Sunday, August 6, 2017

now our children grow up prisoners, all their life, radio listeners

There are moments in the life of every parent that stand out as "proud moments." Seeing your child take his first steps. Hearing your child say his first words. First day of school, stellar report cards, praise from teachers, graduation. Then there's Bar or Bat Mitzvah or whatever is the non-Jewish equivalent (confirmation? baptism? coronation? I don't know...). The list goes on with parents beaming with each subsequent accomplishment. This past weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I witnessed an event that made us the proudest we have ever been.

Our son's first "Meet and Greet."

My son E. always expressed an interest in music. As soon as he could talk, he was rattling off the lyrics to Grateful Dead songs, thanks to numerous car rides with his mother. ("Tennessee Jed" was a favorite.) He loved listening to the Beatles and other "classic rock" mainstays, in addition to the eclectic influence of my musical tastes. I introduced my boy to such indie hidden gems as Stan Ridgway (former lead singer of noir new wavers Wall of Voodoo), Michael Penn, Moxy Fruvous and even guitar slingers Dinosaur Jr. and nouveau-ska purveyors The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. While other kids his age were bored by the likes of Raffi, E. was grooving to Garbage and Liz Phair.

As he got older, he made mixtapes (well... CDs anyway) to distribute to and enlighten his contemporaries. He tried to steer his peer group away from the shallowness of Britney Spears and The Spice Girls, exposing them to whatever new finds he discovered on radio stations in the uncharted far left of the dial. And one of those stations was Philadelphia's WXPN.

When E. was winding down his time in high school, he applied for an internship at his beloved WXPN and, all on his own, was accepted. He was slowly introduced to the ins-and-outs of a radio station. He did a lot of administrative tasks, like logging daily playlists and other related data. He gladly fetched refreshments for visiting bands who stopped by for interviews. (He picked up lunch for alt-rockers Guster and learned that indie guitarist KT Tunstall likes her tea strong.) At the same time, E. began another internship with local legend Gene Shay, long-time host of a folk music show on WXPN on Sunday nights. On Gene's show, E. learned how to set up a studio for live performances, how to program music and other technical aspects of the radio business with which I am unfamiliar. 

When E. entered college, he continued his time at WXPN. He became more adept at "running the board," a term for radio production that I won't pretend I understand. He also began hosting his own weekly time slot on the station's internet-only experiment. Here, he was able to hone his on-air skills and personality, as well as select the songs that he played. After a while, he got a couple of "fill-in" shots on the main airwaves while regular DJs were on vacation. After a series of ups-and-downs and shifting-arounds among station personnel, E. was hired as a full-time DJ/producer by WXPN. He was assigned several weekday evening shifts and two weekends slots, including a three-hour stretch on Saturday afternoons where the playlist consists entirely of listener requests. With the help of a volunteer who answers the phone, E. deftly assembles and whittles down five hours worth of musical suggestions (delivered via Facebook, Twitter, email and the aforementioned telephone) into a coherent, sometimes (purposely) jarring, playlist — all on-the-fly, live in the studio. I had the pleasure of answering the phones on two occasions and it was a spectacle watching him work... and don't be fooled, it was indeed work.

With tongue firmly planted in his cheek, E. identifies himself as a minor local celebrity. Sure, there are other DJs on WXPN that are more recognizable, but E. does have a following. Social media, especially Instagram, has allowed listeners to know what E. looks like, making him more visible than DJs of my youth. (Instagram has also allowed folks to know what his cat looks like as well.) I have been with E. at concerts and witnessed people approach him to say how much they like his show. As his father, it sure was a kick.

Nicole Atkins' John Hancock
Last weekend was the culmination of years of pride brought on by my son. Friday afternoon kicked off the annual WXPN XPoNential Music Festival, a sprawling entertainment-packed, three-day event entering its 23rd year. The festival features an unusual blend (just like the station itself) of music from a wide variety of genres. Famous names and up-and-comers are equally represented. Past festivals have spotlighted heavyweights like Bob Dylan, Beck and Emmylou Harris, indie favorites like Wilco, Dawes and Father John Misty (who offered a now-notorious set in 2016), and lesser-known, but equally as talented upstarts like J.D. McPherson, Man Man, Low Cut Connie and Diane Coffee. WXPN, a commercial-free, member-supported station, offers an array of perks to its members that attend the weekend event. In addition to discounted admission and free soft drinks throughout the festival's duration, members are treated to special "meet and greet" encounters with some of the performers. Either before of after their set, a selection of bands and singers seat themselves at a table in the designated, roped-off "members only" area for a little face time with their adoring fans. It has become a fun little bonus and I have taken advantage of the offer on a number of occasions over the years. (I met Aimee Mann, Nicole Atkins and even Kevin Bacon on different occasions.)

At the top of the list.
This year, WXPN decided to allow listeners to meet the faces behind those familiar voices they hear coming from their radios. Interspersed throughout the band "meet and greets," a selection of DJs would be spending a little quality time with their fans... and, yes, there are fans. On Saturday afternoon, the schedule was posted at the Meet & Greet tent in the WXPN Members Only area and the first ones listed were popular DJ Robert Drake, he of local "Land of the Lost" fame (a monthly radio marathon of new wave hits from the 80s) and my boy E. Actually, E. informed my wife and I about his meet and greet earlier, specifically telling me to "not to make a big deal."  But, a father's job is to make a big deal! So, we made sure we were front and center at the designated time. I actually went to make sure that Mrs. Pincus and I weren't the only ones in line. And as long as I was there, I made sure that our last name was spelled correctly on the whiteboard. (It was.) At 1 PM, E. and Robert took their places behind a long table stocked with an ample supply of Sharpie markers and — sure enough — there was a good amount of folks already in line. The festival volunteers (many of whom we know) kept the queue moving along and distributed mini festival posters for the DJs to sign as souvenirs. Mrs. P and I could hardly contain ourselves as we observed our son extend his hand and offer a friendly smile to listeners and fans. We were thrilled as we watched him sign the posters and talk about his show and the station in general. My wife and I even got autographs. He inscribed "Have a nice summer" on a poster for me and he signed the back of a stock dividend check for my wife. (We had just received it the day before. It was from a stock that E. got as a gift when he was born. The total amount was 32 cents.) Mrs. P and I proceeded out of the tent, but hung around a bit longer to watch E. be E.

Wristbands, my man.
On the final day of the festival, E. tracked me down in our usual spot at the top of the natural amphitheater where the XPoNential Music Festival is held. He convinced me to watch the next band, the raucous Sweet Spirit, from a front row vantage point. I obliged and we headed down to the stage. We stood and chatted while we waited for Sweet Spirit's set to begin. A few people around us came up to E. and said "Hello" and "Love your show!," while others pointed E. out to their friends and whispered his name in hushed tones.

During the performance, I raised my cellphone to snap a "selfie" to chronicle another in a series of concerts my boy and I attended together. He snidely asked, "Oh, so you're one of those people now?" I can't possibly express how proud I am of him. He, on the other hand, has no problem expressing his feelings.


  1. So cool! You and Mrs. Pincus should bone up on how to REALLY embarrass your celebrity son by getting tips from Matthew McConaughey's mother

    Have nachas!!

  2. Wow! Congratulations! You have a really COOL kid!🙌🏽👏🏽