After Good Times and Bad, Geronimo Says It's Beach Time
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Don Geronimo now sees that he came back too soon. To go on the radio every day and make people laugh is hard enough; to do it three weeks after your wife dies in a car crash "was a big mistake," he says.
"I was resentful and angry. A lot of days, I was raw and irritable. I was mad at God. I was mad at a lot of things."
Come May 30, Geronimo will leave the Washington airwaves after 23 years of high jinks and hot talk. His co-host, Mike O'Meara, and the rest of the afternoon drive team on WJFK (106.7 FM) will carry on with a new show.
Going on the air after Freda's death in 2005 sometimes felt pointless, but so did eating and breathing. No, what's driving Geronimo, 49, to leave the make-believe world of a radio studio for the first time since he was a teenager is a plan he and his wife had decided on years ago. It was a dream about getting their son through college and taking off to be together at the shore, maybe buy a little radio station and run it the way they wanted to, or maybe just enjoy their time together without the hungry beast of a daily radio gig.
Geronimo -- his real name is Michael Sorce -- still plans to move to Ocean City, but without Freda, he is a changed man. You could hear it on the radio these past few years. It wasn't just the loss of his wife, whom listeners knew as a longtime running character on "The Don and Mike Show." It was also the content restrictions that were put on Don and Mike and on other shock jocks in the aftermath of the Janet Jackson breast reveal during the 2004 Super Bowl telecast. And it was the mere fact of getting older.
"I'm going to be 50 in September," Geronimo says. "You change as a person. Maybe what you did when you were 35, you find it old and tedious now, regardless of Janet Jackson or Freda's passing. Even if you took all the restrictions off now, I don't know if I'd be up for all the shenanigans we did."
Of course, Don and Mike's die-hard fans -- who have made the show a ratings powerhouse in afternoon drive time here and in 25 other cities where the program is syndicated -- may lament the passing of some of the show's raunchier antics, such as taking a busload of listeners to Intercourse, Pa., to have sex in motel rooms while the hosts narrated the event on the air.
"This is certainly not the climate for something like that," Geronimo says now.
Nor do Don and Mike any longer subject celebrity interview guests to their patented sex quiz, which would get quite explicit back in the day.
But while Geronimo still bucks against the idea of having his every word monitored -- "We're not even allowed to say the word 'masturbate,' " he complains -- he argues simultaneously that the show is better now than at any other point in the past two decades.
Some of the duo's greatest routines remain remarkably funny. Among them: "Honk for Cash," a stunt in which listeners reporting in by cellphone from left-turn lanes refuse to move when the light turns green and then wait to see how many drivers behind them will start honking their horns; and "What My Wife Doesn't Know," a latter-day "Newlywed Game" spinoff in which callers confess to something naughty on the air, then call their spouse and reveal allwhile listeners and the hosts cackle with glee.
Geronimo and O'Meara are still adding bits that delight listeners, such as "Shock Trivia," a game-show spoof in which the hosts put on electric dog collars and take a zapping every time they miss a trivia question.
"I still wake up every day and wonder when management is going to say, 'Okay, give us all the money back,' " says Geronimo, a Rockville native who was a wunderkind Top 40 DJ through his teens and 20s.
He says radio's declining audiences and diminished role among younger listeners are not factors in his departure. Though Geronimo says radio has driven listeners away by sucking the life out of DJs and by trying to mimic the iPod experience, he believes the medium is far from dying.
"It's free, everybody gets it and it can connect with people like nothing else," he says. "When I talk about myself or my family on the air, some dummy might think I'm being self-indulgent and pompous, but five other people are saying, 'He's my friend, he's real.' It's the same reason I watch Regis Philbin every day -- some days he's cranky, some days he misses, but you feel you know him. It's intimate."
Geronimo believes radio can still connect with listeners, if only stations would allow DJs to return to the freedom they had in the '60s and '70s. "I don't listen to radio now," he says. "I listen to XM [satellite radio]. The disc jockeys are real and I love the presentation" on the channels devoted to pop hits of the '60s and '70s -- channels that mimic the sound of radio stations of those eras.
On FM stations these days, there's no sense of place or personality, Geronimo argues. "What they're mainly missing is fun. When I listen to a station like Hot 99.5, I could be listening to something in Columbus, Ohio, or San Francisco. It's the same voices, the same 25 records. Let the DJ connect with people and there'll still be an audience."
Geronimo figures he will likely return to radio someday. But for now, he'll be at the beach, a bad boy coming around the turn.