Before the interviews that David Dye conducted with Björk, Al Green, Bonnie Raitt, the White Stripes, Rufus Wainwright and 64 others on the WXPN radio show
could be turned into a book, some surgery was required.
"We had to take all the 'wows' out," says the DJ about the transcription process that has resulted in the compendium
The Best of World Cafe: Great Conversations From NPR's Most Popular Contemporary Music Show
, published by Philadelphia's Running Press.
"I say 'wow' about every 30 seconds," says Dye, whose two-hour syndicated show airs at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on University of Pennsylvania station 'XPN-FM (88.5), and reaches more than 500,000 listeners a week on 198 National Public Radio affiliated stations. "It's my standard encouraging word. Every interview had about 18 million wows."
But even without the wow factor, Dye's enthusiasm for the oeuvres of his interviewees, not to mention his relaxed on-air style, is everywhere apparent in the 400-page-plus
paperback. Just as it has been at Dye's various stops on the Philadelphia FM radio dial in a career that's stretched almost four decades.
Dye has hosted the singer-songwriter-centric
e, which he programs himself, for 16 years. On any given afternoon, he might play Tom Waits' "Walking Down the Spanish Hall," followed by Teddy Thompson's cover of the George Jones classic "She Thinks I Still Care," or Radiohead's "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" into Joseph Arthur's "Echo Park."
"David has this casual, intelligent style that's very disarming and very engaging," says Gene Shay, whose
is broadcast on 'XPN and who first worked with Dye at WMMR-FM (93.3) in the early 1970s. "There's no hype, no jive. The last thing you'd ever accuse him of is being superficial."
"He's the master of making the oldest thing sound new, and the coolest thing sound like something you need to have," says Bruce Warren, the 'XPN music director, whose own Running Press book,
Wisdom for a Young Musician
, came out earlier this year. "And he's so good that he does it without even knowing he's doing it."
(Shay, in his capacity as an ad man for hire, came up with the name
- which now also adorns the World Cafe Live, the music venue that shares a building with the 'XPN studios - for a fee of $250. "I don't get any royalties," he says with a laugh. "That wasn't part of the deal.")
The Best of World Cafe
ends with a 2006 chat with Beatles producer George Martin and begins with an interview with Canadian guitarist Bruce Cockburn conducted in 1991. That was just a year after an out-of-work Dye, then at a career crossroads, came on as a volunteer on the station's mellow Sunday morning
But Dye and Philadelphia rock radio listeners' history stretches back much further.
The 57-year-old radio personality grew up "always fascinated by radio" in Swarthmore. In the late '60s, he was a townie studying at Swarthmore College, where he had his own radio show and watched his first concert - Tim Buckley opening for the Jefferson Airplane - through the window of the chapel, "because I didn't have a ticket."
Soon, Dye would be an insider. He sent a tape to Jerry Stevens, the program director at rock station WMMR-FM. Six months later, he was hired to work Sunday mornings, and when he graduated in 1972, started full time.
"It was an incredibly heady time," remembers Dye, interviewer turned interviewee. He sits down to chat while still buzzing from interviews with Sri Lankan global beat maker M.I.A. and Clash guitarist Mick Jones' new band, Carbon Silicone. He's simultaneously cramming for talks with ex-Band singer-drummer Levon Helm and Nigerian-German singer Ayo, both of which will air in January.
A few years before getting hired at WMMR, he remembers, he had been listening to Shay's folk show on WDAS-FM in his parents' kitchen, taking notes. "That was my aesthetic education."
Now he was on staff with Shay, as well as legendary 'MMR jocks like Michael Tearson ("a genius at putting music together, just incredible," says Dye) and the late Ed Sciaky ("a great DJ, and a great interviewer").
"I had always been a nerd," says Dye, who lives in Mount Airy with his wife, Inquirer columnist Karen Heller, and their two children. "And all of a sudden, I was this 22-year-old that people were paying attention to. . . . But the biggest thing that happened at the time was Bruce."
Being in on the Springsteen phenomenon when the Boss was breaking in Philly before anywhere else was "a life-changing experience. Here I was, a complete pot-smoking hippie, and I started drinking beer because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I couldn't believe how creative it was."
After the free-form frolic of the early '70s gave way to the classic rock format at 'MMR, Dye worked at a station in Maine for a few years, before surfacing at then adult-rock station WIOQ-FM (102.1). It wasn't cutting edge: "When all this incredible music was happening in the late '70s and early '80s," he admits, "I was playing the Eagles."
Still, Dye was a Philadelphia fixture. He packed the Chestnut Cabaret with an oldies show on 'IOQ called the
that's a precursor to his current
, one of the most popular shows on 'XPN.
In 1989, Dye got fired - and divorced - in the same year. He came to 'XPN as the station was moving away from the chaotic multi-genre college radio model still adhered to by stations like Drexel's WKDU-FM (91.7) and Princeton's WPRB-FM (103.3) to the more tightly programmed and nationally influential adult-alternative format the station has adopted with Dye and morning host Michaela Majoun as its leading personalities.
When he started at 'XPN, Dye had plenty of experience but was out of the new-music loop. "I knew the grammar, but I needed a new vocabulary." He headed a team to come up with a new-music show that would go heavy on world music. But market research said that when listeners heard music in other languages they thought "it all sounds like salsa." Further study suggested a show focused on songwriters like Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett could be a success.
The World Cafe
has become that show, and as its national reach has grown it's become a necessary promotional stop for artists unlikely to get commercial airplay. Elvis Costello, for instance, has been on the show seven times. Dye has done hundreds of interviews, and a rare few have gone awry. He meant to tell Jewel she seemed "laid back," but instead said she "wasn't very ambitious." She responded that he wasn't "particularly well groomed."
His favorites include Branford Marsalis, Jackson Browne, Robert Plant and Merle Haggard. "Older artists are usually better, because they have more to say," he says. "It's great to talk to somebody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, unless they're so old that can't remember what they did to get there."
Dye is often asked if music is as good as it used to be, "which is a stupid question," he says. "It clearly is, and there's more of it. But it moves so fast that nothing has staying power."
The problem is there's so much music, and only so many hours.
"Like everybody else, as I get older, what pleasures there are in the world broaden," says the DJ, who enjoys single-barrel bourbon, Scottish crime fiction and minor league baseball. "And there is only so much time in the day. I spend a lot of time listening to music, and I have real trouble listening and doing anything else. Sometimes it's work, and sometimes it's pleasure. But I love music as much as I ever have."
David Dye will sign copies of
The Best of World Cafe
at two locations: University of Pennsylvania bookstore, 36th and Walnut Streets, at 7 p.m. today. Phone: 215-898-7595. And the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 511 Carpenter Lane, Mount Airy, at 5 p.m. Saturday. Phone: 215-844-1870.