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.