Radio Talk Show Host St. Pierre to be Inducted into Pawtucket Hall of Fame

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 22, 2017

After 40 years, the life’s work of Ron St. Pierre, who grew up on Vine Street in Pawtucket’s Darlington section, has not only stood the test of time, for he has become a longtime fixture in the Rhode Island broadcast community. One of his most shining achievements was being inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame in 2010. This Pawtucket native has certainly gone a long way in his broadcasting profession and its particularly rewarding to hear his local pride is still there, as he tells stories on-the-air about growing up here.

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame is extremely proud to welcome St. Pierre into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame, who will join 7 other award recipients on Friday October, 27, 2017 at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center beginning at 6 pm. This award is given to those individuals who have gone “above and beyond” in helping their community and/or have been a vehicle to shine a positive light on the city. This is a way of recognizing those pertinent and outstanding contributions.

A Four-Decade History of Achievements

Once he got into the broadcasting profession, St. Pierre turned his talents up to full throttle. During his time at Rhode Island College, he began to learn the ropes of TV production as a weekend cameraman for WJAR TV10 in Providence. He started his radio career at WNRI in Woonsocket in 1977 and never looked back. His first major position was as Program Director for 920 WHJJ AM from 1982 to 1988, now known as NewsRadio 920. He was also part of The WHJJ Morning Show at that time, eventually serving as Program Director for both 920 WHJJ AM and its sister station, 94 HJY FM during the last year of this tenure.

During his time at WHJJ, St Pierre literally helped revolutionize talk radio in Rhode Island in terms of listenership and ratings. He recruited then-mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci for his first stint as a talk-show host at this time, while working with other local radio stalwarts such as Steve Kass.

In his “spare” time, St. Pierre served as a weekend sports anchor for WPRI TV-12. During the early and mid 1990s, he managed several stations in Providence, before taking a series of management positions in West Palm Beach and New York City. He returned to Rhode Island radio in 1997. Now, he began with a highly successful on-air and program-management tenure at WPRO 630 AM, again enabling his chosen station to rise to the apex of listenership and ratings in our state’s highly competitive radio market. The station’s hosts at that time included the legendary Salty Brine, along with the return of Buddy Cianci to the airwaves — with whom he co-hosted a highly successful afternoon drive-time show.

Fittingly, Ron St. Pierre’s career has now come full circle as a popular morning-drive host at NewsRadio 920 (formerly 920 WHJJ). His unassuming, authentic style and natural quick-wit are enjoyed daily by a wide expanse of radio listeners in Rhode Island and neighboring Southeastern New England.

The early genesis of a creative spirit

Anyone who knew Ron St. Pierre back at Pawtucket-based Saint Raphael Academy was pretty sure that he would in up in the broadcasting business. It would also most likely be in front of a microphone — where his personality, wit and intelligence could take him quite far.

“In his high school yearbook profile, at St. Raphael Academy in 1973, Ron said his life’s goal was to become a sportscaster. So a career in broadcast was always in his mind. But he opened it up a lot wider than any of us could imagine,” says Ron Fournier, an advertising copywriter and musician who’s known the WHJJ talk show host for over 40 years.

During high school and college days, St. Pierre was already working magic with his reel-to-reel tape recorder. He would create uproariously funny audio bits, in the style of the classic National Lampoon and Firesign Theatre albums at that time. He was already setting himself up to be a voice talent and producer back then.

“Ron is a virtual encyclopedia of comedy who’s studied all the greats — from the Marx Brothers to the present day,” Fournier adds. “That’s where his quick wit comes from. On the air, you never know what kind of quip or one-liner is coming next. But you know it’ll be a classic in his trademark. tongue-in-cheek style of humor.”

St. Pierre now lives now in East Greenwich with his wife, Patti, and their dog, Hazel.

