Radio Dreams Fulfilled

By John Gilstrap

I came of age during the 1970s. I was six years old when JFK was assassinated in 1963, and I lived in the Washington, DC, suburbs during the violence and political turmoil of 1968-74. Every radio in the house was tuned to WMAL AM630, and they were on pretty much all the time. I woke up to Harden and Weaver giving the time and weather forecast 20 times an hour, and went to bed with Felix Grant playing soft jazz in the background. (When snow was in the forecast, I of course slept with my pajamas turned inside-out as a talisman for schools to be closed. Messrs. Harden and Weaver would be the deliverer of that news, requiring an earlier alarm so I could go back to sleep if my wishes were granted.)

I dreamed back then of one day becoming a radio broadcaster. As I approached the end of my high school years, the lure of the Columbia School of Broadcasting was almost overwhelming. In the end, I went to college instead, at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where I hoped to join the staff of WCWM, the college radio station. Alas, that turned out to be a clique for people whose lifestyles were different from mine, and I found myself not welcome.

After I graduated and returned to the DC area, I became addicted to morning and evening drivetime radio. The Morning Zoo fad was huge there. Even in the early ’80s, commutes were long and brutal, so radio entertainment was essential. My shock jocks of choice were Don Geronimo & Mike O’Meara (“We’re fat, we’re white, we’re Catholic, and we’re sick about it.”) In the afternoons, I preferred a more staid commute, so it was back to WMAL and Trumbull and Core (originally called Two For The Road, but they changed it after MADD started making waves). That afternoon broadcast was all about local and national news, but with a fun spin.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the beginning of my writing career. I’ve lost track of the number of radio interviews I’ve done by way of promoting my books. Add podcasts to the list and it has to be in the hundreds. Technically, those qualified as “being on the radio” but it wasn’t the same. First of all, the vast majority are phone-in interviews, and for the most part, I’m telling the same stories and answering the same questions, back-to-back. It’s the nature of touring.

Then came May 3, 2022. My publicist in New York arranged an in-studio interview with WRNR Eastern Panhandle Talk Radio and TV10 in Martinsburg, WV, essentially in my new backyard. I had the whole last segment of the show, about 25 minutes, and it went very well. Lots of laughs. When the show was over and we were saying our goodbyes, I mentioned to Rob Mario, the host of the show, that I had always dreamed about being on the radio.

Bam! Right then and there, he offered me a slot in his rotating schedule of guest hosts. The format of the show is local and statewide politics and community activities. So far, I’ve interviewed the mayor of Martinsburg, the president of the Berkeley County council, the director of the Health Department, and a number of the local business stars. If you’re reading this on August 24 between the hours of 8 and 10 a.m. Eastern time, I am on the air now.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts here in TKZ that I’m a Type-A extrovert. One of my biggest concerns as we walked away from a lifetime of living in Northern Virginia was wondering how I was going to streamline the process of getting to know people in my new community. Living in Berkeley County, WV, is the very model of rural small town life. County fairs are still big news, and the local paper reports the substance of valedictory speeches from the local high schools. I worried about being the outsider.

And then this opportunity fell into my lap. I am humbled and thrilled. I’ve always been a news junkie, and now I get to talk one-on-one (in front of thousands of people) with the newsmakers themselves. In fact, my very first interview on my very first day as a co-host was all about West Virginia’s proposed abortion legislation. Yikes! I think it went well. (They did ask me back again (and again . . .))

To bring this back around to the true focus of TKZ, Being a writer and having books to sell provides many opportunities to get out in front of other people. The odds are stacked against introverted authors who cave in to their shy tendencies. By being out there, wherever there is, that moment of celebrity can blossom into tremendous opportunity. I figure it can’t hurt to be introduced at the top and bottom of each hour as “New York Times bestselling author John Gilstrap.” Let’s call that soft marketing. I swear I can hear listeners all over the Eastern Panhandle turning to the person next to them and saying, “I’ve never heard of him.” If a few turn to their internet machines and do a search, well, that can’t hurt either.

And if no one does that, that’s okay. I’m fulfilling my dream of being on the radio.

