Doc West spins a rock 'n roll tale
There’s barely any place to sit in Doc West’s cramped office at radio station WXKE, more commonly referred to as Rock 104. For 35 years, Doc’s been serving up rock ‘n’ roll to Fort Wayne audiences and he’s got the photos and memorabilia (Alice Cooper-signed golf shoes, anyone?) to prove it. From promoting new artists like Joe Bonamassa to interviewing rock legends like Jerry Garcia, Doc’s been at the forefront of rock music since rock hit the airways. Come along on his long, strange trip as we play 20 Questions.
1. Hands down, who was the coolest guy you’ve interviewed?
Alice Cooper. Alice bares his soul. He doesn’t try to be perfect. And he’s more interested in you and he shows total respect. Alice Cooper’s been to hell and back and he’s willing to talk about it and he’s willing to help you. The worst was the Black Crowes. They had that “rock star” attitude.
2. What was the best live performance in Fort Wayne?
A lot of people liked that last Steely Dan concert and I liked it, too, but I’d have to say the J. Geils Band just before Christmas in 1981 or ’82.
3. When was your best time on the air?
I would have to say every day.
4. How has radio changed over the course of your career?
I used to play vinyl – you had to track the slip cue. When you started it, you had to take the album out of the cover, then find the right track. Now you just click a button. Now you have some DJs who are on seven or more stations and who email their work in. Here at Rock 104, we’ve worked to be as live as possible. That’s my mantra. I don’t do schtick. I love spontaneity, I like thin air.
5. What is it about radio that gets you up in the morning?
I know I’m going to laugh. I don’t go to work: I go to play every day.
6. You grew up in Miami and Ohio. How did you end up in Fort Wayne?
The radio gig I was working at WCOL in Columbus switched to a Top 40 format. We went from Miles Davis to Donna Summer. It took its toll on me. I got into radio for rock ‘n’ roll.
7. Why rock? Why does it have such a hold on you?
Why rock? It’s life! Rock ‘n’ roll has got a life of its own. Rock ‘n’ roll firmly has its middle finger pointed at you and it tells you to shut up and listen and it’s full of life. It’s not just me. I’m surrounded by people who are now approaching their 70s whose eyes light up like they’re teenagers again. Music is magic. It can turn a 67-year-old into a 16-year-old, and I get to see that on a daily basis.
8. You’ve done some crazy stunts over the years, including a hunger strike to get the band Genesis to play here. Why?
You should have seen the looks on their faces! I became endeared to the locals.
9. You’ve worked with dozens of interns over the years who have a strong loyalty to you. How do you engender that loyalty?
Yeah, all these guys who’ve moved on are all making more money than I am now! We all love each other, I guess, because we try to keep it real. It’s not just a radio station, it’s a way of life. I’m not about radio, I’m about rock ‘n’ roll, and radio is the vehicle.
10. You were great friends with the late DJ Sharon Rossi, who died of cancer two years ago. How hard was her death on you?
I was with her the hour she died and I held her hand and I said, ‘Sharon, you’ve got to let it go.’ She’s the only person in my life I’d ever been around who knew they were gonna die. I told her you can only feel bad if you died and you didn’t make an impression on people. I told her, you and I were put on this earth to lift other people’s spirits and you did that. She embodied what rock ‘n’ roll was all about.
11. What’s the hardest thing you ever had to do?
Sharon Rossi’s eulogy.
12. What’s it like to have encouraged the careers of many young rockers?
It’s what I was (meant) to do, to introduce you to these guys. Like Joe Bonamassa. He was in this band called Bloodline, and we just happened upon it. We had him (play) over at Picasso’s – he was too young to play the main stage at Piere’s. And we listen to our phone (callers) pretty closely. That’s part of the job of radio – turning people on to stuff.
13. What’s it like living in the public’s ear? Do you get recognized at the grocery store and does that affect what goes in your cart?
Yeah, it kind of does! People look in my cart! Look, I’m just a frikkin’ DJ, OK? I’m a waiter: I serve up music. I’m not Jimmy Page. (Still,) I’m very passionate and if anybody crosses my path, I will talk with you.
14. Why are radio station DJs usually men?
When I got into it in 1974 – 75 at Ohio State, there was always a “Mother Earth” woman DJ, but you’re right, it is (male-dominated) and I don’t know why.
15. What makes you happy?
One of the greatest sensations is when people walk out of a concert smiling. When people come up to me and introduce their children and they’re at a Joe Bonamassa concert.
16. Ginger or Mary Ann?
Definitely Mary Ann.
17. If there’s one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be and why?
I need to learn how to say no. I tend to tell people what they (want) to hear. And I need to un-Doc. Some days I don’t want to be Doc. People are too nice to me, and I feel like I don’t deserve it. It’s nice to be recognized, and it’s nice to be anonymous.
18. What were you like as a kid?
Quiet. I sat in the back row. I never wanted to attract attention. I was constantly moving as a kid.
19. What’s in heavy rotation on your iPod?
I never play it because I get so much music during the day. I guess it would be Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s “Brand New Wayo” and “Made Up Mind” by Tedeschi-Trucks.
20. What can’t you live without?
First appeared in the January 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.