Don Geronimo's Grief-Stricken Solo

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Radio personality Don Geronimo always shared with listeners the details of life with his wife, Freda, on his nationally syndicated program. Yesterday, for the first time, he shared the pain of his life without her.

In a remarkable 75-minute monologue that was part love letter and part eulogy, Geronimo spoke movingly of the woman he married nearly 24 years ago and who became an unlikely star of his nationally syndicated "Don & Mike Show."

"I love you so much, Freda," Geronimo said, his voice breaking, at the conclusion of his program. "I will never forget you."

It was the first time that Geronimo (whose real name is Michael Sorce) had been on the air at his flagship station, WJFK-FM in Fairfax, since the death of Freda Wright-Sorce three weeks ago. Wright-Sorce, 50, was killed in an auto accident on July 10 near the couple's vacation home on the Eastern Shore.

In her frequent call-in segments on the show over the years, Freda Wright-Sorce was a refreshingly adult and humane contrast to the brash, and often crass, frat-house atmosphere of the "Don & Mike" program. Wright-Sorce never lost her cool, or sense of humor, in the face of her husband's on-air teasing and needling. Their on-air relationship, which predated their marriage, evolved as their private lives did. As a result of their personal chemistry and evident affection for each other, the couple could transform seemingly mundane topics -- family vacations, child-rearing issues, visits to son Bart's college -- into sparkling entertainment.

"People used to say to us, 'How can you be married to him?' " Geronimo said on the air yesterday. "I'm sure some of you out there were wondering the same thing: 'He's a braggart, he's a big mouth, he's a jerk and a bully on the radio.' " But, he said, that was a character, a persona, the Don Geronimo side of Michael Sorce, and his wife played along with it. "The beauty of my family, my wife and son, is that they had no problem drawing a distinction between the way I am on the radio and the way I am in real life," he said.

Amid heavy sighs and with a raspier-than-usual voice, Geronimo talked solo about his wife for nearly two-thirds of the two-hour segment, and took calls from listeners in the final third. (A repeat broadcast filled the last two hours.) He thanked listeners for their calls and letters of condolence, as well as fellow radio personalities Howard Stern, Donnie Simpson and Jack Diamond, the morning deejay on rival WRQX-FM (Mix 107.3) who has been a target of "Don & Mike Show" barbs over the years. Diamond attended Wright-Sorce's funeral service.

Geronimo said in an interview after the program that the station's management had given him an "open-ended" offer of time off, but he decided it was time to go back on the radio. "Three weeks seemed like enough time to get my affairs in order," he said. "What was my option? I could quit or go back. And I'm not ready to quit."

Getting back to work, he said, "felt therapeutic. . . . I feel very comfortable behind a mike. I mean no offense to anyone I work with, but I feel most comfortable when it's just me, when it's just one person talking." His co-host, Mike O'Meara, and the rest of the show's crew will return today.

Geronimo talked about his 20-year-old son Bart ("He's doing fine") and about his mother-in-law, known to listeners as Big Freda ("She has ups and downs"). He talked about happy times he shared with his wife, and about the plans for the future they had made. Not long before her death, she greeted her husband with the news that she had "found your dream house" -- a home on the beach in the Tampa area. Geronimo said they put a down payment on the house, and he was considering retiring there at the end of his contract in three years. Now there will be no beach house, and Geronimo isn't making any long-term plans. "My plan is just to honor this contract," he said yesterday in the interview.

On the air, Geronimo credited his wife with turning his life around. He recounted an unhappy childhood that culminated in a disastrous first marriage that produced a child and a divorce before he was 19 years old. To this day, Geronimo, who has also struggled with substance abuse, does not talk to his parents and considers his in-laws his family.

"When I met her," he said, " I was a lost soul."

This Sunday would have been the couple's 24th anniversary.

Geronimo also described going through his wife's papers after her death. After cracking the family's safe (Freda Wright-Sorce managed all of the family's affairs), he said he found a letter addressed to him in his wife's handwriting. "Dear Mike," he read, "I dreamed last night I died. . . . I wasn't afraid and I felt no pain. . . . Don't be sad for me. My only sadness is my family will be sad for me. Just know that all is right and is as it should be. I am happy." It expressed the hope that she and all her loved ones would be together again one day and was signed simply, "Freda, 10/16/04."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company