By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville – Mark Warwick and Paige Posey are doing more than ever on local morning live radio to lift spirits, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and public restrictions keeping people mostly at home instead of at work. Yet from home there is much more opportunity than usual to listen to radio, such as WHKP 1450 and WTZQ 1600 AM. Both stations are based in Hendersonville. Media has extra impact now as local and national news from newspapers, radio and television is critical for many people dealing with the pandemic.
Social isolation from stay-at-home orders (other than “essential” travel) is lessened by banter, on such programs as WTZQ’s husband-and-wife team in The Breakfast Club with Mark and Paige. These days, WTZQ might stand for Wise Tidbits and Zaniness during the Quarantine.
“Radio is more important than ever, as people are stuck in their homes,” Paige said. “We try to connect with the community. We keep people up to date on what’s happening. People are trying to figure out their finances,” with income cut off and pending federal aid.
“It’s important to both Mark and myself we do everything we can do make a positive difference in the community we’re blessed to live in.”
They are more isolated from the public, no longer doing remote broadcasts or letting people and potential Coronavirus germs into the station. In interviewing, “we can do everything digitally by phone, or Skype.” In the control room, “we spray and wipe things down” for other WTZQ announcers.
Mark and Paige have been on the air together six years — since September 2014, a month after easy listening-oldies WTZQ started simulcasting on 95.3 FM. Paige’s prior slot was mid-days. Mark started at the station 25 years ago, in 1995. He has been general manager since 2007, when he first sat in on the morning show he took over in 2012.
Their shift is 7-10 am weekdays. Mark starts on-air at 5 am with newscasts, then goes live at 6 am.
On radio, Paige and Mark step up in informing people about local developments, such as the pandemic and ways to overcome it. Big news last week was that 23 people in the Cherry Springs Village assisted living were diagnosed with COVID-19, but none were among the three deaths in Henderson County linked to the virus according to County Health Director Steve Smith.
On April 9, Gov. Roy Cooper in a live press conference urged North Carolinians to wear masks to contain their germs when in stores and offices. “Wear those masks,” Mark told listeners. Paige added, “Think about other people around you. Be kind, respectful.”
“We talk about the needs in Henderson County,” and how people can help others such as by donating money to the new COVID-19 Response Fund, Mark said on the air on Good Friday. “In times like these, those same needs are magnified.” A segment entitled United Way Moments is every Friday, 8:30-8:45 am and looks at groups’ efforts.
The 211 emergency response center is so busy, phone waits are typically five or more minutes, Sarah Kowalak said as a guest of the show Friday. She is local United Way’s director of community impact. People are to dial 211 for crises less urgent and life-threatening than 911 emergencies, keeping 911 lines clearer. She said 211 inquiries are about virus updates and available services such as food, shelter and financial aid.
Blue Ridge Community Health Services off U.S. 64 East offers online virtual care, and is at least initially tending to “ill” patients in their cars outside the clinic to lessen crowds inside.
Elvis Presley rules Mark and Paige’s playlist. As Mark often tells listeners, “Here’s your Elvis fix, for the hour.” Standards by Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams and others abound in a format blending easy listening and oldies. (Rival WHKP is now country.)
Comparably more modern classics played last week by Paige and Mark included Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” hit in 1976, and Mason Williams’ 1968 snappy jazz-rock instrumental “Classical Gas.” “Can it or Keep it” periodically enables listeners to call in and vote up or down on, whether WTZQ should play that song more often.
Inspiration is a theme of more and more songs on the show. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” is an example. Another is “What the World Needs Now (is Love).” Burt Bacharach wrote that mega-hit. Dionne Warwick and Jackie DeShannon each recorded it. In a different twist, Paige and Mark played its earthy, obscure duet by Tom Jones and Sammy Davis Jr., in 1969 from Jones’ TV variety show.
Such songs go over well. “People say, ‘Thanks for bringing us some joy, laughter, entertainment,” Mark said of listeners’ calls and emails. “Thank you for the information you’re providing” during the pandemic. They said one caller thanked the duo as “comforting voices we can count on,” for “playing great music and educating us on what’s going on.”
Listener sensitivities are up. Mark learned a lesson about screening lyrics more carefully than ever. In a show of integrity and transparency, last Thursday Mark let listeners know someone emailed an objection after Terry Jacks’ 1974 pop chart-topper “Seasons in the Sun” was played. It was a focal song in the show’s This Day in Music segment.