Announcing the 2017 Pawtucket Hall of Fame Inductees

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame cordially invites the public attend its annual Pawtucket Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony on Friday, October 27, 2017 beginning at 6pm (reception), 7pm (dinner) at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. Tickets may be purchased at the Blackstone Valley Visitor’s Center, 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI, open 7 days a week from 10-4pm. Our Master of Ceremonies for the evening will be Anchor/Reporter, Alison Bologna from WJAR NBC10.

This year’s 2017 Pawtucket Hall of Fame Inductees are: (civic activist) Janina “Jean” Babiec; (American film director) Kevin Lima; (the late) coach and coordinator Robert K. Neill, Sr.; and (legendary Rhode Island radio broadcaster) Ron St. Pierre. Also, being recognized this year as “historical inductees” are (the late) Dr. Ellen R. Jolly and (the late) Edwin Darling. In addition to these inductions, the tradition of presenting the “Person of the Year” award, which began three years ago as a special award given to recognize the person(s) the committee believes has made an outstanding contribution over the past year will be shared by two recipients this year: Mayor Donald R. Grebien, City of Pawtucket and Adrienne Marchetti, Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen.

Tickets are $45.00 per person (cash or check only) and must be purchased in advance. Tables of (10) may be purchased to accommodate a group or family, and should be purchased early and as available. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Tickets may be purchased at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, 175 Main St., Pawtucket, RI – open 7 days a week from 10-4pm. Checks should be made payable to: Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee.

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization established in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Pawtucket as a city. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honor the contributions of people whose efforts, in any line of endeavor, have added to the heritage of the City of Pawtucket.

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Recalling the Life and Times of Dave

Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 9, 2015

            Four days ago friends, Smith Hill colleagues, and media gathered at a memorial service to commemorate the life and times of the late David Raymond Barber, known to those attending simply as Dave, at Lachapelle Funeral Home. Over 100 people gathered at the Pawtucket funeral home to remember Dave, an award-winning veteran radio broadcaster with extensive experience in talk radio programming, marketing and advertising.

At the memorial service on August 6, everyone knew Dave had transitioned from radio talk show host to his current job at Capitol Television, .hosting the program “Straight from the Gavel.”  For those who tuned into this cable program, they learned the mysteries of political sausage making, specifically how bills became enacted into law.  During seven and a half years, he hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 five-minute Capitol Spotlights, interviewing members of the state’s General Assembly.  His replacement will find that Dave has very big shoes to fill.

Sharing Personal Memories 

During the two-hour memorial service, personal stories where shared by a few of Dave’s colleagues and friends.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said that Dave always tuned into her radio show, “Amazing Women,” taped during the week and aired on Sunday morning. “He would take time to find me and comment about a question or a certain segment of the show.  That was Dave.  He was so genuine and honest,” said Ruggiero.

His liking of people made him a very good interviewer for the State House cable show television, added Ruggiero.  “He would always be present with the guest at the other side of the microphone. Nothing mattered to him but that conversation,” she said.

Luigi DelPonte, Senate Doorman for four years, remembered that a mutual love of fashion caused him to seek out the man who everyone said was a better dresser than him.  The North Providence resident said that after this initial meeting “You’d be hard pressed to find Dave with a hair out of place.  From his tanned skin, manicured finger nails and tailored suits to his French cuff shirts and shined shoes.”

“I guess some might just call him a Fashionista,” said Del Ponte.

When first meeting Dave, Ron St. Pierre, morning talk-show host on WHJJ-AM, knew that Dave was “conversationalist,” a talk show host “who knew there’s a big world out there beyond just politics.”

As to one of Dave’s most memorable shows on WPRO, St. Pierre remembers him telling callers to talk about their favorite summer song and then a snip of the tune would follow.  St. Pierre drove home enjoying the program.  Pulling into his driveway he listened to the last 20 minutes until the show went off the air.  “That’s he ultimate compliment you can pay anyone on the radio,” he said.

