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Morning Becomes Eclectic 30th Anniversary Interviews: Gary Calamar

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Last week we celebrated the 30th anniversary of KCRW's flagship show, Morning Becomes Eclectic with interviews with Jason Bentley, Chris Douridas, Nic Harcourt, Anne Litt, Liza Richardson, and we conclude our special with Gary Calamar, the host of KCRW's Sunday night staple, The Open Road.

For those of you who might be watching tee vee at night instead of listening to the radio, you might not know it but you were probably listening to Gary's music choices anyway. As Music Supervisor for such shows as Six Feet Under and Weeds, among others, when you sang along to "Little Boxes" you were doing so because of today's interview subject.

And if you happen to fly on Delta, put your headphones on, ease your seat back, and tune in to Delta Radio where Gary hosts a show way up in the sky.

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(Full disclosure, Gary hired this LAister way back in the '80s when Gary was the store manager of the Licorice Pizza record store on Wilshire in West LA. Great job, great boss.)

LAist: Didn't you start at KCRW as a librarian or something?

Gary Calamar: I started as a volunteer in the music library, 3 hours a week, opening mail and refiling cd's. I was advised that I shouldn't be taking this volunteer job with hopes of eventually getting on the air as it is an extremely long shot that it will happen. At the time I also started taking broadcasting classes upstairs at Santa Monica College to surround myself with radio waves.

LAist: So what ended up being your big break that lead you to hosting The Open Road?

Calamar: After a while my hours increased in the music library and I got to know Chris Douridas who was music director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic at the time. One day he casually mentioned that they were looking for a Saturday-Sunday overnight dj...the very words I had been dreaming of. I (literally) dropped to my knees and begged Chris to give me a shot...and he did. As The Temptations sang "Ain't To Proud To Beg". If there's something you REALLY want, don't rule out begging.

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LAist: You have won awards, you're the Music Supervisor of big shows like Weeds, Six Feet Under and Vegas - don't you'd think you'd have a better time slot by now than Sunday nights? Isn't that when we're supposed to be watching Weeds?

Calamar: Ha Ha. Good question. I think Sunday night is a very special and unique night and I am very happy to occupy that slot. As a kid, I was introduced to some great music on Sunday nights by Ed Sullivan and The Smothers Brothers on TV. It also feels like a good time to have guests drop by to guest dj. By the way Inara George from The Bird and The Bee and Peter Case are coming up in the next few weeks.

Oh, by way....Weeds airs on Monday nights and I no longer work on Las Vegas. Check out Dexter and the upcoming Cavemen.

LAist: Do you find that many of your listeners also tune into KROQ's Rodney on the Roq after listening to The Open Road?

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Calamar: I couldn't tell you. What time is he on these days ? I like to check out The Suicide Girls on my way home after The Open Road.

LAist: Is it harder finding songs to fill up three hours every Sunday or finding songs to fit into television and movies?

Calamar: It's harder to find songs for the film and TV projects cause there are many producers and directors who like to second guess my choices. They don't realize that I am ALWAYS right. : ) On the radio it's my thing and I do what I want to do.

LAist: What is the best way for someone who has a song that they think would fit into your show come to you? Obviously when people approach you with a "omg you GOTTA hear this..." your defenses are up, right?

Calamar: Hard to say. There are people in the biz that I know and trust their tastes and I will listen to their suggestions right away. Otherwise it could be reading something about them, a cool band name or cover art, ...something unique, but not overblown, about the presentation can get my attention. I try to get to everything I receive but it's not always possible.

LAist: What has been your favorite new discovery of 2007?

Calamar: Soko, Fujiya & Miyagi, Great Northern, Sea Wolf, Coburn, Mark Ronson, Blockhead, and RE discovering Bo Diddley.

LAist: Was there any radio program that you listened to growing up that helped feed your thirst for new music?

Calamar: I grew up in Yonkers, NY and was the kid who kept a transistor radio under his pillow. I was a big fan of WNEW-FM and their amazing staff of DJ's. I remember Scott Muni, Pete Fornatelle, Allison Steel "The Night Bird" and Dave Herman. I was listening when John Lennon surprised Dennis Elsas on the air guest dj'd. I think that is one of the things that inspired me to have guest dj's on The Open Road.

LAist: Because KCRW is known internationally, and thanks to the advent of podcasting, there's no doubt that your audience has expanded beyond LA. Are there any pockets of the world who have surprised you by being big fans of The Open Road?

Calamar: I get emails for all over the world (and beyond). I am very big in Central Africa where there is a large population of pygmies.

LAist: Name 4-5 new songs that the minute you heard them you were all "this would be Perfect for my show".

Calamar: "Do You Realize", Flaming Lips

"Young Folks", Peter Bjorn and John

"Business Time", Flight Of The Conchords

"Sleep", Azure Ray

"Windfall", Son Volt

LAist: Is there one special song that got into a movie or tv show that would never have been there without you?

Calamar: Well, there's been a few. I'm especially proud of Sia "Breathe Me" in Six Feet Under and "I'd Love To Save The World" by Ten Years After from Slums Of Beverly Hills, my first placement on my first project.

LAist: What would you say to critics of KCRW who complain that it's "not really" a student radio station since students cant really hop on and get on the air?

Calamar: I would say "you're right".

LAist: I know you're a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Let's say you really love his new record, would there be a way that you might play it on KCRW - a station that probably doesn't play very much from the Boss?

Calamar: I think Bruce Springsteen is one of the all time great songwriters and performers. I have played Bruce on KCRW before and will do again. No big deal.

LAist: 20 years ago you were managing a record store in West LA that was proudly hyping the debut record from Fishbone, which at the time was selling just as many records as another new(ish) band, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. How do you explain that 20 years later, The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the biggest bands in the world, and as strong as ever, with the freedom to play anywhere in LA from the Roxy to the Forum to Coachella.

Calamar: Yes, you worked there with me. We had a good time! I loved working in record stores and am very sad to see them f-f-f-fade away.

I saw the RHCP back in the day at the Roxy in West Hollywood and they were amazing! They've got the goods and have continued to grow and evolve over the years. I'm not a huge fan these days. I especially loathe that "under the bridge" song.

LAist: Speaking of clubs, what's your favorite club to see a band in LA?

Calamar: When I first moved to LA in the late 70's I saw many phenomenal shows at the Roxy. I would say that's still my favorite venue.

LAist: Are there any of your heroes that you haven't met yet?

Calamar: Mmmm, not that I can think of...how 'bout Sarah Silverman. Funny, Hot, and Musical. A great combination. Perhaps we can meet at 4:20 some time.