But the melancholy lyrics are on impending death. Terry Jacks reportedly dedicated it to a friend dying from leukemia. The singer-protagonist says farewell to one loved one at a time, praising their memories. Death is clearly mentioned. Lines include “Goodbye, my friend. It’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky.”
“Someone busted us,” Paige told The Tribune. “They felt we shouldn’t play it, when the virus is going on. They said it was about dying.” Yet Paige thinks more of the lines praising loved ones, interpreting the song as more “about friendship, not about a virus wiping out the world.”
Still, Mark told listeners “I didn’t think about it (lyrics’ theme). I just played it. Apologies — if that was offensive to anyone.”
Mark told The Tribune “sometimes, we do something that somebody doesn’t agree with.” He went public with it. Yet he said many listeners “contacted us afterward. They said they liked the song, that (the complaint) was just an opinion. More listeners mean more opinions.”
Right after apologizing on-air, Mark tried to change the mood: “Here’s a fun one” (Elvis singing “Lover Doll.”)
Mark and Paige plan ahead for ‘Thoughts to Ponder’ and other special segments. But they wing it in dialogue, and relax, Mark said. “It’s just us talking. What you hear on the radio is us” as they are at home, where “we laugh a lot, and enjoy each other’s company.”
It helps on the air that “we know each other so well,” Mark noted. “We play off of each other, and know when to set each other up” for jokes. “We’ve both acted.”
Improvising in live radio includes handling sudden gaffes, under pressure. A malfunction happened last Thursday when a taped song stopped playing. Dead air ensued for several moments.
“It just stopped on me,” Mark later said of the specially-delivered song. “I didn’t practice much on setting it up.” He scrambled, and put on an Elvis tune to buy time, then got the taped song to work in its entirety.
“Live radio is like live theater,” he said. “We’re not perfect super professionals. We make mistakes. We press the wrong button, once in a while.” Mark figures goofs spice up the show. “That’s part of the joy, of listening to it. I’d get a kick out of being a listener.”
Stewart Gregory provided WTZQ with a recording of him singing “16 Tons.” Gregory, who lives in Los Angeles, acted in Neil Simon’s Proposals at FRP last year. He was an elderly ex-husband of Annie Robbins, whom Paige portrayed.
Paige and Mark each have extensive experience in performing arts, that plays out on the airwaves. Paige Posey has been a key administrator and actress of Flat Rock Playhouse (FRP) since the early Eighties. She oversees daily operations as FRP’s managing director.
Paige also acts in some plays at FRP, and regularly in Theatre for the Stars benefits for local non-profits. Mark was once an FRP apprentice. This is the first time in 66 seasons FRP will go without an apprentice program.
In the playhouse’s “Season Reveal” stage show last fall, Paige and Mark joined FRP Producing Artistic Director Lisa Bryant and star comic actor Scott Treadway to tell the public about shows slated for this year. They even acted out scenes from them.
Three huge productions will instead be done at FRP in 2021, due to the virus outbreak. Yet entertainment is re-channeled on FRP’s Facebook page, in music and skits from the likes of longtime FRP stage manager Bill Muñoz’s family.
Mark Warwick has been guitarist and vocalist and Muñoz the drummer for the Carburetors. Mark is a co-founding member. The honky-tonk band formed 18 years ago and plays occasional reunion gigs. Tucker Warwick has played bass with his father’s band in recent years. Last decade when age 14, Tucker was a WTZQ “board op.” He once sat in on the morning show.
His sister Hunter Warwick graduated last year from WCU, with a degree in hospitality and tourism. Timing is off now, as people avoid travel like the plague.
Now that “the world melted,” as Mark puts it, many families are struggling. Also, rules forcing closings of most businesses “impacts our (radio) business, in a big way,” Paige said. “I hope they don’t stop advertising. We’re also trying to hang on.”
Mark and Paige are plugging curbside service and outside ordering tables and other ways sponsoring businesses are adapting. The Hendersonville Inn is now selling more than 50 takeout dinners on Thursday nights, Paige noted. She said many patrons are “incredibly supportive” of local businesses, countering the inevitable economic downturn.
To hear WTZQ live, go online to: http://listen.streamon.fm/wtzq