Friday, April 11, 2008

Thank You, Donnie G.

Don Geronimo, half of the Washington afternoon-drive radio comedy team of Don and Mike, retired today after 23 years with Mike O'Meara, and over 40 years in radio. His last show this afternoon was a somber affair, in which he revealed that doing the show after the violent and untimely death of his wife Freda Sorce a couple of years ago was simply too full of painful reminders. He hasn't been psychically right since then, and I wish him all the best in his healing.

Don could be a spoiled child on the air. He could be painfully cruel to idiotic callers. He could bore the listener with his petulance at the station's management. But when that show was hitting on all cylinders, when it was really working, it was unquestionably the funniest thing on the radio. I don't listen to something daily for 17 years without being convinced of its quality.

Other shock-jocks who try to be funny just get the formula wrong, wrong, wrong. They are aggrieved. They are sarcastic. They seek victims. The Don and Mike Show first repelled me when I heard an early incarnation of it in the late Eighties, at WAVA. They too were cruel and sarcastic and aggrieved.

When they moved to WJFK in the late 80s, something truly clicked. The show became utterly compelling listening. The personalities of the hosts and their coterie of side-men gelled. They learned the subtleties of sarcasm, what attracted and what repelled the listener. The show became, rather than a series of preplanned "bits," simply a four-hour-long conversation among three or four people in the studio and unscreened callers, reacting to events of the day. The show they put on on Sept. 11, 2001, will go into the record books as one of the most cathartic and healthy things ever broadcast on radio. If for nothing else, I'll be eternally grateful to them for talking me down off the windowsill that day.

Don began his radio career, he revealed today, at the age of 11, as a volunteer for Armed Forces Radio. He is roughly my age, and I know what I was doing at 11. It wasn't radio. He came to the radio comedy business late, after a long career as a wandering record-spinner. His contempt for what radio has become -- a marketing-driven sarcasm of its former self -- was daily palpable. In his chest there beats a rock-n-roll heart. He is a patriot.

He got his first job as a radio deejay at the age of 16, after lying about his age. He became an astonishingly adept board-operator -- a skill he put to great comedic use on the Don and Mike Show, assembling and playing sound-clips that ran into each other surrealistically. One of their best late bits was a huge assembly of quotes from John Wayne movies, which they would use as a kind of Magic Eight-Ball, asking the Wayne Oracle questions and playing the clips at random. Very funny, very Dada.

But Geronimo's talking about his experience as an itinerant deejay provided, for me, the finest and highest moments of the show. He would adopt an exaggerated deejay voice to "talk in" records (the Don and Mike Show didn't actually play records, this was all for comedy's sake). You "talk in" a record by doing deejay patter over its opening strains. The best deejay knows how to time his patter to end the instant the vocal begins; absolutely no one in the world is better at this than Don Geronimo. Don is very proud of the fact that he once "talked in" "Stairway to Heaven"; the opening recorder-and-guitar passage is about two minutes long. You never talk in "Stairway to Heaven." It's a Deejay Law.

Don's funniest radio story? I think it was the time that he described losing a job in some podunk town for getting the phrasing just wrong in his patter: "It's a beautiful Saturday, highs in the nineties, so wear something flimsy, gals... Traffic and weather together on the eights here on KRCG, and now, everybody Come On Eileen!"

He did it on purpose, of course. I told you, a rock-and-roll heart.

I had to listen to today's farewell show in my car, as that's where I've heard the huge majority of the show over the last 17 years. In his last segment, he spun a couple of records, just for old times' sake. The first he dedicated to his family: Jimmy Buffett's "Come Monday." I was picking up a pizza for the fam, and I listened to that segment sitting in the pizzeria's parking lot. The second song, which, of course, he talked in perfectly, was dedicated to the fans. The Beatles' "In My Life."

I'm afraid I blubbed a bit.

Don, I'm going to miss the shit out of you, you imperfect, petulant, childish bastard. God Speed, Radio God!

I highly recommend popping over to hear some Don Geronimo air-checks from the late 70s and early 80s. And ask yourself as you're listening to them, What have they done to my radio?


Reen said...

