(Top photo by Diane Keaggy)
I swore off commercial radio in 1985, after being introduced to King Crimson. That band opened up a musical artery not covered by anyone on the right-hand side of the radio dial (back when we used to find radio stations by turning a knob). Between the new musical discovery, the discovery of college radio (very much on the static-filled left side of the dial), the military, and a newfound obsession with jazz, it was easy to stay away from commercial radio and its stilted formats.
But my love of the “Alternative” music movement of the early 90’s — which included categories like “Grunge” and “Nü Metal” — slowly nudged me back to the land of commerciality. I left the Air Force in October of ’92, and came back to St. Louis with no desire to explore the radio. But in February of ’93, I heard of the forthcoming debut of a new radio station: KPNT, located at 105.7 on the radio dial. They called themselves “The Point,” and they were all about the new sound in rock music.
The station used the “Seattle Sound” as its foundation, giving listeners more than a few opportunities to discover stalwarts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. But they also offered bands I had first heard on the college rock stations a few years before, like R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Suzanne Vega, U2, and Peter Gabriel. And then they introduced listeners to cool bands like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Liz Phair, Helmet, and a host of others. The station also took lots of local bands under its wing, so listeners were introduced to The Urge, New World Spirits, Sinister Dane, The Love Hogs, Fragile Porcelain Mice, and may others. I was hooked. I finally found a commercial station I could enjoy all the livelong day.
But all things end, and my unconditional love for The Point was no exception. Like any highly successful commercial venture, consultants entered the picture. Once that happened, the huge amount of variety to be found on my station slowly started to dissipate. Pearl Jam was popular, they figured. So why not introduce 10 bands that sound like Pearl Jam, rather than all these other strange groups? Slowly but surely, I began to rely more on my own music collection and the college stations, which were also undergoing a bit of a transformation now that their bread and butter bands had come above ground.
Still, after all these years, The Point is the one St. Louis commercial station I can enjoy for an extended period of time. Many personalities came and went over the years, and I remember one or two (like Englishman Les Aaron) really sticking out. These days, my primary Point time is spent listening to The Rizutto Show in the mornings. But over time, the mid-day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) DJ started to get my attention. He calls himself Donny Fandango.
At 44, Fandango may be on the top end of that coveted 18-49 demographic consultants lust after, but his energy and approach makes him seem at least a decade younger. What you hear is what you get from Donny, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He is the genuine article.
Donny Fandango (not his real name) is a native St. Louisan, raised in the suburb of Florissant. He continued to live there until just over a decade ago. His first radio experience came in junior college, where he absorbed the inner workings by way of the student-run radio station KCFV. He started working for The Point in ’97, and stayed there until 2000. He briefly moved to a different station for a year, but calls the stint “totally forgettable.” After leaving radio for awhile, he came back to the station in 2008, and has been there since.
Fandango has held down just about every shift the station had to offer at one point or another. Mornings (6-10), mid-day, drive time (2-6 p.m.), evenings (6-10 p.m.) and midnights. His current duties seem to suit him best. Donny is not the type to yuck it up, which seems necessary for morning work (though he does occasionally contribute to The Rizzuto Show in various ways throughout the week). Rather, he seems most comfortable talking about the bands he’s playing on the air, conducting interviews with artists in town for concerts, and waxing poetic about the St. Louis Blues, the hockey team he lives and dies for, along with the rest of us. Last year’s Stanley Cup title was beyond the wildest dreams of just about any Blues fan, and following Donny’s ravings on Twitter (@Fandango1057) in real time was nothing short of priceless.
Donny is very community-oriented, as well. Each year, he does a 28-hour on-air marathon, soliciting listener requests in exchange for donations to the Ronald McDonald House, which aids the families of hospitalized children. The program has been a massive success, with people offering upwards of $100 or more for the pleasure of hearing their favorite songs, which may or may not be part of The Point’s regular rotation. I get exhausted just thinking about being on the air that long, but Donny is bringing it just as hard in the last couple of hours as he is in the first.
