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It's No Snap Keeping the Fab Four Fresh

Deirdre O'Donoghue has had a ticket to ride the airwaves for more than a decade hosting 'Breakfast With the Beatles.'

April 21, 1996|Jon Matsumoto | Jon Matsumoto is a frequent contributor to Calendar

'I joke that I'm a kept woman," says KLSX-FM disc jockey Deirdre O'Donoghue with a laugh. "John, Paul, George and Ringo have kept me for years."

To be exact, it's been 11 years since O'Donoghue began her love affair with the Fab Four when she began hosting "Breakfast With the Beatles" on KMET-FM.

The two-hour Sunday morning program, which is completely devoted to the music of the legendary British band and its four members, has seen plenty of changes since then. When rock 'n' roll bastion KMET became "The Wave" and switched to a New Age music format in 1987, the Beatles program moved over to KNX-FM. In 1988 O'Donoghue brought the show to classic-rock-oriented KLSX (97.1).

KLSX added popular shock jock Howard Stern to its mix in 1991. Then last September, the station moved to an all-talk format during the week, while reserving the weekends for pop music programming.

Through it all, "Breakfast With the Beatles" has thrived. KLSX's operations manager, Warren Williams, says the program is at times the station's second most popular show, after Stern's morning program. It was the No. 2 show in its time slot last fall.

The show "has a huge and lovely audience," O'Donoghue says during an afternoon interview at an English pub in Santa Monica.

O'Donoghue's intelligent and intimate way of delivering "Breakfast With the Beatles" has undoubtedly helped give the show its appealing definition and longevity.

She expresses amazement at the warm response the show still manages to elicit from listeners.

"I get letters that totally knock me out," she says. "Thoughtful, composed letters. Not postcards, but full pages of typing that talk about how much either the show means to them or how much they care about the band. . . . Do you know where I get the most mail from? Teenage girls. They write me these beautiful letters about how much the Beatles have influenced their lives."

Still, O'Donoghue says, it's not always easy hosting a program on which most of the music featured is 3 decades old. Coming up with fresh observations or anecdotes for songs she has played countless times can be a challenge. It helps that the Beatles are one of the most analyzed and documented bands in rock history. O'Donoghue often refers to her large library of books on the Liverpool quartet for inspiration and information.

"I look at whatever a particular writer has to say in a book about [a song like] 'Ticket to Ride,' " she says. "He may give it a particular slant and pay attention to the guitar. Another writer may pay attention to the drums. That sparks off in me an idea: 'Well, this time I'll talk about the guitar' or 'This time I'll talk about the drums or about the time changes.' "

The show has also been given a shot of adrenaline by the release in the last six months of two double-CD Beatles anthologies. Each contains rare material by the band. A third volume is scheduled to come out in the fall.

The longtime disc jockey (she began her career in 1974 at Boston rock station WBCN-FM) actually did not become a Beatles aficionado until after she began hosting "Breakfast With the Beatles." Today she even finds value in some of the members' critically ignored solo work.

But O'Donoghue, who is in her late 40s, isn't just living in the past. To many listeners, she is much better appreciated for delivering an eclectic serving of pop music every Sunday night on her two-hour KLSX program "SNAP Judgments."

That program too has been through changes. O'Donoghue actually started it as a weekly jazz program on KCRW-FM (89.9) in 1982. The show, originally called "SNAP," eventually evolved into a platform for out-of-the-mainstream rock acts that at one point was being aired every weekday evening.

In 1991, O'Donoghue left KCRW for health reasons and briefly moved the program (renamed "SNAP Judgments") to XTRA-FM (91X) in San Diego for a weekly Sunday night show. Then last September, wanting to get it back on the air, she approached KLSX station manager Bob Moore about bringing it to the newly reformatted station.

O'Donoghue maintains that she actually has more programming freedom at commercial giant KLSX than she did at the community-supported KCRW.

"KCRW had emotional [and tacit] restrictions like 'Don't play a band that's too big,' " she says. "[Now] I can drop Tom Petty into a set. It's not like 'Oh god, she's playing Tom Petty.' I'm sorry, but he makes great music."

O'Donoghue is planning to begin periodically airing in-studio performances that artists have done specifically for the show. This had been a significant part of the old "SNAP" at KCRW.

When discussing "SNAP Judgments," O'Donoghue speaks with the zeal of a teenager just bitten by the rock 'n' roll bug. Whether she's presenting a song by a new, unknown band such as Octopus ("If anybody is going to be the next Beatles, it's going to be them; they really are terrific") or an old favorite like Brian Eno, O'Donoghue isn't reluctant to playthe part of the unapologetic fan.

The radio host says "Breakfast With the Beatles" and "SNAP Judgments" represent her four favorite hours of the week, though she admits to deriving more pleasure from the latter show's wide-open format.

"The challenge and the satisfaction with the Beatles show is taking this tiny universe of known music and making it interesting for people every week," she explains. "The challenge with 'SNAP Judgments' is to mix music that's familiar with music that's historical like Muddy Waters and music that nobody's ever heard of. It's the best feeling to introduce people to new music."

*

"Breakfast With the Beatles" airs Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon, "SNAP Judgments" from 7 to 9 p.m., both on KLSX-FM (97.1).

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