Thanks Neddie. I live in Baltimore where the complete asshattery of station management cut the broadcast just as Don was saying "when you lose someone, like I lost Freda." It was roughly equivalent to a slap in the face for me, and all the listeners in Baltimore who made Don & Mike appointment drive-time listening. I'm a little misty just reading your recounting, though. Thanks for that.

Neddie said...


Thanks for saying so. D&M mentioned beforehand they were going to be cut off in Baltimore for an Orioles pregame show, but I can't believe they cut it at that exact moment -- couldn't they have at least waited till a commercial break? Bucking fastards. Slap in the face indeed.

Bruce said...

I first heard the boys in late '93 after they had gone national, and immediately fell in love with the program(I even participated in some of the city vs city things they did). After a couple of years, though, the local station dropped them, and it was another 10 years before I would hear them again, thanks to CBS streaming the show. But get this; that first show that I listened to, after 10 years, was Doni's first show back after Freda's death(actually, it was his first show back with the gang; I had missed the solo show). I had no idea she had died, and I completely broke down.
I continued to listen online(my only option), even though his occasional on-air breakdowns were extremely painful to hear, and even after their "hiatus" at the beginning of 2007. Yesterday was a nice way to go out, I thought. Yes, it was sappy and schmaltzy at times, but it was extremely heartfelt and genuine, which is the way it should've been.
I expect him to pop up on air again, once his non-compete clause runs out(standard fare on most TV/radio contracts), and I'm sure it'll be the Doni G of old; unfettered by corporate mandates and idiotic program directors.

Anonymous said...

I'm in Toronto and have followed D&M off and on through Buffalo NY stations and other area outlets. Their availability through the internet became a godsend for me as affiliates changed formats or moved on with other programming.

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed in your blog.

We'll miss Don terribly up here in "Horonto". :-)

Terry C.

Neddie said...


I even participated in some of the city vs city things they did)

One treasured memory I will always carry with me is of driving home listening to the show, maybe '92, '93? They announced they would be staging a contest between Washington and some rival city. Whoever could get the most listeners to show up at some selected phone booth would win some trinket or another. I thought, fuck me, that's right on the way home! I stopped at the designated phone booth, where about 100 people had already congregated. The phone rang, and we punters formed a circle, each saying a brief hello, and passing the phone to the next guy. The point being, we could pose as 3000 people when we were only about 100.

Yes, I am officially admitting to participating in a fraud to obtain a Don and Mike Bulbous Keychain. So sue me. I didn't even collect the keychain; the thrill of having my wife and infant daughter hear my voice on the radio was quite enough.

Reen said...

Just as a follow-up, they did rebroadcast the farewell show yesterday -- there was no way of knowing that, though, I just happened upon it by chance. Still, I sat outside my house til it was over and it was as wonderful as you said. Thanks again.

Omar said...

As someone who got naked for them on Strip Trivia (twice!), I will forever be grateful to have been a part of the show. I'm also grateful for the prize I won the first time I appeared: a free trip to New York City to see the 2001 U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. It was Labor Day weekend, 2001, and it was the last time I saw the World Trade Center. Their 9/11 show was radio at its finest.

Neddie said...


Did you hear my Strip Trivia Homemade Jingle when you played?

"Hey gang, let's go down to Don and Mike's studio and take off our clothes!

"Ooh! Let's do it!

"Don and Mike are gonna give ya
Another whopping dose of Strip Trivia..."

Mine, all mine! I'd get goosebumps when they played it...

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

My last few years living in the D.C. area (mid 90s), I commuted from Alexandria to Gaithersburg every day. Nearly half-way around the beltway twice/day and I lived to tell the tale. Would have been much tougher w/o Don & Mike.

Of course, I've forgotten a lot of it since, but a few shows were *so* damn great, I'll never forget them. One quick memory: They had some kind of call-in game in which callers would get their loved ones on the phone and confess things for cash prizes. I remember this guy called in, got his wife on the phone (with Don & Mike silent in the background -- the woman completely unaware that they were on the air), and the guy confesses that he'd slept with her sister or something horrible like that. The woman starts crying & so forth... then Don chimes in and announces that they're on the air and she's just won $100! Good times...