I have been interested in the talk-radio phenomenon for some time. Both the motivations of the callers and the personalities of the talk-show hosts intrigue me. Many months ago, I came across Don Wade and Roma while surfing the AM stations. They host an early morning program on WLS-AM 890 from 5 to 9am, bringing divergent views on nearly every subject to the airwaves. The pair, however, blend their differences into an enjoyable program. I wrote to Roma requesting an interview and found her very accommodating. When I could keep her in "interview mode," I discovered an intensely engaging and thoughtful person. But this vivacious personality repeatedly turned the tables on me, wanting to know how I felt about a particular issue.
Al: Tell me how you got into radio.
Al: I think those in the arts: writers, painters, singers--try to put meaning into their own personal madness. At least for me, I can look at my writing over the past decade and see by the number of articles that I have written whether I was happy or depressed. The greater the depression--the greater the number of writings. Writing for me is my attempt to put perimeters on chaos.
Roma: That's exactly my theory. My favorite writing students were the most troubled; they were the ones that could write most tellingly. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I think that I've been too damn happy so far in life.
Al: How did you make the shift from teaching to radio?
This past Christmas, my mother visited me. I was writing thank-you notes at sunrise one morning back in the corner of my living room. As my mother came into the room, she was just fascinated by the way the light played with each little crystal piece that hang in the window. She had no idea that I was there watching as she went from one sparkling piece to the next, like a little kid. Can you imagine at ninety jumping out of bed and enjoying the beauty of reflected light? I thank God for giving me those kinds of genes.
Al: I heard Gene Siskel say that when he interviews someone, he asks
what that person's favorite movie is. He thinks that he can get
to know the person better because the movie answer may give a
more accurate picture of the person than a direct question. So,
what is your favorite movie?
Al: What about a favorite quotation?
Roma: There is one framed on my office called The Stations by Robert Hastings. I've used in The Red Book year after year because the message is so important. We shouldn't be looking for the destination--graduation, marriage, promotion, a Mercedes--because the final destination ultimately is death. Instead, savor all the things that we encounter along the way. Life is always offering up opportunities if we live it in the present, moment by moment. Serendipity should always be our guide in life or we will find ourselves on our death bed with a list of regrets.
Al: Tell me about the production of your show. When does most of the research
and work get done?
Al: How long do you have to get your face on, interact with the
riders, and get to the studio?
It's crazy around here. By 4:00am it's really cranking. Then we line up the program. I'm the choreographer, setting up the chronology for issues. We try to do hard, soft, hard, soft, alternating the half-hour segments so that when we have something serious, the next piece tends to be light or funny. We try to give the items a balance. The show is heavily news oriented so we try to give our listeners a handle to look at news events and a sense of humor to enjoy them.
Al: Was there a conscious attempt to balance you and Don? He holds very strong beliefs--especially when it comes to politics. You seem much more to the middle of the road. He tends toward the strident, and you are more nurturing. Was this intentional?
Roma: No, not at all. I really didn't know very much about his political views. We were together originally not on talk-radio but as partners on a rock-n-roil program. Off the air, Don is extremely quiet. At a party, you wouldn't know when he left because he does leave. Off the air, I'm the loquacious one, but I'm just the opposite on the air. Don looks at things as cut and dried, black and white, right and wrong; I tend to see both sides of the issue. It is just our natures, and it is a good balance for the show.
Al: How did you and Don evolve from disc jockeys to talk-radio hosts?
Roma: Well, we did more playing around on the air than we did playing records. It was then that the readings from The Red Book started. Don entertained listeners with his imaginary characters: Peter Suckwell, General Nuisance and his aide, Private Parts, Mother Goose Grease, and Sheriff C. W. Turnipseedall of whom lived in his head. Neither one of us knew that we could do talk-radio. We just evolved into it. Then the station format followed our lead.
further question about the Don Wade and Roma Show: how do you
handle all the conflict and strongly held opinions of the
listeners or Don? You put yourself on the line for
hours--everyday. Doesn't the buffeting of opposing opinions wear
Roma: Our producers marvel at this ability. They say my emotions rarely get hooked. However, if the listener gets in there and snags my ego, then I respond by verbally grabbing them by the collar and telling them what I think. That always surprises people because it rarely happens. If my ego doesn't get hooked, then differing opinions don't bother me at all. Does that make any sense?
Al: I understand what you
are saying about getting your ego enmeshed in a listener's issue.
However, what about differing opinions between you and Don? How
do you handle an off-the-air relationship with someone with whom
you often differ on the air? And you seem to be able to handle
disagreement everyday for hours. Isn't that emotionally tiring? I
can see how you can blow-off some opinionated listener. But how
do you deal with the divergent opinions of someone close to you?
In the same way, being with Don gives me the freedom to be me. When I first met Don, I didn't know that he was a political conservative. I used to march and protest. "Peace." "No more war." When I first met Don, he had a long ponytail. I didn't know anything about his politics, but I did know that he is a good, good person.
Al: He seems to get hooked on political issues.
Roma: I tell him that he is getting to believe this Republican/Democratic thing too deeply. All this political stuff is unreal. He is letting something unreal get to him. It's like time. I don't believe in time either--I don't even wear a watch. Time is a man-made construct. I don't have a computer either. Computers are the devil. The Unabomber is right. The computer will consume you. I don't have enough time in the day. Add a computer to my day and where would I find the time? I went to bed last night at 7:34pm and got up at midnight. That's not enough--four hours and twenty-six minutes of sleep. What time I have, I want to spend it with my Red Book, thoughts, friends, family, plus living and loving creatively--making a difference in the lives I touch.
Al: What is the next stage of your evolution in personal growth?
Roma: I love carpentry, making furniture, or gutting a house. I also want to sculpt. I want to build a structure over-looking Puget Sound. From there, I would like to travel around the world, teach yoga, and write. I've learned a lot from talk-radio. It has been like teaching. You have a new lesson plan everyday. But, I am getting itchy feet. I can feel it coming. I can feel the momentum building. I love hearing the voice that swirls around within me. It's like getting a chocolate urge, only far more significant, more spiritual. It's like waking up in the middle of the night hearing the voice whispering, "Roma, Roma, it's time."
Al: You sound like Kostner in Field of Dreams. Both of you hear the voice. Kostner in a cornfield and Roma in the canyons of Chicago.
Roma: Right. Life is inspiration. I love exploring unknown territory.
Al: After you day in the sun is over and you breathe your last, how do you want to be remembered?
Roma: Epitaph: Love was her life's mission, and love never dies.
Al: What is death?
Al: Henry Ward Beecher, the great Abolitionist of the last century, said as he died, "And now comes the mystery." When I die, I think that who I am is merged into the essence of God. This may sound Eastern, but I think that theology is also in Christianity.
Roma: You reunite with It, God, the One.
Check out the related article, AVOIDING THE HOOK.