Dave’s Rhode Island Adventure

Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton), brought up Dave’s love for his cream-colored Italian-made Vespa scooter.  “I helped him get his helmet painted to match the color of it,” said the Deputy Majority Leader. “He was the infamous social butterfly on two wheels,” he said, noting that following Barber’s adventures on his scooter was almost like “Where in Rhode Island is Dave now.”

Jason Golditch, Senior Producer and Director at Capitol Television, told a story to illustrate Dave’s love of baseball and his sense of humor.  Golditch says that oftentimes he would give out a fantasy baseball card with his image on the card along with a real major league baseball player wearing Detroit Tiger uniforms. “Little did those he gave the card to realize the photo was from a fantasy camp he once attended,” he added, noting that Dave would “go on to answer people’s questions about what it was like to play in the major leagues.”

Former WLNE-TV ABC 6 reporter and anchor Mark Curtis noted that Dave was “relentless” in using social media.  Over six years Dave sent him almost 1,000 Facebook messages, texts and tweets, many sharing news tips that would allow his television station to quickly break a story.

Protecting the Public Interest

For this writer, I can say that Dave used his microphone as a talk radio host in Michigan and his brief stint at WPRO in Rhode Island to protect the public interest.  He was very outspoken and opinionated, but his listeners loved him.  They regularly tuned in to hear him taking on some of the biggest political heavyweights in these states.  He was knowledgeable about his topic, yet very entertaining to boot.  More important, he got his points across well.

Oftentimes, the former Pawtucket resident who would later relocate to East Greenwich, would say to this writer that he was “never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

Dave loved to watch Rhode Island’s political scene, critiquing to those who would listen how an elected official’s message would generate support or fall flat.  Like his days in talk show radio, he really called it like he saw it.

Progressive to the core, he was a strong union supporter.  In my many conversations with Dave he repeatedly stressed the need and importance of unions. He also brought his understanding of media to many of the Rhode Island nonprofits around the Ocean State including the historic Slater Mill to help raise money, also to give marketing and public relations tips gleaned from his years in the advertising business.

After a long workweek, or on weekends, you might just see him, very tanned puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa.  He loved to go to the beach to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club, where he was a member. Or you might run into Dave leisurely reading the New York Post at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café or even Kip’s Restaurant in Pawtucket, when he lived in that city.

At age 60, Dave died too young but touched many people throughout his six decades of life.  From Facebook messages, it’s quite clear that little things in life do count even more than larger more visible ones.  Kind words and support at the exact time needed can have a major impact on a person and will be remembered decades later.  Over the years Dave was there for many, and they remembered him for that, too.

But, Dave’s untimely death gives everyone an important message how to live.  Each and every day tell your friends and loved you care for them and thank them for being in your life.  If you don’t do this, you may just never have that chance.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  His email is hweissri@aol.com.

David Barber Dies at 60. the Face of “Straight from the Gavel”

 

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 12, 2015

David Barber, an award-winning broadcaster veteran with extensive experience in talk radio programming, radio and TV sales management, television programming and commercial production and ad agency and public relations expertise, died on July 4, 2015.  He was 60.

On a trip to Flint Michigan to attend a friend’s wedding, Mr. Barber died, Saturday, July 4, from a stroke and heart attack he had on Thursday, June 25, says his brother Larry Barber.  The family is planning to hold a memorial service in Rhode Island and will announce the specifics shortly, he says.

He grew up in Flint, Michigan, graduated from Mount Morris High School  and received his bachelor’s degree in business from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

A Watch Dog for the Public

The Flint Michigan native, a seasoned award-winning radio broadcaster on WTRX-AM (1130), WTAC (600), and WFDF (910) radio stations, became the watch dog for his listeners in his hometown and the surrounding area, using his microphone to protect the public interest.  Known as an outspoken and controversial and opinionated talk show host, Mr. Barber’s listeners regularly tuned into to see him taking on some of the biggest political heavy weights and corrupt elected officials in Michigan.

