Karlyn, The Keys, And The Passion That Drives Us All
August 20, 2014
WRZC-LP at 92.3 is the radio station at the very tip of Wisconsin on an Indian Reservation called Red Cliff, just north of the town of Bayfield, home of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.
Karlyn Gordon was a Junior in High School, and her and a friend named Katrina Werchouski would come prepared with a crate full of Hip-Hop CD's that they'd purchased with their hard earned money, so they could share their passion for music with anyone in earshot of the low powered FM signal.
Karlyn, right and her friends from Red Cliff enjoy a night amongst the waters of Lake Superior
I was visiting the Rez in December of 2003, because it is home to my mother, who was born there, was raised there, then, at age 19, moved to Chicago on a government assisted program that took the Natives from their land and placed them into big cities to give them jobs.
In 1955, my mom would get a job as a receptionist at Time Life in Chicago. She would soon meet my father, a Jewish man, and they would have 7 Chippejews in 8 years, with me being the youngest.
Rob Wagman, his wife, Sarah Lee and Charli Roo on a recent visit to the Northern Woods
I have visited Red Cliff every year of my life from birth to now and I can attest that my passion for radio was somewhat berthed on that reservation in the 1970's. As a kid, I was mesmerized that, even though we were 500 miles north of our home, which then was the Chicago suburb, Carpentersville, IL; at night, in our station wagon or van, we could tune into AM 890 and pick up our hometown station, Music Radio WLS out of Chicago, hearing talents like Bob Sirott and John "Records" Landecker.
By the late 70's, my passions had turned into responding to touch tones to win many great prizes from WLS, including tickets to see Steve Martin live in 1979, at Alpine Valley.
So, there on the same reservation, almost thirty years later, I was invited to be on a radio show with Karlyn and Kat and I identified with the pride when Karlyn had confided in me that the radio station manager thought enough of her to allow her access to the keys that opened the radio station doors.
What was that trigger point in your career that instilled a passion for our industry inside of you?
Red Cliff is a small reservation, home to 1500 active tribal members and the closest town, Bayfield, has a population of less than 700 people, and since this was winter, I'd guess there were much less than that in earshot on this particular day.
I was impressed with their playlist as it was aggressive Hip-Hop, and I was unsure how Karlyn and Kat knew what songs to play since there wasn't a specific playlist. Many of the songs they were sharing would later become the big staples at the Rhythm format. How did they know that? They probably didn't, but the passion that fueled them couldn't stop them from sharing what was bubbling over in them, from the inside out.
Oddly, after having a career that took me from Chicago to Providence to Tampa to Syracuse to the Carolinas to New Orleans to Los Angeles, I found myself nervous, as we were about to embark onto the program of Karlyn and Kat; who incidentally, if they were nervous, you could not see it on them.
But once they cracked the mic and introduced me as the guest on their show, the same passion that took me from an intern in the halls of B96 Chicago and later propelled a career, took over, and within seconds I was sharing Karlyn's story about the keys.
"When I saw how excited Karlyn was, telling me that the station manager has given her access to the keys that open the doors to this radio station, I decided to make everyone this happy. I took the keys down to Seth at Ace Hardware and I have made a copy of these keys for anyone who wants them, the only catch is this, you have to show your tribal identification card."
Now, Ace Hardware is the real hardware store there, and at the time, Seth was the store manager, and that's how small a town we're talking, where everybody knows, or is related to everybody else.
Within minutes, people started busting through the doors of WRZC with their tribal cards, not really to get the keys, that I didn't really have made down at the hardware store, but to show their ID's in a way as to say, 'Hey, we're hearing you. We get you. We like what you're doing.'
And none of that would have ever happened if Karlyn didn't have the passion to put on a show, sharing her life and her music, with a people she wanted to share it with. The fact that anybody responded is a testament to the power of radio, even a low powered FM; that, on its best day may only reach a hundred or so people.
And maybe small in sheer size, but so big in heart, are these people, that when my father had passed in 2001, they demanded that this Jewish man be buried on their land, in their graveyard, since they had grown fond of him since first meeting him in the mid 50's, before he married my mother.
And that's why a gravestone with the Star of David and the last name Wagman, sits on an Indian burial ground, next to names like Gokee, Bear and Peacock, among many others.
Karlyn recently left Red Cliff and according to Facebook, now resides in Green Bay. I know that, that passion that ignites us all, that never dies, will probably lead her back into the hallways of a radio station, where her passion and creativity will be best displayed, as it was on WRZC at the very tip of Wisconsin.