Many things have changed in the Caribbean since I first tacked into these gin-clear waters in the 70’s but one thing has remained constant: the Caribbean is still a sunny place for shady people. The marine community of the Lesser Antilles is primarily (if not exclusively) composed of maladjusted maritime misfits, wonderful waterfront wackos, and colorful Caribbean characters.
Actually, that’s putting too good a spin on it-like I’m writing PR copy for the Rotary or something.
Let’s put it another way. There was a normal person here once-but we deported him. (I forget the official charge: lack of drugs, failure to drink, or something socially frowned upon.)
So it is hard, at this low level of criteria, to select any particular cultural culprit for special condemnation. But, hey, since I’m a professional journalist I will eagerly rush in where wise men fear to tread.
There are certain people who, audio-wise, sound like they are wise, sincere, and honest-despite all evidence to the contrary. If these people are attractive, they usually become gigolos or television personalities. If they are unattractive, if they have a tendency to pick their nose, and/or if they have personal hygiene issues – they drift toward radio.
That’s how I got involved with Radio One WVWI. I fit into all three categories – and then some. (The good news: I break wind silently. The bad news: this often empties small, confined, airless broadcast studios.)
Hey, I’m just saying. Flatulence is a real issue in the audio world. (I’m sure Ed Morrow, Paul Harvey, and such legendary anchormen as Walter Cronkite bowel-trained themselves on “stealth” mode.)
Or, to rephrase it, thank gosh technology hasn’t progressed to radios with olfactory capabilities. Many of the more ripe radio personalities would have to resign immediately.
Anyway, Nicky Russell (aka Mighty Whitey) was my first radio role model. He was a morning DJ at WVWI on St. Thomas – and one of the most outrageous, lit-up, free-wheeling men I’ve ever met. Oh, things were different back in the 80’s. It was almost impossible to get fired for on-air drunkenness back then – primarily because everyone else in the studio (including the owner) was completely pie-eyed by noon.
Nicky ran on many different types of heavy fuel. He’d often say stuff like, “I’ll sleep on Wednesday night,” on Monday morning.
I’d party with him at Bottom’s Up (at Independent Boat Yard on St. Thomas) until sunrise, and then crash – while he showered, “coffee-ed up”, and then flawlessly did his popular 6 to 10am prime drive-time morning show.
The man was an animal – in the best sense of the word.
Jim Pettigrew was another “radio dude” I learned from. We sailed together on the infamous Stormy Weather during many Antigua Sailing Weeks. Together, we also wrote scripts for the David Sanborn Jazz Hour on CBS radio.
A typical snippet went like this: “I’m David Sanborn, and you’re listening to the David Sanborn Hour!” If we didn’t specify, David would get confused on such technical details as well, his name, for instance.
Once I realized that radio was a goofy medium-without-content – I knew I’d rise to the top with the cream.
My Radio One’s Marine Report with Cap’n Fatty Goodlander was a fixture on the airwaves of the Lesser Antilles for over 17 bizarre years.
Once, I was nearly fired for “audio urination” during a mock, on-air USCG “random drug” test.
Another time I took a sip of my microphone and thrust the neck of my Hennie bottle in the startled face of Governor Alexander Farrelly.
Yes, covering carnival “live” in the VI is different than, say, covering Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC.
“Here comes a mocko-jumbie with three legs,” I calmly reported as a fella strolled by playing not with an instrument – and not to the crowd – just playing, well, with himself.
I’ve always had a problem remembering people’s names – so, just before we’d go live on air, I’d take out my pen to write up name tags, and (cleverly, cleverly, since I had no idea of the name of the guest I’d just flattered into showing up) say, “and how do you spell your name?”
One fella said, “I spell my name B-O-B, Fatty. How do you spell Bob?”
One of my guests had an anxiety attack within seconds of opening her mouth. She slid to the floor with a look of horrified amazement on her bloated face, turned around, and slowly crawled out of the studio – as if the radio listeners would not be able to see her if she was on all-fours. Strange.
I covered the Rolex and Hennie Regattas “live, on-the-water” for many years which is far more difficult than, say, reporting on paint drying or grass growing.
