by: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
You were PA director for the last two years, you co-host with me “Writers on Writing,” you have a daughter, a husband, and you’re a writer. What form of insanity convinced you to take on another show?
It’s always seemed to me there was an obvious hole in the Public Affairs’ schedule. We have legal shows, medical shows, shows about film, books, elves, food, and politics, but nothing focused on intimate relationships. For a college campus, with college-aged students as our target audience, this seemed a misstep. As Public Affairs Director, I’ve been on the lookout for a show to fill the gap. Along came that show, and that DJ, in the Fall of 2011. Unfortunately, three weeks after The Chat Room began, the host had a medical emergency and had to hang up her headphones. Her co-host was reluctant to continue solo, so I stepped in as a temporary matter. The rest, as they say, is history. I kind of fell in love with it.
The bigger question is what qualifies a 41-year-old wife and mother to do a show about sex and dating. The short answer is “absolutely nothing.” What intrigues me, though, is getting inside people’s heads to the parts that are raw and vulnerable. In my experience, people are at their most exposed, and therefore their truest selves, in their intimate relationships. Who we partner with, how we partner with them, and why, can tell volumes about a person. It tells me what they’re afraid of, what they desire, and what they value. That’s not all the show is intended to get at, but those are the interesting shows to me. I’m also drawn to the taboo and prurient, so it scratches that itch, as well.
How was the subject matter/format arrived at?
I’m still not sure we have a set format. We’re experimenting. Sometimes we have guests, sometimes we take callers, and sometimes it’s just me and Dana* spouting off for an hour.
As for subject matter, in its infancy The Chat Room was a little too safe for my tastes: where to meet a nice guy, how to love yourself before loving him, and other topics that were already overdone. I’ve pulled hard in the direction of edgy. Maybe I’ve pulled too hard, but I wanted to cover topics that are either hard to talk about or could help young folks navigate the confusing waters of intimate topics.
What’s a bondage club like? I’ve never been—I’ll never go—but curious minds want to know. What’s it like to be raised by teenagers? We covered teen pregnancy not from the overdone perspective of the teen parent, but from the child’s perspective. How far will women go with plastic surgery to attract a man? We talked to a surgeon about the latest techniques and fads. Dan Savage came to UCI and we talked about his controversial views on monogamy. We do it all.
How did Dana get involved?
The show is in its third quarter and I’m on my 4th co-host. I try not to take this personally, but it’s getting tricky. Ironically, although I’ve been the constant, the tone and voice of the show really changes depending on who’s sitting in that second chair.
I started with Lady Q, an awesome, young, Catholic college gal. Elizabeth Zero and Nathan Tang joined me in the second quarter. Elizabeth is bawdy, strong, hilarious, outrageous, and took the show up a notch. I suspect she scared the hell out of Nathan. She told me she was leaving towards the end of the second quarter, and I thought we’d shut the show down. But I got deeply sad and depressed about it, and realized I wasn’t ready to let it go.
At a KUCI staff meeting one night, I was sitting with a bunch of men, and knowing I wanted a male co-host, I said, “Anyone want to do The Chat Room with me?” Rob Roy contacted me a few days later, shared some of his own ideas for the show, and we were off to the races.
Why do you not mind listeners knowing who you are but your co-host has a pseudonym?
I went by a pseudonym myself the first quarter, unsure of how I felt about people associating the topics with me (and not wanting to lose or confuse the voice I have on “Writers on Writing”). We cover some hard stuff. But I came around to feeling that this show, and its contents and ideas, are a part of me I wanted to share. One theme of the show is that we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about hard topics, so it felt a bit two-faced to ask my guests to expose and divulge, and not do it myself. I’m still reluctant to share some of the topics on Facebook. My mom has sniffed the show out, but there are a lot of friends and family who might not appreciate it as much as others. I get, and respect, that, too.
Rob (Dana)’s situation is a bit different. “Dana” isn’t a pseudonym so much as an alternate persona. Dana wears different clothes, wears glasses, has a different style and personality than Rob. That’s the personality he’s trying to cultivate on The Chat Room. I’ll let him answer how that’s working for him.
What's been your response from listeners, so far?
Our listener response has been fantastic. Folks find it highly entertaining and informative. We haven’t done as much marketing and publicity as we’d like yet, so our audience is still relatively small. But now we’re on Facebook, and Dana is a wizard at marketing, so I’m hoping to put some hard effort into getting a stronger listenership.
How about KUCI management and the university—what do they think?
