The most important thing about WFMU, to me, has always been the way DJs, Staff, and Listeners come together to create the station. I believe every single Listener contributes in some way—sometimes in ways we don’t even know about. For example, Listener Paul Nestor.
I met Paul when I was in college in Oregon, and he was my boyfriend for a couple of years. We remained close even after he transferred to CalArts. The first time I ever came to New York City, I stayed with Paul in his studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a third-floor walkup on 37th Street, with a toilet in the closet, and a tub in the kitchen, and an extremely wobbly and probably dangerous loft bed that Paul had built himself with help from his friend Abbott.
Paul was much more sophisticated than I was, and way cooler in every way, and he couldn’t stop talking about some radio station he’d discovered—WFMU. (He was especially keen on this one DJ named Irwin.) He had me listen to it, and is seemed to me like, you know, a radio station. But when I finally moved to New York I ended up listening to WFMU almost non-stop, and I had to admit that Paul was right about it. Eventually I ended up having my own show on WFMU, and it was really because Paul had told me to listen.
I can’t remember how it was that Paul decided to audition for a show. He and our friend Emily had done a popular program together on our college radio station. They’d play the weirdest music and laugh about it, and it was called “Platter Party” because they thought that was such a ridiculous name. It was a lot of fun to listen to, and I had no doubt that his show on WFMU would be a big hit, too. So Paul auditioned. In those days auditioning was a very formal process—you had to make a tape with all the songs “scoped” to show just your segues, and then a board of DJs would listen to it and critique it. The board liked Paul’s song selection, but they thought he was hard to understand on mic. Most people took their critiques and made another tape, and maybe more after that, until they either got on the air or were told to stop trying. But Paul just went back to being a Listener.
One of the records he used in his audition was this insane thing called Teenage Rebellion; it featured a plumy-voiced narrator describing teen “pot parties.” “Now, when it starts to fade, come over to a similar apartment in the Village,” the narrator intoned. It was ludicrous in every way. I asked Paul if I could borrow it to play for a DJ I knew. If you ever heard the opening to William Berger’s “Hip Bone” show on WFMU, then you heard the record Paul loaned me.
One New Year’s Eve DJ TKF had a party at his apartment in Jersey City, and I went in spite of the fact that I’d had to put my beloved Dog Saunders to sleep that day. I did not feel like going to any kind of party at all, but I went—partly because I’d promised my boyfriend I would, and partly because I’d invited Paul to come, too. I knew DJ Irwin was going to be there, and I thought it would be a good chance for Paul to finally meet him. As it turned out, Paul was too shy to say anything but hello. We spent the evening sitting together in a corner, me talking about my dead dog and Paul staring across the room at his longtime radio idol.
Time kept going on and things kept happening. I was best woman at Paul’s wedding (or “Best of Opposite Sex” as we called it—a term we’d learned from dog shows). I went to the christening of Paul’s son. Because I don’t have any family, Paul walked me down the aisle at my wedding to Sluggo. Our lives got busy, but we always stayed in touch. Paul and his wife had a daughter, and then got divorced. I heard less from him after that, but he came to a reading I did, I sent him a birthday card, we talked on the phone occasionally. I never thought to mention WFMU to him, though, and I never knew he listened to my show every week until his mother told me so at his wake on Friday.
On my show, I used to do a regular feature called “News of the Dead.” It was a conglomeration of obituaries, rants, musings, and tributes, set to Gregorian chants by the monks of the monastery of Montserrat. In an incredible coincidence of bad timing, Paul died just as I went off the air. I could’ve done a whole hour-long News of the Dead just for him. But I am no longer a DJ, and he is no longer a Listener.