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Lethal Game, Blue Fire, Stealth Attack, Crimson Phoenix, Hellfire, Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

29 thoughts on “Radio Dreams Fulfilled

  1. Congratulations! So proud of you.
    I used to do PSAs for the radio station back home. I apprently have an “easy to wake up to” voice, whatever that is. Good times!

  2. Congratulations, John! Good advice on getting over our introversion and getting out there. And good luck with your radio work. I hope it is a long run and very fulfilling.

  3. Congratulations, John! I was what was known as a “dj” (disc jockey) in Akron and San Francisco in the early 1970s. It was quite a rush. I have had more than one person tell me that I had a face made for radio. What a compliment! Anyway, I’m listening to your lead in commercials right now (“I hear you hit your mom’s window with a softball!”).

  4. I consider being invited as a guest on a SinC webinar big time enough for me. Congrats on a realized dream. (I followed your link hoping to listen–it’s been 10 minutes of commercials so far, but I’ll keep the link open for a while longer and hope to hear you.)

  5. How fun, John! Congratulations! You have truly found the magic portal into small town life.

    For years, local radio stations have interviewed me about the annual writers conference and author events. Two hosts included a father and later his daughter who carried the family radio tradition to the second generation.

    I’m no longer nervous but, every time after the interview, there’s always the darn- it moment when I think I SHOULD have said this or that, even though I take a crib sheet.

    Any pointers on how to think faster on one’s feet?


    • Toastmasters International clubs have a feature called “Table Topics,” where the Toastmaster of the evening/morning assigns topics and selects speakers who must hold forth thereon for one to two minutes. It’s a great exercise for learning to think on your feet in public.

      Sometimes topics are assigned by drawing something from a hat: a newspaper clipping, a fortune cookie, a small object, a horoscope, almost anything.

      When one table topics speaker drew “Why is the sky blue?” he claimed to be an expert on atmospheric physics (he was a salesman) and said that although he knew the answer, it would be far too technical for the audience to follow. So he proposed dividing the question in two: “Why?” and “Is the sky blue?”

      He answered the first with “Why not?” and the second with “Yes, the sky is blue,” and sat down.

      Several resources here:

  6. Congratulations, John! I’ve always admired people who can keep things moving on a radio show. I imagine being extroverted is a huge advantage.

    I missed your show this morning. Let us know the schedule so I can listen to a future one.

  7. Wow, John! How cool is that?

    I’m one of those shy introverts whose best days are spent At Home, thank you very much.

    However . . . I was recently asked to speak at a local chapter of CWIMA (Christian Women in Media Assoc.), which I belong to in name only. I was going to immediately turn it down, but something held me back. I then met with the leader of the local group, got acquainted, and told myself why not?

    I’m on the schedule for September 18 for a half hour presentation.

    Am I scared? Yup!

    Am I going to do it? Yup! πŸ™‚

  8. Congratulations, John! Having watched some of your videos on YouTube, I’m not surprised you’re a great fit for them. You have a terrific voice, made for radio.

    It can be a bit intimidating to “put ourselves out there,” so to speak, but when we extend ourselves, we naturally tend to make connections, which is what being human is all about. Your post is an excellent example πŸ™‚

    Have a great day.

  9. John, you and Tony Brueski of “Real Ghost Stories Online” would be soulmates. He was born obsessed by radio and did pretend radio shows when he was little. By the time he was a teen, he was on a local radio station then moved on to major stations. He saw the handwriting on the wall as stations began to be gobbled up conglomerates and the voice talent was a small group of people in one location. Anyway, he used his skills to turn his annual “share your ghost story” into a very successful podcast.

  10. I received the notice of a TKZ blog for the first time in weeks, and it was too late to listen in. I’ll have to content myself with watching one of your Youtube videos which are very good.
    I’m also one of those Type A extroverts as well and I’ll talk anywhere, like next week where I’ll be speaking to our local Methodist Church senior ladies…

  11. Love this post John! I worked for a few years as a copywriter at a radio station and I loved the energy, the fun and the passion of people doing what they loved. It also made me a better writer – learning to say what you have to say the best way possible in 30 seconds taught me to think about every single word.
    So glad your dream came true.

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