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Former WYEP hosts Bumblebee Slim and Stephan Bontrager remember past 'awkward' moments

Two people with headphones by an audio mixer in a black and white photo.
Bumblebee Slim with Rosemary Welsch

WYEP is celebrating our 50th anniversary, and we’ll be sharing aspects of the station’s history throughout the year.

Working at a radio station like WYEP can bring the staff in close contact with many musicians, often leading to indelible special moments—although these interactions can sometimes end up awkward, embarrassing, or worse.

Bumblebee Slim, host of the show Blues & Rhythm from 1985 to 2010, recalled a stellar interaction with an iconic musician in 1999. "The best on-air interview I did was with guitarist Dick Dale,” he said. “I only had to ask one question and he took it off from there telling story after story—about him and Leo Fender (who invented the Fender guitar), about the surf movies he made, about when he dated Annette Funicello, and how he started the musical genre surf music. He continued to talk and talk without being prompted or questioned and when I started playing one of his songs he was still talking, and I had to turn his mic down as he was talking over the music. He was having so much fun he didn't want to leave the studio and the promoter had to drag him out.”

A man smiles in a black and white photo.
Stephan Bontrager

Stephan Bontrager, a WYEP on-air host from 2002 to 2007, once conducted an unintentional artist interview. “I briefly got stuck in the elevator with the Indigo Girls at the old WYEP studios [on E. Carson Street] down by the Birmingham Bridge as they were on their way up to the studios for a performance and interview,” he said. “They were pretty road-weary and probably just wanted to get it over with. And here they were stuck in an elevator with a fanboy who was geeking out at the experience and trying to make small talk.”

WT Koltek was a WYEP host from 1976 to 1985, and one live music session at WYEP stood out among his experiences. He remembered “the time a local punk band played live in the studio. One of their most popular numbers had a chorus filled with exuberant cries of ‘Eff You.’” If the song’s lyrics were unexpurgated, it would violate Federal Communications Commission rules to air such language on the radio. “They closed with it and didn’t change it at all for broadcast. I was running the board and turned five different colors. Fortunately, there were no repercussions.”

Bumblebee Slim also had a low point among the interviews with the musicians that he conducted at WYEP. "The worst on-air interview was with Robert Lockwood Jr., who was the stepson of the famous prewar blues artist Robert Johnson,” he recalled. “The promoter who brought Lockwood to the studio told me before the interview to not mention his stepdad because he was tired of answering questions about him. The interview did not go well because most of his answers were ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and sometimes he only nodded his head. I ended the interview after about ten minutes since it was going nowhere. Then, to top it off, after the interview ended and they were leaving, Lockwood told me I was the worst interviewer he ever had because I didn't ask any questions about his stepdad.”

Hear the moment during that 2002 Kim Richey interview when something fell off the wall live on the air.

There are many reasons why an interview can go badly, and not all of them can be foreseeable. Stephan Bontrager had one in 2002 that added potential injury to insult for the visiting artists. “I was also part of a really difficult interview/performance with Kim Richey during which she was pretty curt with me. I later learned that she found out earlier that day she was being dropped from her label or something like that, which explains a lot.” Richey's then-current album Rise was out on Lost Highway Records, but despite critical acclaim and media attention, the singer/songwriter was unceremoniously dumped from the label not too long after the album's release.

“She didn't want to answer my questions and the tension in the air was high, which was only punctuated when a sign suddenly fell off the wall and hit one of her band members on the head,” Bontrager said.

“The studio is attacking the musicians,” he said live on the air in 2002. “Just so you listeners know, the WYEP mission statement fell off of the wall and attacked the bass player. We apologize for that.”

Bontrager, looking back today, sums up being in the interview chair for that session, “What a nightmare.”

Be sure to join us at our 50th Anniversary concert at the Byham Theater on April 16 featuring Shawn Colvin and KT Tunstall (tickets are on sale now). And listen on April 30 as we share listener’s stories of WYEP memories during that day. If you want to share a story about how WYEP has been meaningful in your life, go to wyep.org/memories.

Mike Sauter started at WYEP in 2004 and held various positions, including Midday Mix host, music director, program director, and station manager.