In 2006, recognizing the need to move up in his radio career, Mr. Barber took a professional risk relocating to Providence, Rhode Island radio market, taking the helm of  WPRO’s daily talk radio show, from 9:00 a.m. to Noon, the time slot formerly held by Steve Kass.  After a year, even after getting an excellent rating on his first job performance review, Mr. Barber was suddenly let go, when John DePetro, a former WHJJ radio host left his job in Boston and was hired by the station.   During his brief hiatus for WPRO, as a talk radio host he brought his liberal blue-collar views to New York-abased Air America Radio Network , specializing in progressive talk programming.

Mr. Barber made Talker’s Magazine’s Heavy 100, listing of the nation’s talk show hosts, getting this prestigious designation three times. His show was selected along with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Don Imus, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and others.

Bringing the General Assembly to the People

Ultimately, when hired by the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Capitol Television in 2008, Mr. Barber traded in his WPRO radio mic for a hand-held mic on a state cable channel. .

As Capitol Television host, as the only on-air person, Mr. Barber interviewed the state’s elected and government officials and even cultural icons.  With experience gleaned from being a talk show host in the Flint/Twin Cities radio market, at WEYI Television NBC, he easily brought the mysteries of political sausage making (that is the political process) to the tens of thousands of viewers who tuned into “Straight from the Gave,” a half hour sit down segment with state legislators.  He was never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

According to Capitol Television, considered Rhode Island’s C Span, it is estimated that Mr. Barber hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 Capitol Spotlights, a five-minute stand-up segment with members of the state’s General Assembly.

As a Trustee of Slater Mill, Mr. Barber, considered by many to be a marketing wiz with his skills honed at Davison, Michigan-based Parr Media Advertising, brought the nuts and bolts of media and public affairs to America’s most historic mill.  Mr. Barber also served on the Board of Directors of the Salvation Army in Pawtucket and did charitable work for the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket.  Before relocating to the Ocean State from Michigan, he served on the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association and hosted television telethon’s for the Easter Seals Society, the American Diabetes Association, United Way and Big Brothers and Sister, among a few.

An entertainer at heart, Mr. Barber, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, would take any opportunity to sing the songs of  Sinatra, one of the nation’s best selling musical artist of all time.  On many occasions, he sang at Millonzi’s Bar and Grille in West Warwick and other local lounges, even taking the opportunity to sing with the legendary Cowsills, in Pawtucket’s Slater Memorial Park during the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Work hard, play hard might have even been Mr. Barber’s mantra. After a long- work week, on weekends you might just see him, very tanned and immaculately dress,  puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club (he was a member), even enjoying an occasional ride over the iconic Newport Bridge.  Or may be you might have seen the Warwick resident leisurely reading a New York Times at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café.

Making a Home in Rhode Island

It was not easy for Mr. Barber to leave his family and friends to relocate to a new state where nobody knows who you are.  “The move was far more difficult than I expected,” he says in a 2010 blog, posted by Rich Frost with What The Hell…

“I did not know a single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made a move if I knew what I know now,” noted Mr. Barber in his interview.

Television Director Jason Golditch, who directed many of Mr. Barber’s programs at Capitol Television, Television Director, noted that Capitol TV’s new host ultimately adapted well to his new state.  “Over time he truly grew to love this state,” Golditch says, noting that his colleague would often say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, can you believe it.”

According to Golditch, when a film shoot took place, the Capitol Television’s only on air person would just start talking to people and they got along so well they began swapping stories. “He would find so much joy in meeting new people and talking with them on any subject,” he says.

Adds, Editor Carlos Diaz, at Capitol Television, Mr.Barber was a “real friend,” to him and hundreds of others who could count on his help at any time of the day or night.  “He helped who ever he could, even those he did not know,” he says.

