(During our interview, we asked for “a video message to your fans” – there’s the result)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two months ago, West Seattle radio personalities Marty Riemer and Jodi Brothers got axed from their long-running show without getting so much as a chance to say goodbye.
But this duo known for humor as well as music seems to be having the last laugh. Truly.
Some fans are still finding out they’re no longer on The Mountain; the short item we published about the abrupt end to their tenure there, mostly pointing to what our partners at the Seattle Times reported, is still drawing a few new comments each week – apparently thanks to a Google quirk, where the search query “what happened to Marty Riemer?” points you to our blurb first.
But hundreds of fans have long since rediscovered them on Facebook – starting with the day they got the boot, when Marty reported it with this status update:
Since then, on his page, he’s posted videos and invitations to events – including the one they plug in the video clip atop this story – a Marty Riemer Funny Festival that they’re staging wholly independent of any media sponsor. The FB page has even revealed personal news, like his wife’s pregnancy. So, of course, sent our interview request via Facebook, resulting in a rendezvous on a recent rainy afternoon (where you’ll also find Marty emceeing this Saturday’s tree lighting):
Circumstances of their firing didn’t dominate our conversation, but punctuated it; they’re still aghast at how it unfolded. Marty had been with the station for 12 years. He’s lived in West Seattle even longer, since 1987:
“That’s when I bought my first house. True blue West Seattle. I was working at KZOK at the time and the chief engineer lived in West Seattle, as did many people in radio, and I was dating a gal who lived on Vashon, so I would go through West Seattle … (The engineer) said, you should go look at houses over there. ‘But I warn you, once you move there, you will die there.’ I assumed he meant you die young! … I recruited so many people to move here, don’t know if that’s a good thing! Before I married my wife, I had to ask, does she like West Seattle?” If she hadn’t, he implies with a laugh, the prospective marriage might have been in trouble.
Jodi allows that she lives “on the West Seattle/White Center line” and has been there for five years. “I will die here too,” she smiles. “Who wants to be one of those (radio people who move a lot)?”
Since neither wants to leave the area, that’s part of why they haven’t found a new job immediately. Says Marty, “Our end goal is to end up back on the air together. … It’s not like there was an opening (somewhere) just sitting there waiting for us as soon as we were let go. We’re also savvy to the major shifts the radio industry has going right now” – including other job cuts he says have been made at their former station — “It’s just a devastating impact. The new radio ratings system has shifted and flipped the market – (talk radio stations) were at the very top for years and all of a sudden overnight they’re like 20th.” (Here’s a local explanation of the ratings-method change.)
The station’s statement re: their firing didn’t cite ratings – station official Dave Benson told the Times, “Marty’s contract came to an end, and we decided not to extend it.”
It’s not necessarily the firing itself with which the two take issue, but how it happened, according to Jodi: “You can’t just blow people out on a Friday.” However, being able to communicate with the fans afterward, via Facebook, is a huge change in the way the game used to be played, where fired DJs – almost always let go after what they didn’t know was their last show – would just vanish, maybe reappearing on another station weeks or months later, involuntarily out of their fans’ lives till then.
Marty: “We just launched our own website – we’re trying to develop that. But there’s almost so much momentum going with the Facebook thing, why would we, or – should we? … (It) does what we want to do, which is stay in touch with some of the most awesome listeners in radio. (Our listeners) are smart, funny, they ‘got it,’ and now they are supportive … They are really fighting the good fight for us and it brings a tear to my eye. I collect all the messages we get on Facebook, or direct e-mails, and I’ve assembled them all into a 70-page document, really moving messages, and of course when somebody writes an e-mail to management at The Mountain, they cc us and let us know what they hear back … The response has changed. The listeners are the reason we have the momentum.”
Those listeners can’t get them a new job, though, much as it appears they would like to. Jodi: “There’s no job for us right now … (so we decided) let’s make a job! It’s all because people are so encouraging.”
That encouragement has been intense enough to surprise them at times. Marty recalls the “Severance Blowout” party they threw at Elliott’s on the downtown waterfront last month, about a month after they were shown the door – promoted with this comedy video they published on Facebook.
“500 people showed up!” he marvels. “To do nothing! We did a little bit of production just as a joke – the top three reasons we think we were fired – but it was primarily just to say hi, to wish us well, and that motivated the idea of the comedy festival.” (The three videos – one for each reason – are linked from this Facebook page.)
The Marty Riemer Funny Festival was a staple of his tenure at The Mountain – but he contends it wasn’t anything his former employer had trademarked, so they’re producing one themselves: January 15th, at The Paramount downtown, one night, four comedians (full details here, including how to buy tickets). Jodi booked them – one of the activities she says have been keeping her busy, along with volunteering at the Seattle Humane Society (which will benefit from part of the Funny Festival proceeds), “and doing yoga more,” she allows, while acknowledging that booking is intense – as compared to past years, when that was somebody else’s job. “It was a lot more fun when we just sat in a room and (told the booker) who we wanted!”
They’ve been learning how to market, too, which has led to a lot of strategy meetings, Marty says.
