Q: Are people surprised when they see you?
A: I used to want to go out in a paper bag. I almost hated to see the expressions on people's faces. It's not always skin. People will say I thought you were big. I thought you were this. I thought --.
Q: I had you pegged as a very sophisticated blond Irish --.
A: A lot of people. Shannon. Yeah. What that means is they created their image. I almost hate to destroy it. Except sometimes the real thing is good too.
Q: I want to talk about race because it fascinates me in the history of rock 'n' roll. Tell me about your race consciousness, doing this now.
A: One of the most common questions I'm asked is, "Are you black or white?" My mother is thrilled because as far as she is concerned, speaking well is not a question of race. What that says to me is that as a culture we still perceive a certain way of speaking as white, and another way of speaking as black. What I hope I am doing, mediawise, is exposing that they're -- that you can't identify us by voice only anymore all the time. I'm still in the early stages of women and blacks being a part of the media. I get into this discussion often about images. I'm one of these people who hates to be stereotyped. But if one can improve a "stereotype," then I guess I can be a part of that.
Q: This station has an extraordinary audience. When you imagine your audience, it must be a pretty technicolor image?
A: That's right. Urban contemporary stations are starting to make a change in the way the music is perceived. Back when we were listening -- back in the '60s at least -- you had your black radio stations and your white radio stations. You didn't find many white people who listened to black stations, or black people who admitted they listened to rock. They felt a stigma about that. But this format is starting to change that. Young kids, when they call and ask for songs, it's what they like regardless of who's making it, really. Music can be a very uniting force.
Q: I guess we are here today because I'm an old rock 'n' roller and was really stunned by discovering you as a voice on the radio. I've been listening to rock 'n' roll radio stations since about 1954.
A: When it began!
Q: When it began. I lived in Albany and used to be able to pick up WKBW from Buffalo. I found Alan Freed. But this is the first time I've heard a woman do it extremely well. You have an extraordinary amount of poise and know what you are about. So I was surprised to learn that you hadn't been in this music before, or in this kind of a role. Tell me how it happened?
A: The first thing I did on radio was as a newscaster. I worked for a local TV station, but it was the ABC O-and-O there (network- owned-and-operated station) so we had a radio station right next door and I used to go practice reading. Journalists have no respect for a deejay. There has always been that status among newscasters. Deejays were, "Hey, most of 'em don't go to college, man. They don't know anything." Well, I learned to have respect for people who can ad-lib on the air. (As a deejay) I would cry every night I got off. I worked midnight to 6, first. The ability to just turn on a microphone, announce a record and talk and not sound forced or too long or too short, I started to truly admire.
Q: Your music is presented to you to play?
A: Yes and no. (The program director) doesn't give me 50 or 100 records to play tonight. There are 1,000 or 1,300 records. Out of all the records in there, all the tapes, I can select. Most competitive radio stations have a format. So (the program director) has current music divided up into three and four categories, and oldies and several other categories. And you play with it.
From 6 to 10 at night I can stretch out. If you're in drive time, you're punching through. You're in and out of your car. But if you come home and turn on the radio, you're likely to listen longer. You probably don't want to hear the same tunes over and over again. So I can embellish the music. Play two or three artists together. Get into a mood set. Whereas during the day times, especially drives, they're just trying to play the important records. Period. The people who listen to the radio in the evening are often more musically inclined.
Q: Do you like this music?
A: Oh, I like the music. But the truth is we play it six days a week, four hours a day. The deejays, as my program director has pointed out, burn out on music faster than the listening audience. So some days I'll go there and say "This again! This again!"
But it has worked. (Program director) Donnie (Simpson) moves the music as quickly as he thinks it's necessary. He believes that familiarity is a very important aspect of a popular radio station. So I try to find a challenge and play it just a little differently -- behind another song. Play it in a different position somehow.
There's a lot of interesting things about the music. Certainly the semi-explicit sexuality in the music. Very explicit sexuality in a lot of the music provokes very interesting phone conversations with listeners.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: Nah. I'm a person that believes that we should hear it all and see it all. I don't believe in censorship.
Q: Do you ever get a little angry about male lyrics -- attitudes toward women?
A: Yes. I have gotten into that with people who called and will agree.
Q: Marvin Gaye?
A: Marvin Gaye. Prince. Music that has a very male sexuality about it. I do find a double standard often. It's okay to be macho and talk about it. But women sing about it, then it's not nice. The double standard says that "Sexual Healing" can be played. But a female artist getting even subtly explicit, some male programmers go "Ohhh, we can't say that!"
Q: What do you play for yourself at home?
A: We are allowed to listen to a lot of the music as it comes in. So I was listening to Glenn Guthrie. The Gladys Knight album is out now. I admire her. She's been around such a long time, has maintained her excellence and yet moved with the times.
I still play jazz. I'll even pick out my favorite symphony sometimes. I come from parents who -- when we grew up, we had to listen to an equal amount of classical music as anything else on the radio. My mother used to play Chopin's Etudes every day. I can hum them all.
I'm a reader. That's one of my hobbies. For fun. Anything I can. I just love to read. The library system (in Washington) doesn't seem comparable to what I remember. I used to have great book discussions in the library. The library was a big focal point for a lot of things. It doesn't seem to be a lot of that around Washington.
Broadway show music still gives me a thrill. Takes me back. Makes me think maybe one day I'll move back in that direction.
Q: Did you sing?
A: I did. But I have to face up to the fact that when people like Lena Horne and Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand can sing, I can carry a tune. People who have a voice -- that can make you get chillbumps.
