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"Who the hell does this weird show"

Celebrating 30 years on WORT on March 20th

My first appearance on WORT was on March 20th, 1986.
I was a replacement for Maggie Steele on the Thursday edition of On The Horizon, which aired Monday through Friday from 10:30 to Noon as a daily international music show with different hosts each day.

In October of 1986, WORT changed its morning format from a split 90 minutes of folk music / 90 minutes of international music to a single three hour music show airing from 9 am to Noon. The 90 minutes of Thursday's Wild Hog in the Woods Radio Show, hosted by Ken Rineer, was added to my programming time. My first three hour program, O's Own Folk, aired on October 9th, 1986. I changed the name to Diaspora on April 13th, 1995.

Time sure flies. In 1986, it was a struggle to find any international music. There was no world wide web. There was no Songlines or Global Rhythm Music magazines to help me locate good music. Compact disks were almost 10 years in the future. My entire show was played from 12" vinyl records, the occasional 45 or 78 and even from cassette tapes (remember those?). Now there is a cornucopia of wonderful music just a few mouse clicks away.


A Lifetime in Radio


I've worked in or with radios almost my entire life. WORT was the first place that gave me an opportunity to do a real, semi-legitimate radio show. For this I am deeply grateful to the people in the community who support WORT.

In 1966, my father gave me 25 cents to buy a Crosley radio at a garage sale. I was 12. I discovered new radio stations like the wonderful KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas that played powerful rock and roll allowing my ears to escape the narrow confines of the top 40 bubblegum dominating Milwaukee airwaves.

The Crosley radio also had one shortwave band which enabled me to start hearing strange languages and music from around the world, thirty years before the internet made such experiences commonplace. That Crosley started a lifelong fascination with radios. I still have it in my office.

I passed my first amateur radio license exam in 1970 but rarely used it to talk to other "hams." In high school, I used the knowledge to build and run a short-lived pirate radio station on 1610 kHz, which we called KLAM "The Voice of the Bearded Clam" (inspired by a spoof children's book in the monthly National Lampoon).

As an electrical engineering student at UW-Milwaukee, I passed my FCC Radiotelephone license in 1973 and began working for the college station, WUWM. The station was switching to stereo. I mainly built and installed equipment.

Oddly enough, this change at WUWM forced WORT to move from its original frequency 89.7 MHz to its present frequency 89.9 MHz. WORT was just a scrappy upstart at that time.


My best memory of WUWM was when a news host arrived bemoaning an interview he had scheduled with Phillip Proctor and Peter Bergman of The Firesign Theater. He knew nothing about the group.

The Firesign Theater was instrumental in saving my psyche from the appalling boredom, social stress and urban malevolence of my high school, which was a place of true madness.

I wrote a list of questions and gave him background, then hung out with Phillip and Peter before and after the interview. A cosmic moment.

Then I spent years wandering the aesthetic wastelands of the UW Madison College or Engineering, working odd jobs on six story tall multi-million volt spark generators and a tiny piece of the Hubble Space Telescope to put myself through college. Along the way, I started working part-time for Wisconsin Public Radio.
I worked with amazing, creative and passionate people at Wisconsin Public Radio. A few of them survived the Jack Mitchell years when homogenization and expansion usually trumped artistic concerns. I'll always treasure my memories of working with Lonnie Cooks, Michael Hanson, Lucy Sumner, Robert Russell, Mary Mead, Tom Adams, Art Oster, Don Seib, Marv & Vicky Nonn, Buzz Kemper, Tom Blain, Randall Davidson, Judy Rose, Tom Martin-Erickson and the many other staffers who dearly loved radio and pushed to use its potential to enlighten and and entertain. WPR-logo
I also had my 15 minutes of fame at WPR. One snowy New Year's Eve, the student operator ended her shift and no one had showed up to replace her. I called Jim Fleming, who was hosting a party at his home. He was clearly torn between his loyalty to the network and his guests. I offered to host the show, which was the sort of canned classic filler Jack Mitchell preferred over live programming by real people. I rolled the tapes, made the announcements at all the scripted times, turned out the lights and disappeared forever from the Public Radio airwaves.

After that I gave up trying to find a way to get airborne at WPR. The programming day was steadily filling up with canned programming. Student and part-time programmers had disappeared and full-time musical hosts were being squeezed out. I still listen to WPR, but rarely for music. The writing was on the wall for lovers of obscure music.

I began volunteering at WORT. If I couldn't find a job doing radio, I'd simply find a way to do radio for free. I started hosting the percursor of Diaspora while still working for WPR.

I was at WPR for thirteen years, until Gov. Tommy Thompson eliminated 13 jobs in my division as part of a budget bill. There's always a lot of right-wing pressure to clip the wings of public broadcasting. I hope they never succeed. It is a national treasure gleaming out the surrounding wasteland of airtime.

After Gov. Tommy chased me out of Wisconsin Public Radio, I started two businesses in succession, scraping by only because my wife carried the health insurance. When she needed to change jobs, I had to find an income with benefits. I started teaching part-time at Madison Area Technical College. It was a short-lived job. On the Monday of Spring Break I received a phone call. Did I want to go from teaching one electronics course to teaching five courses, an overload, for the rest for the semester? I don't know how I survived, but they must have liked me. I was hired as a full-time instructor the following summer.

And I taught the only radio course in the curriculum, about the technology, not the art.

Diaspora is hosted by Terry O', a WORT volunteer since 1985. He can be contacted here.
WORT-FM is a volunteer powered, listener-sponsored, community radio station founded in 1975.