Radio DJ Carol Miller recounts 40-year career in new book

Posted: September 27, 2012

ROCKIN' female radio DJs like Carol Miller have always been a rare breed. And almost extinct, some would argue, in today's age of YouTube and Spotify. Yet Miller counters in her breezy new autobiography, Up All Night: My Life and Times in Rock Radio, that broadcast FM is "the medium that just won't quit."

And this hearty survivor is certainly an apt case in point.

Over the past four decades, Miller has charmed millions of rock-lovin' radio listeners - and been courted by several highly visible rock stars - thanks to that sultry smoky voice, uncommonly friendly and easygoing demeanor and deep musical knowledge.

And OK, Miller's "English bird" look and fashion sense never hurt either, luring romantic admirers like Rod Stewart, iconic MTV VJ Mark Goodman (her hubby for a spell), Kiss' unmasked Paul Stanley, Aerosmith's perpetual bad boy Steven Tyler and David Coverdale of Whitesnake.

Paul and Linda McCartney were likewise excited to meet her, you learn in Up All Night. Paul is quoted as saying, "We always listen to Carol Miller."

She also served as a creative muse for talents like Mark Knopfler, who wrote and first sang his now-classic hipster variation on "Romeo and Juliet" in her presence.

Miller has lots to share, but don't expect a salacious tell-all. Carol's much too discreet.

As local prog-rock-era radio fans will recall, Miller got her initial breaks right here on the Philadelphia airwaves - first as a University of Pennsylvania coed "heeling" at a student-run WXPN in 1971. She quickly earned her first professional stripes as a part-time air personality on WMMR (93.3 FM), where she stayed through 1976. I was doing weekend shifts at "The Radio Station" and put in a good word for Miller with program director Jerry Stevens when he bemoaned, "We need a female voice on the air."

Did I have the girl for him!

Later, Miller moved back home to 'MMR's New York sister station, WNEW, then shifted to WPLJ and, later, back to 'NEW. In recent years she's occupied the live 7 p.m.-to-midnight slot at Big Apple classic rock outlet Q104.3. But that's hardly enough for this tireless and shockingly resilient (you learn from the book) Miller.

She also is heard mornings everywhere (prerecorded) on the Sirius/XM "Classic Rewind" channel (25) and with her nationally syndicated "Get the Led Out" daily features and weekly show produced by the Havertown-based Denny Somach Productions. Oddly, the latter is not broadcast in Philly.

Rock 'n' roll and rock radio have traditionally been a men's game - and a snake pit for the women who dared to enter. Miller's tale thus becomes a fascinating feminist study in attitude, diplomacy and survival in more ways than one.

Besides not falling prey to the usually destructive trifecta of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, or the whims of program directors who'd sometimes force her to play dreck, Miller also has survived several bouts of body-ravaging cancer and more operations than she can count on fingers and toes. None of which Miller shared with fans until now, with the publication of her book.

Q: I was very entertained by all the stories of rock stars coming on to you - first Rod Stewart up in Northeast Philly, where [noted late WMMR DJ] Ed Sciaky and his wife, Judy, had taken you both to play pool in her parents' basement. It's crazy how you would hang out with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons from Kiss at a New York deli at 3 a.m., eating matzo ball soup, without you ever having seen them in their makeup. And how Steven Tyler, in your presence, downed so many pills in his hotel room you thought he was dead.

A: Yeah, I had to wave a cup of coffee under his nose to wake him. Steven was 26 then and out of his mind a lot of the time. He needed and frankly still needs supervision, but he's also the sweetest man. No one's ever broken up with me in a more kindly fashion. . . .

A lot of the time, these relationships started from working these crazy hours on the radio, being up all night, as musicians are. So that's who you're meeting after you get off the air, who's saying at 2 a.m., "Let's go eat pizza."

Q: Being a woman in rock 'n' roll was fraught with peril. There are multiple spots in the book where you recount rockers saying, "Come on the plane with me. I'm going to Akron tomorrow." And you responding, "Sorry, I have a show to do."

A: My little motto has always been: "When in doubt, get out." Early on, I was very socially inexperienced, coming from a very conservative social background. I thought it was all about the music, not guys propositioning you the first time you meet. And it wasn't just the musicians. There were radio execs at Metromedia and ABC sexually harassing me so much I'd have to bolt the door of the studio to keep them away. And another program director was so toxic, so drugged up, it was like he'd brought Haight-Ashbury to New York. One night, he tried to commit suicide in my presence.

Q: You recount seeing John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, hanging multiple nights at the Dakota, across the street from where you lived. You're really casting blame on the building's security, aren't you?

A: It was clear the man was a sicko, rocking back and forth, clutching a Lennon album in his arms. The security guys never chased him away and still don't know how to handle the crowds who gather on the anniversary of John's death. I mentioned this to Yoko once. She just shrugged.

Q: You started out, like me, as an on-air personality working in free-form radio, when DJs could pick all their own music and play lots of obscure stuff. But while many of us quit in a huff when formatting and tight playlists took over, you managed to survive and adapt to the times, correct?

A: Even when I was at 'MMR, I made up my own format in my mind. In a three-song set, I tried to play something new and something everybody liked and a current album. The thing that's misunderstood with formatting is that it's actually an easier way to introduce new music. If you have 10 new albums and put them all on the air, people won't know what they're hearing. But if you play one new song in rotation, 10 times a day, people will get into it.

The first time I had to play KC and the Sunshine Band on WPLJ was traumatic, but I rationalized it with the notion that I'm an entertainer, not an educator, and this was music people actually wanted to hear.

Q: Reading about your ongoing struggles with cancer and your resilience are quite inspiring - including how you'd go back to work just a week after a major operation. Even if you could hardly move, could barely talk into the mic and had to hire an assistant to cue up the music. Was this hard to share?

A: I haven't before because I never thought my listeners would want to be brought down by my personal travails. But when a book publisher comes to you - and how often does that happen - and asks for the story of your life, it has to be in there. And if I could drum up money for charity - 5 percent of the book royalties go to the Breast Cancer Research Institute - there's real meaning. I still won't be talking about the Big C on my shows, but I've had 25 operations, recurrences.

I'm just a very stubborn person. My father had this old-world attitude that rubbed off on me. He'd say, "You're either here or you're not, and if you're here, let's get going."

Life's too short to feel sorry for yourself. You have to keep looking forward, not back. Don't mourn a sad anniversary, like the day you got separated; do something positive that will replace it in your mind. And buy yourself a nice recovery jacket or dress before you have an operation, something you can look forward to wearing when you're healed.


Contact Jonathan Takiff at takiffj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5960. Read his blog at philly.com/GizmoGuy.

|
|
|
|
|