“And the comedy community has been supportive,” Jodi adds. “They could have said, ‘Who ARE you people?” — unemployment is a lonely profession!”
It carries a bit of residual anger, too – Jodi says the firing made her madder for Marty, who’d been with the station 10 years longer, “just to be shown the door with no thank you, no respect, made me angrier for him than for me … you don’t treat people like that.”
“I was escorted to the door,” Marty recalls.
“They didn’t show me the door,” Jodi adds. “I walked out and ran for it!” Then turning more serious: “And after we’d spent the summer doing zoo concerts for free …” Jodi shakes her head, then brightens. “It makes me happy that we can carry on doing what we do, whether it’s bringing comedy to people, or … Even if the show doesn’t sell out, I’m just happy that we went for it.”
They know rumors have circulated about the reasons for their firing – it would be easier for some to believe if there was a clear, obvious reason. A breakdown in contract talks? they have been asked. “We weren’t even negotiating,” Marty says. “There was a contract clause for (automatic renewal) … And Jodi had another year on her contract, they just severed it and threw her out.” He suggests that was a tactical error on his former employer’s part – “Had she stayed, people would have been angry, but they couldn’t have directed it at her. They could have just said, ‘Marty’s contract was up’ (so he’s out).”
Too expensive? Jodi laughs, “I’ll tell you right now, we were a bargain then, and continue to be, especially him.” Marty claims he’d even offered to give back some of his pay when management started cutting other jobs.
But enough about that. Really. “We decided from the get-go, that the very first day we were together after getting fired – we decided we were going to take this and march off in a positive direction and make ourselves a marketable commodity, whether it’s the comedy shows or doing something online,” Marty reiterates.
They’ve been asked whether they might just do their own podcast version of the show – but there’s a couple reasons they say that wouldn’t work right now. “Our ultimate goal is still to get back into radio, and if we could – if we could figure out the rights issues for the music – we would love to do a music show on the Internet, and that may happen yet … we’ve looked at a type of format that I think would be popular in Seattle,” Marty notes. And he’s hopeful about the medium’s future: “I do think the big corporations have done everything in their power to mess it up, but there is something inherent about radio that’s really cool — in some shape or form it’ll still exist.” He talks about the mindboggling amount of programming available on Internet “radio,” but then muses, “Terrestrial radio still has an advantage in that you still have the community aspect … the community feeling of gathering people together, allowing them to feel like they belong to something – that’s what local radio does so well, that’s what we do so well.”
And they’re insistent that it’s a partnership, though Marty’s tenure at The Mountain was a decade longer than Jodi’s. He recalls that a one-time boss was the first to see the potential for them to be a team, back when Jodi was working at The End (which, like The Mountain, is owned by Entercom), back when Marty was still working the afternoon shift. “We’re a great team,” she says.
“You can’t just create chemistry,” adds Marty.
Jodi: “The very first time we were on the air together, was a test – we went on the air together, it was like we’d been doing it for years. I’d finish his sentences.”
My co-publisher, who has joined the interview to take a few photos, jokes at that, “How long have you two been married?”
“Our spouses understand,” Jodi smiles.
You’ll see that chemistry onstage as they host the Funny Festival on January 15th. “Wholly independent, underwritten and produced by us – we’re taking the risk!” Marty proclaims. They’ve booked Bill Burr, former Seattle comic Nick Thune, Christian Finnegan (a cable TV regular you might know from Keith Olbermann‘s show on MSNBC or VH1’s “Best Week Ever”), and special guest Jeff Garlin (from HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm“). “Any one of these guys could headline a show all weekend long,” says Marty.
As with Funny Festivals in the past, they promise an “opening sequence.” The most memorable one they’ve done, he recalls, was a play off a question he used to get asked a lot – he’d be asked if he does standup comedy, and when he said no, he’d be asked, “Do you do magic, then?” So they came up with a magic trick – an illusion – in which Jodi would be transformed into someone else.
That someone turned out to be Governor Chris Gregoire, who’d been on the show before. “We had an amazing relationship with her,” Marty said, revealing she even called the day they were fired. The performance with the transformation trick is immortalized in this clip published on YouTube:
“She’s such a great sport,” Marty says. “I actually had the governor wrapped up like a burrito.”
“It was hysterical,” Jodi remembers. “People were shocked. They were expecting a bad joke.”
This year, they haven’t hatched a plan yet: “We need to sell more tickets first!”
And then, after their first independent Funny Festival? Too soon to say. But they insist, it’s got to be something here in Seattle. Jodi: “Neither one of us is going to move. I’d rather scrub toilets here than work in radio with anyone else.”
Marty: “I’ve worked with you on those projects. I wind up doing the scrubbing!”
Marty Riemer emcees the West Seattle Junction Christmas Tree Lighting this Saturday, 5 pm, 44th/Alaska. Online, you can find him on Facebook here. The January 15th Funny Festival also has a Facebook page here, as well as info at the site where you can find out about other Riemer/Brothers endeavors, at martyriemer.com.