Perhaps it’s the fact he and I grew up in pretty much the same area (and attended the same high school, albeit a decade apart) that helped me relate to Donny so easily. I messaged him once with a question, figuring I’d never hear back. Within minutes, there was the answer, with a touch of additional — and hilarious — commentary. Since then, we have traded the occasional DM, where we learned about our similar backgrounds and upbringings.
Donny also has a knack for saying many of the things listeners like me are thinking, usually in a fit of anger. For awhile, the station featured a Friday segment called “Donny’s Week-end Rage,” where our hero took on the topics that were driving him crazy, and vented fully to anyone willing to listen. Most of us were laughing hysterically and shouting, “Right on!” because we knew exactly what he was talking about. Perhaps that venting is what makes him such a stable family man with his significant other, Mary (whom he calls “My One”) and their three children. The radio station doesn’t come home with him. He is, to me, one of the most relatable radio personalities I have encountered.
I’ve never felt like shouting, “I’m friends with Donny Fandango!” I don’t see it that way. I have a question, and my friend Donny answers it. It’s that simple. For instance, the COVID-19 virus has sent shockwaves throughout the world, including the music industry. For the most part, my thoughts have gone toward musicians and promoters, who are losing money hand over fist. But what about the people who present the music to fans by way of radio? I needed to ask Donny about that.
From his home in suburban St. Louis, Donny Fandango answered Seven Questions from CirdecSongs.
CirdecSongs: When we talk about the Coronavirus affecting the music industry, we are usually referring to musicians. Describe how COVID-19 has taken its toll on the radio industry.
Donny Fandango: I think the thing about COVID-19 that has been so awful from my seat is once the advertisers started to go away, I KNEW that our industry was going to start chopping jobs. And that’s exactly what they’ve done and will continue to do once we’re all back at work. It’s so frustrating to KNOW a bunch of people in our community come to us for a sense of normalcy, fun and information, and in 2020 it doesn’t seem to matter. That’s been the biggest thing on my end with this horrible virus.
Fans are free to contact you via social media and telephone while you are on the air. Based on what you’re hearing/reading, how does your audience appear to be handling the crisis?
I think from my listeners I’ve learned how many are “essential workers.” They need us because they are scared about the virus, their jobs, and their families. But they know they have to keep working and get through this. It makes me have so much respect for those out there REALLY working and REALLY trying to provide for their families, through everything that’s going on right now.
You are in a position where you have personal contact with a few musicians. How do they seem to be dealing with things?
I think the musicians I know are going just as stir crazy as we are!!! We’ve had many artists reach out to do video interviews and things, and sometimes it’s artists we’ve never gotten face to face interviews with, like Brandon Boyd from Inucbus. So that’s been pretty cool, but I KNOW they are DYING to play shows, just like we’re DYING to GO to them!
We’re both sports nuts. How difficult has it been to live without the start of both the NHL playoffs and the baseball season?
This “no sports” thing freakin’ SUCKS! I haven’t really had much to fill the void sports wise, but I don’t remember the last time I yelled at my TV (minus at our dumbass President), so maybe that’s good?
How do you define your role as a radio personality during these difficult times?
Right now as a personality, I just want to make people smile or laugh or enjoy things for a couple of minutes. Things are so GODDANG heavy right now at every turn, I just hope I give people a way to be out of the “heaviness,” even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Tell me your philosophy where being a radio personality is concerned. What is your approach, and what makes it effective?
I honestly just try and be myself. When I’m pissed, I say I’m pissed. When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I think some folks take to it.
I think it’s effective because I’m the same guy I am on the air that I am as your neighbor. Maybe I’m a LITTLE more guarded about the family, but for the most part I put it out there and people at least know for the most part I’m not full of shit. I say “for the most part” because I don’t love every band we play, but I also don’t think people think I do, would, or should.
You’ve got a pretty good spot on a popular radio station. That being said, what do you want to do within the confines of your career that you haven’t been able to do yet?
I want to start a record store and a record label, so essentially I’d like to be broke the rest of my life (laughs). I get frustrated when I see good bands get little to no love for whatever reason. I’d like to help bands however I could (toward getting) heard. Maybe even with the right way to approach radio programmers or whatever. I’d also LOVE to be the Program Director at The Point, but I’m afraid time is running out on that one.
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