“There were postings on Face Book from people all over the nation, from all walks of life, friends he made throughout his 60 years of living,” says Diaz, all praying for his recovery. “That was amazing,”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Rhode Island General Assembly Tackles Senior Issues

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 19, 2013

At the end of June, Rhode Island lawmakers passed the state’s $8.2-billion FY 2014 state budget bill, sending it to Governor Lincoln D. Chafee’s desk for his signature. Even with $ 30 million ultimately slashed from the state’s fiscal blueprint because of lower-than-anticipated revenues, cash strapped taxpayers were happy to learn that they will not see any state tax or fee increases.

            Political correspondents in print, electronic media and in web site blogs zeroed in on specific items in the state’s enacted budget plan, those that they judged as weighty and newsworthy to be detailed to their audience.  Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, the FY 2014 state budget brought back to life the state’s historic tax credit (through the efforts of Executive Director Scott Wolf, of Grow Smart and a broad based coalition of over 100 groups), also putting dollars into workforce development, even helping the Ocean State’s burgeoning artist community by enacting a state-wide sales tax exemption on specific types of art purchased.  With the budget now signed into law, Rhode Island liquor retailers are able to compete against competitors in nearby Massachusetts because of a new 16-month trial period for tax-free wine and liquor sales.  

            One of the more controversial items in the FY 2014 state budget that fueled heated discussions on WPRO and WHJJ radio talk shows was putting funds in the state budget to pay the first installment payment of $2.5 million on the bonds issued to the now bankrupt 38 Studios. 

 

Funding Programs and Services for Seniors

            Although not widely reported in many media outlets, Rhode Island lawmakers did not turn their back on aging baby boomers or seniors.   

            The FY 2014 budget provides $1.0 million in Community Service Grants to organizations serving the elderly, including $200,000 for meals on wheels, $25,000 for Home and Hospice Care and level funding for Senior Centers across the state.

            It also consolidates funding for care for the elderly, consistent with the Integrated Care Initiative.  This initiative will coordinate care of the elderly, many of whom are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and who navigate disjointed payment and delivery systems.  With the state’s enacted budget, there will be a single funding and delivery system that integrates long term, acute and primary care to dually-eligible individuals.

            Also, the state’s budget plan maintains the Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Elderly program (RIPAE), coordinating with benefits provided through the Affordable Care Act and ensuring no gaps in coverage for low income seniors.

            It also directs funding for programs and personnel within the state’s Office of Health and Human Services to combat waste, fraud and abuse, including the new Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, to ensure Medicaid dollars return as much value for participants as possible.

            The enacted budget also establishes $80,000 for the Emergency and Public Communications Access Fund to improve emergency communication and to support emergency responder training for the deaf and hard of hearing population in the State.

TDI Expansion Becomes Law

            Meanwhile, on July 3rd, Rhode Island lawmakers approved legislation (S 231 B, 5889A), sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-District 3, Providence) and Rep. Elaine Coderre, (D-District 60, Pawtucket) to expand temporary disability insurance to employees who must take time out of work to care for a family member or bond with a new child in their home (see my May 17 issue of the Pawtucket Times, May 19 issue of Woonsocket Call).

            Women’s Fund of Rhode Island CEO Marcia Conė and the WE Care for RI coalition, consisting of over 40 groups, brought in national politico operative, Steve Gerencser, who consulted and developed the game plan and messaging needed to get the TDI legislation passed and onto the Governor’s desk for signature.  Rhode Island becomes the third state in the nation to pass a paid family leave law.

            Signed by Democratic Governor Chafee, the new law will increase the state’s TDI program to cover up to four weeks of wage replacement for workers who take time off to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law or grandparent or to bond with a new child, whether through birth, adoption or foster care. Temporary caregiver benefits would be limited to those who are the caregiver of their sick or injured family member, and the program would require documentation from a licensed health care provider.

            “The most important reason for this legislation is to provide support to help families in times of need, but it has many good ripple effects for Rhode Islanders,” noted Coderre. This includes saving on avoidable medical costs for people who will be able to stay home with a family member instead of needing to admit their family member to an expensive medical facility. It can mean that someone keeps their job.

