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Sustainer Spotlight: Darrell Brogdon

Brogdon introduces the sold out crowd of onlookers to The Tiki Torches during a recent concert at Maceli's in downtown Lawrence. (Photo by Katie Counts/KPR Intern)

By Katie Counts / KPR Intern

For KPR's first-ever Sustainer Spotlight - a deep-dive into some of your favorite radio personalities - we're featuring our very own host of the Retro Cocktail Hour and KPR Program Director, Darrell Brogdon.

What was your first experience on the air?
There was one radio station in the town--an AM radio station and I got a job working weekends (while in high school) there with no experience... The first thing I did was being a DJ on the weekends. You know, Saturday night or Sunday night or early Sunday morning. The crummy shift on the weekend. 

So what first got you interested in public media or radio?
Actually when I was in college, I started listening to KERA in Dallas which is still the public radio station there, and the things they were doing were so much cooler than any other radio that was available at that time, and I was kind of heading to a career in television at that time, actually TV production. 

Where did you study?
I went to the University of North Texas which is north of Dallas... I became the program director of the radio station, and I received a small salary. At one point, I was working there and two other radio stations while I was going to college. It took me an extra year to finish because I had all of these jobs that I was doing. 

How did you get your start at KPR? 
I was offered a job here in 1982, so I've been here since the Jurassic Period, basically. I was working in a public radio station in Texas as program director, and then I came here to be program director.

Have you ever used an alternative “radio name”?
Yes I've had several. The first name I got hung with was "Lee Western," which was at a country station where I worked during college. The station manager came up with that one. At other stations I was "Dave King" and "Phil Marlow," usually names somebody else thought up and then I got stuck with them.

What do you listen to in your free time? 
I listen to a lot of Retro Cocktail type music, exotica music, jazz, movie music, classical music. I found that as I've gotten older, I've gotten more interested in other types of music, so I'll listen to a lot of different things now... The world is a lot bigger than just us and there's a lot of terrific music out there if we'll just listen to it and give it the time. And maybe you'll listen to it and decide, that's really not for me, but at least you gave it a chance. 

What's your version of the ideal day? How would you spend your day off?
I don't take many days off. My wife always says I have three jobs: my job as program director, my job hosting Retro Cocktail Hour, and my job producing Right Between the Ears. Because Right Between the Ears is a separate company now, and even though we stopped doing the sketch comedy show, we're continuing to produce shows on our own. We're going to do a production at Planet ComicCon in Kansas City in March. And we're going to do another one at the Plaza in Kansas City called PopCon in April. And I'm writing a play that we're going to do in July at the Fringe Festival. They're all radio-theatre projects. When I'm not here doing this job, I'm at home, either planning a Retro Cocktail Hour show, or I'm at my computer writing a script. That's why my wife says I have three jobs. Fortunately, she's very busy in her job so it's not like I'm not around very much.

What’s the writing process like for you?
My day starts now, before we even come in here. I'm up at 5:30 a.m. to spend 90 minutes writing, and then I come to work here. There's not a lot of distractions. It's very quiet. You can just focus on that and then you're done. The hardest part about putting your butt in the chair.

What is the most public radio thing you’ve ever done?
When I worked in public radio in Texas, the station got an arts grant to produce a documentary series on the history of Cajun music (the station was in East Texas, near the heart of Cajun country). So I spent weeks traveling around SE Louisiana interviewing musicians and historians and digging up early Cajun recordings from the 1930s and '40s.

What has been the most valuable mistake you've made in your career and what has it taught you?
Starting a radio theater company, although I don't really think that it was a mistake, it is certainly ill-advised. Who does that now? What do you expect to reap from that? It's not like you're going to make a ton of money from that... I consider it an ill-advised career move which has really been exhilarating and it has given me the opportunity to work with amazing people and work at the highest level with major league talent on a national scale. National Public Radio picked that up and broadcast it for a number of years. We were on Sirius Satellite Radio for 12 years.

What’s the biggest (perhaps funny) mistake you’ve ever made on the air?
Well, I lost it once during a newscast (years ago, at an AM station) when I read the name of the Japanese prime minister. I mispronounced it badly and what came out was not safe for work, or for radio. I tried to soldier on, but I started laughing and pretty quickly I was a pile of jello on the floor. There was another announcer in the studio with me, and I turned to him to somehow bail me out of this mess but when I turned around, he was on the floor (literally) laughing his face off.

Another time here at KPR we had a big delicious meal from a Mexican restaurant during the membership drive. Being from the Southwest, I love Mexican food, so I ate a lot of it. Then I went on the air to do a pledge break and belched rather loudly into the microphone. I lost it there, too, and so did everyone else in the room. That was back in the old building when the pitch team and the phone operators were all in the same room, so things fell apart pretty fast. I wish I had a tape of that one!

If you'd prefer to listen to some of Katie and Darrell's conversation, click on the audio link below:

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