We’re pushing boundaries, for sure. Our boss is probably holding his breath every week. We did a show with OB/GYN Dr. Alyssa Dweck last quarter that was fairly graphic. It was all in the name of medicine and education, but it was definitely too edgy for drive-time radio. Since Dana joined this quarter, things have quieted down a bit. The tone is slightly more serious, less outrageous. I think—I hope—that makes management happy.
What's been your favorite show thus far (as of May 9, 2012)?
The show with Dr. Alyssa Dweck and Robin Westen (co-authors of V is for Vagina), ironically, was one of my favorites. The women were smart, articulate, funny, and informative. They took the shame and embarrassment out of talking about a whole host of medical and sexual problems. For a college audience, I thought this was particularly important. Young women need to be informed, to know what they’re going through is normal and not shameful. Taking control of their health and sexuality from the beginning is critical to keeping these women healthy for a lifetime.
Any awkward moments?
If we’re doing it right, they’re all awkward moments for someone. We had one guest who, literally 10 seconds before we went on air, announced that she had a form of Tourette’s Syndrome. She squeaked instead of swore (thank God), so it was fine, but in the moment it was funny.
Robin Westen told us her mother refused to use the word “vagina,” but her pet-name for Robin as a child was “pussy.” That was a little awkward. And Elizabeth routinely tried to solicit listeners to take Nathan’s virginity. I assume that had to have been awkward for Nathan.
Any moments you will not forget?
Elizabeth brought four longtime girlfriends on one night to talk about how women’s friendships impact their marriages. They were all hilarious. At some point, one woman was trying to silently ask another if she could talk about her breast implants on the air. She grabbed her own boobs to try to communicate it, and we all thought she was asking if she could say the word “breast” on air, so we gave her the go-ahead. But, of course, she outed her friend and her friend’s boob job, which the woman clearly did not appreciate. I guess that’s technically another awkward moment, isn’t it?
What's your husband think about the show? He’s a laid back guy. How nice for you.
Very nice for me! Honestly, he doesn’t listen and that’s fine. This show isn’t his cuppa joe, and I respect that and honor his tastes. Just like I don’t share my off-color jokes and bawdy humor with him, I let him off the hook. But he’s always his supportive and loving self. I’m very lucky, indeed.
Does your daughter want to listen?
She hasn’t asked to listen, and we don’t let her. She’s accompanied me to the show a few times, but I either plug her into an iPod or movie, or my co-workers have been sweet enough to occupy her attention.
How old should a listener be?
It depends on the show and subject matter. There are a few that are intended for an adult audience only (18+). Some are fine for teens. I wouldn’t go much below 14 or 15 for most of them. That said, we follow all FCC guidelines and rules. It’s a drive-time show, at this point, so while the topics are sometimes difficult, nothing is offensive or obscene.
You're in the third quarter? Did you think it would last this long?
I certainly hoped the show would last, but I’m surprised I lasted this long. I started, intending only to fill in for the missing DJ. I thought I’d incubate it and hand it off. I’m surprised how much I love doing it. It’s really been a self-discovery process, as much as anything.
What's your dream show?
Between “Writers on Writing” and “The Chat Room,” I think I’m there. I aspire to be some cross between Terry Gross and Dr. Drew or Dan Savage (quite an aspiration, eh?). I’ve found writing and intimate relationships are the two ways people reveal themselves. Coming at it from both angles, getting people to open up and expose themselves in truthful and vulnerable ways, this is the stuff that makes us human, connects us together, provides a shared experience. That’s what I love most about these two shows.
Who should not listen to this show?
My mother. Except she has.
The listener discretion disclaimer applies. I still think most listeners come to us through our podcasts, and I provide pretty good descriptions of show content. If you’re listening live, we announce throughout the hour what the topic is, and who the guest is, so listeners are adequately informed. If the subject matter offends you, I don’t advise tuning in. That said, we obviously abide by FCC guidelines. The show isn’t obscene. But it is often frank.
Check us out and “like” us on facebook. And email us at Thechatroom@kuci.org. if there’s a topic you’d like to hear.. We love listener feedback.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is host of “Writers and Writing” Wednesdays at 9 a.m. PT. She is founder of the Pen on Fire Writers Salon and author of Pen on Fire. Her story, “Crazy for You,” is anthologized in Orange County Noir (Akashic, 2010). More at penonfire.com. If you’re a KUCI DJ or Public Affairs host, and wish to be featured in this spot, email email Barbara .