            Adds Senator Goldin, unpaid leave isn’t always an option, and it’s a very difficult option for most families. “Paid caregiver leave is a cost-effective way to keep people from losing their jobs, jeopardizing their financial security or risking their family’s well-being when a family member needs care,” she said.

            The expansion would be funded through employee contributions, just as the rest of the TDI program is currently funded. In order to support the expanded benefits, employees would contribute another 0.075 percent of their income to TDI. For a worker earning about $40,000 a year, this would mean he or she would pay an additional 64 cents a week for the expanded benefit.

Also Becoming Law…

            Governor Chafee has also signed the Family Caregivers Support Act of 2013 passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly.    

            Aiming to improve the quality of life for the elderly and the disabled in the comfort of their own homes, an approved  legislative proposal requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop evidence-based caregiver assessments and referral tools for family caregivers providing long-term care services.

            Sponsored by Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist.1, Providence), the legislation calls for an assessment that would identify specific problems caregivers or recipients might have, carefully evaluate how those situations should be handled and come up with effective solutions.

            The legislation defines “family caregiver” as “any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant relationship with, and who provides a broad range of assistance for, an older adult” or an adult or child “with chronic or disabling conditions.” Rep. Naughton said people should be aware that there are support systems and an abundance of resources available for home care before deciding to put an elderly person in a nursing home or an expensive facility.

            Senator Goodwin added that without the proper support, the current system can place an unnecessary burden on both facilities and caregivers.

            “We want fewer individuals going into nursing homes and similar facilities if we can help it,” says Rep. Naughton. “It’s upsetting for an elderly or disabled individual to have to trade the comfort of his or her home for an unfamiliar place. Family caregivers not only know the medical needs of these individuals, but are often aware of their emotional needs, too,” she said.

            The comprehensive assessment required as part of Medicaid long-term service reform is meant to provide assistance with activities of daily living needs and would serve as a basis for development and provision of an appropriate plan for caregiver information, referral and support services. Information about available respite programs, caregiver training, education programs, support groups and community support services is required to be included as part of the plan for each family caregiver.

Addressing Long Term Care Needs

            Other approved legislative proposals, supported by the state’s nursing facility industry, were also signed by Governor Chafee.  

            Lawmakers passed and the Governor signed legislation to permit pharmacies that sell medications to nursing homes to buy them back, with a “restocking” fee.  Under the new law, medications that are individually packaged, unopened, and meet other safety requirements as determined by a pharmacist can be used rather than being discarded.

            Also signed into law were measures that promote “aging in place” and direct the state’s Department of Health to review regulations to permit this.

            Finally, the Governor signed the Palliative Care and Quality of Life Act, which establishes an advisory council and program within the Department of Health. Also, beginning in 2015, every health care facility must establish a system for identifying patients or residents who would benefit from palliative care and provide information and assistance to access such care.

             Virginia Burke, CEO and President of the Rhode Island Health Care Association (RIHCA), observed that this year’s legislative session had mixed results for nursing home residents.  Most of the bills that the group supported did pass, which “should lead to enhanced care for our residents,” she says. 

            According to Burke, “Unfortunately, providers were anticipating an adjustment to their rates this fall to address price increases in things like insurance, food, and utilities and that was taken away due to the budget deficit.  We’re very lucky that Rhode Island providers are known throughout the nation for their delivery of quality care, but quality begins to suffer when providers don’t have adequate resources to do the job.”

            This year difficult budgetary choices were made to balance the state’s budget.  Although aging advocates did not get everything they pushed for, Governor Chafee and the Rhode Island General Assembly did fund programs and services that are sorely needed by the state’s growing senior population.  I urge lawmakers to continue these efforts in the next legislative session.  

