A Morning Flurry on the AM Dial
A Morning Flurry on the AM Dial
AM radio is a sea of hiss and sonic warbling. You won’t find much music there, and if you do the signal is weak, the sound is flat, and the voices are as likely to be singing about the Lord as talking a blue streak. To regular listeners of crisp, stereo FM, AM broadcasts resemble fuzzy transmissions from another country.
Like a crowded and dusty junk shop, treasures on the AM dial are found with a bit of effort. Many of its voices ring with a local twang and a certain untrained charm. They love the Vols, NASCAR and are suspicious of outsiders. They’re white men, and the views they express between commercial breaks are conservatively bent.
She got where she is today by saying “yes,” sometimes when she wasn’t 100 percent sure she could do what she was agreeing to do. A letter to the News Sentinel turned into a three-year-and-counting weekly column. A guest spot on a morning radio show hosted by Elliott Domansbecame a co-hosting gig. She didn’t go in with the notion of her ultimate destination, but saying “yes” was the first step toward a present career about which she says, “I’m having
“I guess I have this mindset that when challenges come my way I’m supposed to take them,” says Snow, a 41-year-old mother of three, married to her husband for 18 years. “I was raised to believe that you don’t back down. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, hard work, and all of that. And that you don’t back away from a challenge; you take it head on.”
Those lessons weren’t forein her mind on a certain day early in her college career at Indiana University. While many of her friends and classmates at her small (Read: everybody knows your business.) high school were going to Ohio State, Snow zigged across state lines to, for one thing, attempt to remake herself outside the lifelong impressions of her friends and schoolmates.
She majored in education and became a high-school teacher. “But it never felt right,” she says, in part because she hated grading papers.
“I just liked the creative part of it,” she says. “I liked being in front of the class. I liked connecting with the students. I met lots of great people.”
She went back to graduate school to get certified to teach college kids. But in her literature classes, there would suddenly be a fissure in the academic reverie. “These people aren’t real!” she wanted to cry out to her analytical peers. The fictional figments of imagination that took up so much of their attention suddenly didn’t seem worth it. “Look at the real world a little bit.”
A career counselor might have been able to add up Snow’s likes, dislikes, goals and personality traits to come up with “radio show host,” but that would have been too easy. That’s the concept behind her radio show, Listen to This . Almost two months on the air, the hour-long program on WVLZ 1180 AM at 10 a.m. embraces and celebrates the kooky, quirky and funny aspects of living in East Tennessee in the 21st century.
“I didn’t want to do a show that had an agenda,” she says. “I didn’t want to come at it from some political angle.”
But a certain amount of personal politics brought her to local attention to begin with. About three years ago, after her guest editorials in the Farragut Press Enterprise and the News Sentinel attracted some attention, Snow became a regular guest on Elliott Domans’ morning talk-show broadcast on a local AM station. The guest spots turned into a co-hosting gig. And when her co-host was out of town, she looked for guest co-hosts to come onto the show. That’s how she met her Listen to This partner, Bob Deck. An acquaintance of Snow’s knew Deck as a local celebrity from his community access show in the mid-‘90s. He seemed like a good bet, so she Googled him.
Once they talked, “it was one of those instant, just add water friendships,” says Snow. A lanky man in his mid-40s with graying hair and a calming aura, Deck made her laugh immediately. She had him on the show a few times, and their on-air chemistry was good. Snow says when she got the opportunity to do the show on 1180 AM, she instantly thought of Deck as her co-host.
Even before they go on the air, the hosts’ quippy banter begins. Leslie teases Bob for being picky about what coffee he drinks. She gets a laugh from him by professing that she’ll suck on the grounds if she can get any caffeine from them.
When the show begins, their jovial wit continues with Bob’s intro. It’s full of innuendo, tongue-in-cheek, wink ‘n’ nod suggestiveness—a theme that continues throughout the show, which is mainly about barbecue. They laugh at each other’s jokes (sometimes too much, they admit) and seem to honestly enjoy each other’s company.
“Bob and I really like people,” says Snow. “We’re both people who go to places and end up talking to someone. I talk to strangers. I talk to the lady at the checkout. I like the idea of celebrating all of us, what we do—just everyday life and its quirkiness and its funniness and how absurd it all is. And do it in a funny way.”
Snow says they had the worst time trying to name the show; she filled a stack of dayplanner pages with name after name—all rejected. You and Me Both , The Radio Show , Bagel & a Schmear and Plinth were all considered and abandoned. And when she and Deck tried to describe to friends their plan for the show, they struggled to form their idea into words. People would ask what the show was about, Snow says, and their responses were vague. “‘Everyday people.’ ‘Slice of life.’ It’s so hard to define,” she says. “Kind of like Seinfeld on radio. It’s still hard to describe what we do.”