Q: Do you talk to a lot of listeners?
A: I probably talk to more than most people do. I worked for three years in a television newsroom and the news director once said "If I hear anybody being rude to a viewer, you're fired." When I first started in radio, there were very few women. And a lot of the men can be very cavalier with the kids that call. "I don't wanna hear another request for that." Often these people wait on the phone and wait and wait because you just can't always pick it up and answer. If you've taken the time to wait, I can at least be polite and listen to you.
I've had people call up with serious problems who want me to do something about it. I make a point to try to remember numbers to give people to call. I can't take on the responsibility of what a professional can do.
I've had a lot of young girls in Washington that ask me can they come live with me. It's a good feeling and a sad feeling because they identify so strongly with a voice, a fantasy figure. That's the beauty and the magic of radio -- the ability to make that voice be whatever you want it to be. It's not a firm person, so you can create who you want.
Q: You can't tell me that -- with this particular voice -- that it's only young ladies who offer to live with you.
A: Most men are gentlemen on the phone. In my whole career I think I've had less than 10 obscene calls.
Q: These girls want to get away from home, is that the idea?
A: Sometimes. Some are impressed with what they think is a terribly glamorous life. I don't know. Hey, what would I do without listeners. But sometimes I want to say "Go pick up a book or join a club or something." They're glued to the radio and fantasizing. But being a teen-age girl is hard. So if it gets them through a tough time, well --.
Q: Are you married?
A: I just got married this past September. This is my first marriage, his first marriage. It's a big surprise in that when I moved to Washington all of my girlfriends said "Washington! There are no men in Washington! You don't want to go to Washington!" and I said "But I'm not moving to find a man. I'm making a career move." In fact, men were for fun and enjoyment, but a lifelong commitment was not, I thought, in the cards. He is not in the business at all. When he met me, he had been working in Atlanta and had just come back and hadn't really gotten back into the radio. So he was not a fan, which probably helped the beginning of our relationship and has probably helped maintain the relationship.
Q: What does he do?
A: He works for the federal government in the Labor Department.
Q: How does he feel about sharing his wife every night with thousands of people?
A: He's such an uncomplaining man. I ask him and he says to me, "Is it what you want to do?" and I look and say "Are you for real?" He's a grown-up. It's not that he's not impressed or proud of his wife, but he can separate me from Candy Shannon on the radio and I feel very lucky.
Q: You play with this voice a little bit. You come across as a sophisticated lady. I went to the Lena Horne show a couple of weeks ago and I thought of you. You are having fun, aren't you?
A: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That's the ham in me. Being a deejay is a way to perform. (Program director) Donnie (Simpson) has allowed that to develop. When I first came he cut me back. "You're sounding like Mae West, cut that out. You sound like you're 12, cut that out."
A: Where did Candy come from?
Q: My legal name is Candace. When I first was a newscaster, I used C.L. Shannon the first day on the job. My program director called up and said, "Who is C.L. Shannon?" I said "Well, I, you know, C.L. Shannon has a strong newsy ring." And he said "Why do you think we hired you? Candy Shannon sounds good. It's catchy." I said, "Oh."
It's funny. When I began, especially as a disc jockey, there were very few women role models. The few that I did hear, so often it seemed that they'd gush and golly gee and cute or just pure sex, just raunch. And "Candy" just seemed to add to that. It's an easy way out for a woman, just to be pure sex on the radio. I wasn't comfortable with that kind of role. Now, as I've gotten older, I'm not as afraid of a sexiness about the part I play. Maybe I've learned to deal with it.
Q: How much does official Washington cross your screen?
A: I've never been to an embassy party, and I have that on my list. Someday I want to go to an embassy party. It feels like another world. I go up and down Massachusetts Avenue sometimes and say "Hmmm, this is different."
Q: You're a big fish in your pond, but this is a town with a lot of ponds. Is it bothering you?
A: Nyah. Well, I can't say that I've never wondered what it might not be like to be the big fish in the big pond. But it's nice to be able to go places without people knowing who you are. I've been with friends who are on television who can't always do that. Every once in a while somebody hears me speak and says, "Are you? Are you?" That just gives you a big kick for that day.
Q: Can you really make a lot of money in this thing?
A: Oh, I guess somebody like Gary Owens or Don Imas, these people in New York and California, make lots of money.
Q: Meaning what?
A: Oh, over a hundred, maybe $500,000. I don't know. But over $100,000.
Q: Six figures?
A: Six figures. But most of us make, I mean, when I started in this business I was making $82.50 a week take home. That was 10 years ago, but shoot.
Q: Is there a lot of pressure on you not to get sick and not to take a day off and not to take a vacation?
A: Yes. And that's something that families of radio announcers have to deal with. They like you to take no more than a week at a stretch. They don't really want you to take a single day, even. They are flexible, if something comes up. But I don't automatically plan two-week vacations even though I have two weeks to take. We work Christmas, New Year's Eve, Memorial Day. That is not a day anybody automatically gets off. You can put in for it and if no one else is taking off on vacation you may get it. But the only Christmases I've ever had off have been between jobs. No Thanksgivings, unless they happen on my regular off day.
Q: Do you get angry about that?
A: Especially if I have children, as the family grows I would want to be in a position to be off. If you're in the business long enough -- I don't think Walter Cronkite worked Christmases. Johnny Carson has a great job!
Q: What about ambitions? Is it all radio now in your mind's eye, or is it back on stage? What are you dreaming of?
A: Hey, I dream about vacation on the beach.