            Herb Weiss LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

 

Rhode Island PBS at Its Best:

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 1, 2013

            Television viewers can expect to experience magical music moments when the past, present, and future converge, on Monday, March 4, 2013, starting at 7:30 p.m., when WSBE Rhode Island PBS kicks off a jam packed evening that showcases legendary and local stars orbiting the rock, rhythm & blues music scene. The night also officially announces the debut of a Pawtucket produced music series, “Meet Me at THE MET.”

A Gathering of Live Local Bands

            According to Lucie Raposo, public information manager at WSBE Rhode Island PBS, local musicians, performing live right in their studio that evening during program breaks, will most certainly bring amazing energy and edge to Rhode Island’s public television’s fundraising effort. During the four hours of evening programs, viewers can sit back and listen to their favorite local bands from around the Ocean State and southern Massachusetts: Kevin Williams and The Invisible Orphans; Providence’s The Jess Lewis Band; award-winning singer/songwriter Mark Cutler of Providence; alternative folk artist Allysen Callery of Bristol; and 10-year old guitar prodigy Nolan Leite of Pawtucket.

            Raposo notes that this evening opens with Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughnIn Session. In 1983, when legendary blues guitarist Albert King, age 60, was joined by his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan, age 29, on a Canadian soundstage for the live music TV series “In Session,” magic took place. Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Session is not simply a television program: it’s a summit of two master musicians. The only known recording of King and Vaughan performing together, this is the concert that blues fans in general, and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans in particular, have waited years for, she says.

The Legendary Rolling Stones

            Adds Raposo, then at 9 p.m., it’s musical mayhem in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The concert extravaganza marked the last performance of the original line-up of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones are joined by an all-star musical cast: Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, and the ad-hoc, one-time only supergroup “The Dirty Mac” featuring John Lennon (guitar/vocals), Keith Richards (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar), fresh from his break-up with Cream, and Mitch Mitchell (drums) of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

           The program was originally planned and staged by the Rolling Stones in December 1968 as a BBC TV special to promote the newly released Beggars Banquet, however, it never aired. Finally, in 1989, it was discovered in a trash bin at The Who’s vault in London. It has been restored to preserve this historic once-on-a-kind event and was first broadcast in 2007. The public television broadcast includes a 2004 interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend about the historical gathering.

Introducing…“Meet Me at THE MET”

            At Rhode Island PBS’s fundraiser, Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks) and Nate Flynn will introduce their new musical performance series, “Meet Me at THE MET,” which will air on WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Board Members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame will staff the phones during the Monday fundraiser.

            Opening up a music venue at Pawtucket’s Hope ArtisteVillage in 2010, owner Rich Lupo saw an opportunity to bring the old Met Café  back, once located underneath I-195 in the CapitolCity’s Jewelry District, before it fell to the wreaking ball. Luckily, the spirit of the music venue lived on. Lupo brought it back to life downtown in the ‘90s and early 2000s with a new incarnation appended to the middle era Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel.

            Flynn remembers the original Met Café  – “not much bigger than a McMansion’s living room – was a hangout where the beer was almost cold and the music was always hot.” According to Flynn, if you didn’t know where it was, you could follow any one of the cars downtown whose bumpers sported a sticker imploring one to “Meet Me at The Met.”  It was a great music scene and, soon after opening, national acts with Rhode Island pedigrees like Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds became regulars, he said.

            This latest re-incarnation of THE MET, in a 650,000 square-foot historic mill in Pawtucket, has prompted the production of a new Rhode Island PBS program, “Meet Me at THE MET,” to be filmed there, says Cheeks. With the airing of each of their hour-long  programs, Cheeks and Flynn hope to bring back what made the original Met café, Lupo’s or the Living Room so special to many Rhode Islanders: an intimate-sized performance space that would nurture local musicals and expose audiences to emerging superstars.