While Listen to This is free from controversy, Snow’s positive nature stays intact during her time on The Voicewith Lloyd Daugherty , the show that precedes hers. Snow met and became friends with Daugherty during their days on Horne AM and began to join him as a guest on his political call-in show. Now that The Voice is on 1180, Snow remains as the show’s only woman and liberal; she’s also Jewish.
“I’m such a target. I’m really brought on as the token liberal,” she says. “It opens you up to these people who aren’t going to like that, who don’t know anything about you but who make assumptions. That’s a challenge.” Some callers have called her names, like murderer or baby-killer. Snow says her mission on Daugherty’s show is to expose listeners to her point of view, one they don’t hear much. “[Callers] don’t know anything about Jewish people, so in that way I think it’s been a chance to tell people. Sometimes they have preconceived notions about Jews and have decided they hate them, so it’s nice to be able to broaden their horizons a little bit, [to hear them say] ‘You know, I want to hate you, but I can’t. You’re really likeable.’ So maybe that’s doing some good.”
The apolitical bent of Listen to This resembles Snow’s morning co-host stint with Todd Ethridge on WEST 105.3 FM (also a Horne Radio station), which she left to pursue her own creative outlet within the talk-radio format. Similarities echo in her show’s first segment. Like West’s “Snow News, “A Peek at the News” is sort of like “News of the Weird” in radio form. Leslie and Bob write up three “mostly true” blurbs each. Bob reads his off the screen of his laptop; Leslie has written out hers on sheets of paper. Neither knows about the other’s blurbs, and they frequently amuse each other into fits of laughter with absurd stories taken from various Internet sources—cheerleaders who help catch a criminal by making a cheer out of the perp’s license tag number; a man who dies while playing a video game; a slap-a-thon.
Snow’s accent echoes her birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio, and stands out among local drawls and bland educated radio drones. And she’s the first to identify herself as a “Yankee from Ohio,” as if to own it before anyone can hold it against her. Yes, she’s an outsider, but she comes in peace. She’s a good conversationalist, and her warm laugh puts people at ease.
After a break for commercials—one of the station’s major sponsors is Coal Creek Armory—is the “Word of the Day” segment, sponsored by Carpe Librum Booksellers.
There’s something surreal about a radio show sponsored both by a gun wholesaler and a cheerybookstore in Bearden. But Listen to This has swum in surreal territory since the beginning. During its first week on the air, Snow experienced a revelatory moment of exactly how weird the show might be perceived on this small AM station. Between The Voice and Tony Basilio’s sports show, Leslie and Bob hosted a poetry reading with UT professor Marilyn Kallet. That revealing moment of contrasts might have inspired panic in some folks trying to develop a radio show, but it was the very point of Listen to This .
“We wanted to do the opposite of the corporate radio show,” she says. “And we wanted to talk to real people. To be real and original.”
After Bob defines the word “aerodyne” and shares Carpe Librum’s upcoming events, the show proceeds to its main interview segment. Recent guests have included “Dr. BBQ” Ray Lampe, the author of a book on barbecue, local singer/songwriter Karen Reynolds, an acupuncture practitioner, a tattoo artist.One of the hosts will introduce the guest and start the Q&A. They’re careful not to talk over the speaker or each other. (There’s a sign inside the booth that emphatically states, “No Talking Over Each Other or Over the Callers Y’all.” Snow insists the sign isn’t directed at them.)
They are polite and curious interviewers, striking a balance between enjoying their own cleverness and drawing out the most interesting elements of their guests. Bob, a vegetarian, asks Ray Lampe about barbecue culture. Leslie tells about her experience with Maurice’s Piggy Park in South Carolina, where she lived several years ago when her husband was a graduate student. During the next part of the show, “Shout Out,” the hosts call on local businesses who might lend their expertise to the day’s theme. On the other side of the sound booth, the show’s producer, Mark Atnip, helps track down folks who are willing to talk on the radio.
“Some people are surprisingly hesitant,” says Snow. “I don’t know why, really. Especially since I say, ‘We’re going to give you a free plug, talk to you for just a couple minutes and nothing bad’s going to happen to you.’ And they still shy away from it.”
At first, people they call are stiff, their answers short and curt. But then they loosen up when they realize Leslie and Bob are laughing with them, not at them. It’s not a trip to the dentist, just the laughing gas.
“There’s a slight bit of tongue-in-cheek to some of our ‘Shout Out’ segments, but there’s not a meanness to it,” she adds. “It’s all with a celebration of the ordinary world.”
With all of the preaching and condemning and righteous railing on the AM dial, the show about everything, anything and nothing comes across as a breath of fresh air.