My first “live” telephone call-in was from an addled West Indian fellow who belligerently demanded to know what my position on “homosexual postal inspectors” was.
I remember my air-time with Bulldog of Sint Maarten with great fondness. I’d do four hours at a stretch with him – trying to teach him his port from his starboard hand – all to no avail, of course.
When it came to playing dumb, well, Bulldog was a natural.
Damn, that dude was believable!
Even his wife and child.
All of which led me to NPR and a summer series of “sea gypsy” reports on The Weekend Edition.
I’ll never forget getting a call from Lianne Hansen that began with, the good news, Fatty, is that not all of our 20 million listeners called in to complain about your latest Sea Gypsy segment only a million or two, actually.
My National Public Radio career was over long before most listeners realized I was attempting to be funny.
Could have fooled me, was the gloomy consensus.
Those were not driveway moments, I was briskly informed when I got the pink slip.
Of course, in order to sail around the word, I had to get someone to take over my long-running WVWI St. Thomas show, someone whose gullibility was only exceeded by their loyalty. Thus I invited St. Thomas Yacht Club racer Wally Boswick on the show, and said, “fill in while I take a leak.”
When I returned five years later from my first circumnavigation, he was still at it – bless his faithful heart.
Which brings us to Gary Brown and his Drive Live program on Island 92, 91.9fm Sint Maarten.
Gary is my kind of guy, a novelist, a transatlantic sailor, and a starving journalist so hard up for cash that he works for this fish-wrapper as well.
I love how he’s succeeded in radio despite his weird accent -actually, he claims to be speaking some variant of English!
We’ve done dozens of interviews together over the decades – switching host/guest roles at random.
Recently, on Wednesday April 18th, we sat down in the plush studios (well, if you consider coffin-sized sound-proof rooms plush) of Island 92 for a lazy half hour of “pro-yakking.”
The interview went something like, “Would you care to flog your book?”
“Certainly, but only if you’ll flog yours too!”
Professional writers are like this. Of course, Gary and I couldn’t gam long – this being primarily a dirt-dweller’s music show, and all.
“Tell us about the last 52 years of living aboard,” Gary would ask, and I’d say, “Well, Gary” and he’d interrupt with, “excellent! AND NOW, A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR!”
I understand. I like Heavy Metal too. And I also don’t want the phone lines lit up by pissed-off ex-hippies complaining they don’t have a loud, bass-driven soundtrack to commit suicide to and who is this Cap’n Flabby guy, anyway?”
Of course, we writers have to be media whores if we want to sell books. And, it is gratifying to get feedback. The day after I did the Sint Maarten show with Gary – I just happened to be pushing an old crippled lady in the Simpson Bay Lagoon with my oar as we fought for an open dinghy slot at the Budget Marine dock – a Fat Head* groupie (*the name of my small-and-shrinking fan club) approached and said, “Hey, dude! I just heard you on the radio – on Gary’s show! That’s cool, mon. I mean, I’ve never met anyone who has, you know, been circumcised twice!”
It is hearing-impaired lubbers like that who make me want to sail around the world for a third time!
But you have to be careful while on-the-air in a radio studio. Loose lips sink ships. It is easy to be misunderstood.
For instance, once I was asked what I disliked about Americans, and I foolishly responded, “the white ones and the black ones.”
Not PC. Nor smart. And who wants the honor of having both the KKK and the NAACP vying to lynch you – no matter how equal-opportunity that might be?
But what I really like best about Caribbean radio – and, well, the whole social fabric of the rain-bowed Caribbean for that matter – is its amazing social tolerance. It’s a crazy, mixed up, polyglot place. Laughter is a universal language. So are smiles.
We like to laugh: with others and at ourselves.
Which is why we’re still, after all these years, a Sunny Place for Shady People.
Editor’s note: Cap’n Fatty is currently experiencing “post traumatic stress” syndrome from having yet another “dream” boat deal slip through his fingers. Carolyn reports that he is making progress, and, hopefully, will soon be able to wear jackets without tied arms.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 52 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books; his latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com