in NYC.
I was born in the Bronx. We moved out when I was six, to Rockaway Beach, New York. It was 6 years of living probably 500 yards from the surf. It turned me into a beach kid; I’ve always loved the ocean, always wanted to live near water. I’ve lived in river cities all my life: New York, Washington, DC. Even the time I was in Buffalo, there was Lake Erie. The Niagara River is right there. And of course, Portland.
I lived in Rockaway Beach until I was twelve, then we moved out to Long Island, and I spent most of my youth on Long Island. Graduated from high school there, went off to college. When I flunked out of college in 1962, I hung out for a while, and then moved into the city as soon as I could. I lived in Brooklyn, lived in Manhattan, got married. The first 29 years of my life were spent either in the city or in the suburbs. Then we moved to Washington, DC. I lived there for 18 years before I moved here.
How did you get started in radio?
I was always a radio kid. When I was a kid, there was no TV, although we did get our first TV in 1947, the first one, as far as I know, on the whole block. So I was as radio kid from the beginning. Even after I started watching television like everyone else in America, I was very close to radio. When NPR came on, which was preceded by certain antecedents that were like NPR, I was right there. No ads, a lot of news, interesting features. I always got my music over the radio until I started buying a whole lot of records in my high school years. I was primarily listening to rock and roll and jazz in those days.
I always wanted to go on the radio. There was no radio program, per se, at the college I went to. I think there was a college radio station, but nobody I knew worked there or ever listened to it. When I lived in DC, I made several attempts to get on one of the local NPR stations, WAMU. Every time I got a producer interested in using me, he or she would quit or leave the station, and I really wasn’t high on their to-do list. I did do a lot of guest shots, on college radio like University of Virginia in Charlottesville, a couple of local NPR stations in DC: WETA and WAMU. I did a couple of guest things on local jazz radio. But I wasn’t sitting down in front of a console and doing things on the air. That didn’t happen until I moved here.
I volunteered at KBOO when I first moved here, say ’92. KBOO was a great place to learn radio, because it was very hands-on in those days. There was no digital editing, everything was done with razor blades and tape and that kind of thing. So you got a real feel for the way radio should be made. Plus, all their equipment was outdated and falling apart, so you had to learn to think quickly on the air. The best thing about KBOO was that if you screwed up, nobody cared, unless you did something major, like said one of the “magic words” on the air, or broke a piece of equipment because of negligence. So it was a great place to learn. I’m very grateful to them.
I was interim station manager for a while. Then they hired Suzanne White to be station manager. I became friends with her. Then she took the job at KBPS, which is what we were called back then. She needed someone on weekends at their classical station, so she asked me. That’s how I started here, as much as 15 years ago. I was here before Edmund or Robert. John Pitman was here.
What do you like about radio?
Do you know who Marshall McLuhan was? He was a theorist and a writer about communication. He coined the term “global village”, among other things. He foresaw what we have now, which is being marinated in information 24 hours a day. In those days, there wasn’t even the idea of an internet. He foresaw that that’s where we were headed. He said that TV is a “cool” medium. That is, you sit there and it washes over you: pictures, sounds, whatever you need. Radio, on the other hand, is a “hot” medium. You have to participate in it. You have to listen. And even if you’re getting news or information or talk shows, you are in the conversation. With music, it’s even more intimate, because you have to pay attention. There’s nothing between you and the music. Radio has been a companion to me for as long as I can remember. Literally, since I was three years old.
You had mentioned buying a lot of records. Do you still collect?
Not so much anymore. I really have to be impressed by something, or it has to hit one of my niche interests, like European cabaret music from the early 20th century. I have klezmer music at home. I have obscure country and western artists from the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Mountain string bands from places like West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. All of that folky type stuff really interests me.
Any particular favorite musicians or bands come to mind?
I saw Bob Dylan when he first came to New York. I had all of Dylan’s, Hendrix’s, Rolling Stones’ records. I liked the garage bands of the 60’s. The Seeds, The Shadows of Knight, bands like that, they used to knock me out. This was kids with two weeks of guitar lessons making music, you know? Anything by Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane. I found a compilation LP of Armstrong’s early stuff, and discovered the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, bands before he became a star. That stuff is magic. It’s stunning, even to this day.
You’re an award-winning novelist of detective fiction. How many have you written?
I’ve written five novels: Three under my own name with a detective named Lenny Schneider, and two under a pseudonym, basically as a contractor writer. I didn’t even own the characters, but I liked them. The first one was published in 1994. It was called Served Cold, set in New York. It was based on a real incident I read about in the newspaper, where a concentration camp survivor was walking down the street in New York one day, and saw one of the concentration camp guards that had tortured him in the camps. He strangled the guy with his bare hands. The judge said “Give this guy a medal. Next case.” Revenge is always a great hook to put a crime novel on, it really motivates people. And revenge is the dish that is, of course, “best served cold”, so the title of the book is Served Cold.
I was at a mystery convention in Seattle, at my publisher’s table, and somebody came and collected all the books. My pal from the publisher was very excited, but I didn’t know what this was about. I learned a few months later that I won the Shamus award, which is given for the best private investigator novel of the year. I had never even heard of the award before I won it.
You’ve conducted a lot of interviews over the years. Who would you love to interview?
I’d love to interview Stephen King. I don’t even think his books are as good as they used to be. But this man would sit down and write every single day, even if he never sold a book. He is driven to write. I wish I had some of that. Also, he’s free with his advice and his assistance to other writers. He’s a genuinely nice man, who wants to tell you how to write a good book. He’s generous with his time and generous with his work. All writers should read his book On Writing.
My father died just before I was born, and I would love to interview him.
I would love to interview Mark Twain. I’d love to go out and have a drink with him. Drink some bourbon whiskey. Just to sit down and listen to that man ramble would be okay with me.
And James Joyce. My two favorite books in the English language are Huckleberry Finn and Ulysses. So we could all sit around and drink. I would drink Irish whiskey with Joyce. Each of these guys was inventing something new every time they put pen to paper. In the case of Joyce, I still don’t have the guts to read Finnegan’s Wake. I think Ulysses has an undue reputation for being difficult. It’s not easy, but it’s not torture to read that book, especially if you have a British English dictionary, or an Oxford Universal. But in Finnegan’s Wake, he’s inventing some of those words as he goes along.
I’d love to go drinking with Louis Armstrong. And probably John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy. I’d like to just sit down and shoot the breeze with them.