More than 25 years after I stopped being “The Rock and Roll Madame” on WXRK/K-ROCK in New York City, Google Analytics tells me people are still searching for her, and I’m often asked about her. So I sifted through my long radio career and plucked out some highlights for the annals of digital time — and to correct any misinformation out there. The process forced me to organize a big mess and have quite a few laughs along the way. It is what it is, I was who I was.
It all started with a guy. Of course.
I enrolled in a radio class at Miami Dade College when I was 16 because I had a mad crush on the gentleman on the left in the photo above: Criteria recording engineer and producer Karl Richardson. I thought it would help me speak his language. Next to him is producer Albhy Galuten and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. Karl and Albhy have produced many classic albums, including a little one you may have heard of called Saturday Night Fever. I met them in the early 1970s, before SNF exploded, when I was a clueless teenage Miami hippie. Hanging out at Criteria released a dormant jones in me for cold studios, hot multi-track tape recorders and dozens of faders and V.U. meters. When the student running the campus station refused to let me be a DJ because “Chicks can’t do Top 40 radio” I added “disc jockey” to my techno geek aspirations.
In December of 1977 I became the first female DJ on South Florida’s #1 hit music station, Y-100. The station already had JoJo Kincaid on the air so I couldn’t use Jo. Nor could I think of a real fake name (or fake real name?) that I liked. My boss, Bill Tanner, suggested I call myself Madame Midnight until I came up with something better. I’d been raised in a fairly conservative, reserved home and was rather introverted until I realized I could talk to anyone if I was speaking into a microphone. When I was moved to the noon-3pm shift (one of the first females in the country doing Top 40 in the daytime), Madame Midnight became The Madame. With a name that was obviously made-up it was much easier for me to be outrageous. And people remembered it. In a medium you can’t see, where ratings rely entirely on listeners’ recall, it served me well. It’s always an honor to hear a female DJ say I was her role model when she was young.
Karl, however, remained unimpressed.
There are more airchecks on my Soundcloud page. Each station is under Playlists.
Bee Gees Special. This aired on Y-100 October 6, 1979 before their sold-out show at Miami Stadium that would wrap-up the Spirits Having Flown tour. Jimmy Carter was President and America was in the throes of the second oil crisis in the 1970s (a gallon of gas averaged 86 cents, the equivalent of $2.82 today). Inflation was in the double digits, public confidence was reeling. Saturday Night Fever was still huge, though. (The album would stay on the charts from January 1978 until March 1980.) This interview was run commercial-free with no station I.D.s. Only Y-100 could pull off such a thing. What other station could you possibly be listening to? Produced by Alan “Herr” Leininger. New introduction recorded June 20, 2011.
Michael Jackson, circa the “Off the Wall” LP, 1980. It was a bad phone connection. I was too intimidated to ask him if I could call him back. I figured we could “fix it in the mix” (the last words a sound engineer or producer wants to hear). Bill Tanner, my boss, yelled at me later, “You should have called him back!” Oh, well.
One interview I wish I had was the one I did with singer/songwriter Bobby Caldwell (“What You Won’t Do For Love”) on Valentine’s Day, 1979. Probably for the best. I already had a crush and probably sounded like a fool. I had no idea that within five months we would be engaged. We were together five years.
I-95/WINZ-FM South Florida. 1982-1984. The “Up and at ’em with the Madame” glory days
From January 1983 to July 1984 I was the morning show host on I-95 (WINZ-FM), a first for a woman in that time slot in South Florida. “Up and at ‘em with the Madame!” was made up of me, wise-cracking Jeff DeForrest doing news/sports/traffic and George Streapy producing. I had a great time – even if I had to get up at 4 a.m. and pretend I wasn’t remotely stressed out. After beating my direct competition, Y-100 – another first – I asked for a raise and was fired. It was a blessing for I was soon offered my dream job: DJ-ing in the Big Apple. I-95 replaced me with Don Cox (famous for handing out Cox Sucker lollipops to his nubile fans). Don passed away in 2003.
“Up and at ‘em with the Madame!” summer 1984.
Y-100/WHYI – South Florida’s “Amazing FM” – 1977-1981. Brief return 1984.
After being canned at I-95, Y-100 invited me back to do middays before I knew I was heading to the Big Apple. This is from August 1984. That explains why I say my name every break. I had to let people know where I was. The start of this has a bit with Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. I had interviewed him on the phone. I turned the tape machine off, thinking we were done. Then back on when he started talking about Y-100. I felt naughty, like I was capturing something he hadn’t intended to have taped. Bill Tanner yelled at me, again, after. “Always leave the tape machine running!” Though Bill and I had our moments way back when, we remain friends and admirers.
The late, flamboyant Sunny Joe White brought me to WKTU when it was at 92.3 FM on the radio dial (now it’s at 103.5FM). It had lost its disco heyday bragging rights as the city’s number one station mainly due to the new kid in town, Z100 (led by Scott Shannon), pulverizing it rather quickly. Co-hosting the morning show with the hilarious Jay Thomas, then doing my own show after, was fun while it lasted.
WKTU composite aircheck. 1984. It was turned into a flimsy plastic record that was mailed to listeners. Line-up: Jay Thomas and me, Quincy McCoy, Dan Ingram.
K-ROCK/WXRK, New York City, July 13,1985-November 1991
On July 13, 1985, WKTU vanished. 92-3 K-ROCK was born in its place. Eventually Howard Stern would reign over mornings and begin his steady ascent to “The King of All Media.” For awhile my show followed his. Management thought “The Madame” was too “hit radio”; I needed a hipper, more rock and roll name. I became “The Rock and Roll Madame.”
November 1989, when I was on 10pm-2am. (Unbeknownst to me, not for much longer.) This show has my John Lee Hooker interview. I couldn’t understand 75% of what he said. Hearing me talk about him showing up at the Van Morrison shows, K-ROCK broadcasting from the Paul McCartney concert at Madison Square Garden, and a benefit with celebrity DJs like Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, brings back how exciting it was to be in New York City. Everyone, eventually, came through town.
January 1990. Howard Stern calls me after being demoted from full-time DJ status for five years to part-time (an 80% drop in income). Billy West plays Bea Arthur. Like Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom whose sword cuts through disillusionment, Howard was another voice in my head helping me to see the absurdity and limitations of “The Rock and Roll Madame” act. In 1991, I left the station while in the executive M.B.A. program at Columbia University. I never held a full-time DJ position again.
Z100/WHTZ, New York City, 1995-2003
When then PD, Steve Kingston, first asked me to join Z100 as a part-time DJ, I said no. But his offer had the effect of a time-release capsule slowly coursing through my brain. I was soon on Z100 in my head. I had to do it. It was one the best stations on the planet. I sensed it would be my last stop as a DJ. Why not end my career at the top? I was also finally able to use my name, Jo Maeder, on the air. No more Madame. My last show was in January 2003 when the #1 song in America was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” I moved to North Carolina to care for my declining “Mama Jo.” By losing “DJ Jo” I found a new me, and home.