            The new WSBE Rhode Island PBS program is the brainchild of Pawtucket-born Cheeks and Flynn, a native of North Smithfield.  Cheeks, inducted into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame in 2007, needs no introduction as a member of legendary local bands the “Fabulous Motels,” “Young Adults,” and Jackiebeat Orchestra. His 40-year career also spanned occasional acting in films and serving as narrator in documentaries that appeared on national PBS, and teaching at local Universities. Over the years, he hosted radio talk shows on WALE, WPRO and WHJJ.  His cable television show, the Club Genius, won a Rhode Island State Film award.

            Cheeks is a highly regarded columnist, writing for alternative press in the Ocean State since 1979 for the Providence Eagle, The NewPaper and now the Providence Phoenix, writing the Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World with long-time side kick Chip Young for 33 years.  He even created a nightclub act called Comediac’s Bad Film Festival where the worst movies ever made were screened (appearing 4 or 5 years) before the nationally syndicated Mystery Theater.  In 1997, he the former Pawtucket resident served as Grand Marshal of Pawtucket’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Flynn is an internationally award-winning communications professional. While a student at BrownUniversity, he studied electronic music composition at the McColl Studio of Electronic Music. During his time on College Hill, he was a key member of the Brown Student Concert Agency, Billboard Magazine’s then top-rated college concert agency and stage crew, working stage crew for internationally-recognized bands, including Bob Marley, Blondie, U2, Dire Straits, the Kinks, Emmylou Harris, The Ramones, Dave Brubeck, Carley Simon, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Little Feat, among many others.

A Chance Encounter

            By chance, in 2011, Cheeks and Flynn became part of a group of individuals who banded together to found the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.  Having known each other for years, their work on the Hall triggered the idea for them to produce a live music show for WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Based out of Pawtucket’s THE MET, the program will document the great Rhode Island music scene of the last 35 years.  Like the club itself – this is the third MET – the Providence music scene has now moved to Pawtucket, just a stone’s throw from the Providence line. From the ‘70s bands like Roomful of Blues, the Young Adults, Rizz, Beaver Brown, and Wild Turkey, to ‘80s new wave outfits such as the Schemers, Rubber Rodeo, and the Mundanes, up to today’s nationally-recognized Americana groups like Deer Tick, Brown Bird, Joe Fletcher and the Low Anthem, the Providence and now the Pawtucket music scene becomes vibrant.  

            Flynn notes that advances in video technology have made it possible to take advantage of THE MET’s great sight-lines and line-ups  to capture live music in a powerful new way, getting closer to the music than ever before.  “Meet Me at THE MET” is the perfect vehicle to record Rhode Island’s finest groups and music where it’s at its best, in a club setting where musicians are no more than 40 or 50 feet from the audience, he says, noting that many of the older bands they hope to reunite on the show were never properly recorded in their heyday.  “Just as important as the venue, is the support of THE MET’s owners, Rich and Sarah Lupo, and the crew that works there. 

            All this comes together to create a very special opportunity to showcase some great music,” says Flynn, who recognized the efforts of Dave Marseglia, David W. Piccerelli and Jodi Mesolella, of WSBE Rhode Island PBS, for making the new musical programming happen.  

            Cheeks will host the show, do interviews, and provide context for the musical performances, relying on his decades of experience as a great musician, columnist, and bon vivant. Flynn will handle video production, edit the videos, and mix the audio. They’ve teamed up with IMAJ Associates, a Rhode Island-based, award-winning design firm, to help with the look of the show, and they have lined up an audio company to record the multi-track during the performances (that is to tape each performer’s instruments and microphones individually to get a proper mix of sound.)

            For more information about “Meet Me at THE MET “or to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rudy Cheeks at  rudycheeks@live.com.  Or call (401) 580-2265.

            Watch WSBE Rhode Island PBS over the air on digital 36.1, on Cox Cable 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, Comcast 819HD, DirecTV 36, and Dish 7776.  Be very generous in supporting WSBE Rhode Island PBS to keep quality local programming on Rhode Island’s only public television station.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.