September 19, 2021
Phil Schaap's greatest achievement was not his astonishing command of the history of the Jazz idiom or his unrivalled radio programming or his grammy-winning record producing and studio work, all of which have been deservingly vaunted in his obituaries. His greatest achievement was manifesting a radio station that could be a place for the kind of programming that he saw a need for.
From the time I was a little kid I loved listening to the radio. When I became a teen, I started really paying attention to WKCR. By the time I started programming here in 1985, I had been a dedicated fan of the station for the better part of a decade. I kinda figured there was probably a station like WKCR in every major city, right? Wrong. Forty years later, having traveled all over the surface of the earth, often in relation to my work in media, I can tell you that there is nothing remotely like WKCR anywhere. There are other wonderful radio stations but none do what WKCR does. I have never heard this kind of immersion in the community of musicians and fans, this level of scholarship, this unwavering commitment to reaching far beyond the level of middle-brow entertainment to unapologetically reach for what the artistry of the music demands. Those 40-minute mic breaks? That's what I'm talking about. Well, that and the birthday broadcasts, and the memorial broadcasts, and the festivals and, and, and, ...That's Phil.
The WKCR that we know is a figment of Phil Schaap's imagination. Many have contributed-- and I am proud to count myself among them-- but I don't believe that any of us would have started down this particular path without Phil.
And let me tell you: that kind of thing doesn't just happen by itself. The degree and variety of resources that it takes to keep a radio station and a format going for 50 years are astounding. The tide of opposition (or just apathy) can be truly paralyzing. Somehow, this notion emerged from Phil's brain and has captivated enough of us long enough to keep this juggernaut barreling on all this time. Did I know I would still be doing my college radio show a third of a century later? Of course not but I am so very grateful that Phil and all the other programmers who came before me did what they did to allow it to happen. I cannot tell you how much richer my life is because of it.
One of the principal among those predecessors was certainly Andy Caploe. When I was in high school, Andy hosted the slot that I do now. His show was more of a model for the way I started out doing the show than anything was. Okay, the truth is that I tried to copy Andy. Tried and failed. Many times. But eventually I came up with my own concept and by then Andy and I were great friends, as we are to this day.
What a pleasure it was to welcome Andy to the studio to do Deep Focus with me in 2018. And our topic? Ed Blackwell. It couldn't have been anything other than a lovefest and the WKCR archives yielded magic. Best of all, who was in the station that night but Phil Schaap. Phil and Andy hadn't seen one another in quite a few years and it was indeed a memorable reunion. I'm just glad I got to be there for it.
Tune in Monday from 6pm to 9pm to hear for yourself. If you miss it, catich it on the Deep Focus podcast on your favorite podcasting app or at https://mitchgoldman.podbean.com/
What's that you say? You want a story about Phil's ridiculously terrifying memory? Okay. On March 16, 1987 I'm sitting in Tom's on 112th St. with my friend and radio comrade from another station, Jonathan Fiur. Phil walks in and I point him out to Jon. Jon has always wanted to meet Phil so of course I introduce them. As it happens, it's Jon's birthday and Phil is happy to wish Jon a happy one. On March 16, 1989-- a full TWO YEARS LATER!-- I see Phil at the station:
Phil: "...and don't forget to wish Jon a happy birthday for me."
Me: "Jon who?"
Phil: "I don't know. You didn't tell me his last name."
It took me a week to remember what he was talking about. Funny enough, I have never forgotten Jonathan Fiur's birthday since.
Phil, rather than just saying "Thank you," I'll say that the path you have charted for us is clear. I don't imagine I will get as far down that road as you have but it means the world to me to have had you to lead the way.
#WKCR #PhilSchaap #AndyCaploe #EdBlackwell #MitchGoldman #DeepFocus #JazzRadio #JazzInterview #JazzPodcast
Photo credit: Earle Warren and Phil Schaap by Nancy Miller Elliott/New York Public Library.