BY JONATHAN VALANIA How do we love Marty? Let us count the ways:
The way she picks Philadelphia’s brain every day for two hours, leading listeners through two completely different, but somehow relevant, topics of interest — with confidence, class and MILF-y aplomb.
The way she never loses her cool or raises her voice or engages in ad hominem attacks, and expects her guests and callers to do the same; how she enforces that covenant with the gentle firmness of a Cub Scout den mother.
The way she and her girlfriends — back when they were teenagers — sometimes went to church naked under their yellow raincoats, stifling coy and knowing giggles throughout the sermon.
The way she went down to the demonstration to get her fair share of abuse, and met her husband — he was a long-haired folk singer as was the style of the day.
The way she dropped out of college to learn how the real world actually works and started a hippie coffee house in Atlanta, and cooked for a year. And then moved to Philadelphia and had a son, and embarked on what would become six years of largely thankless but nonetheless noble social service, working with emotionally disturbed children and counseling families on the verge of collapse.
The way that one day in the late 70s, she walked into WHYY with exactly zero radio experienced and volunteered — back when more people listened to public radio in Ames, Iowa than they did in Philadelphia. The rest is, well, let’s just let her tell you…
Phawker: You are from the area, no?
MMC: Yes, I live in the area. I’ve lived in and around Philadelphia since about 1971. But I was not born here. I grew up in Massachusetts and then Delaware.
Phawker: Tell me a little bit about your family life.
MMC: My dad was actually a teacher and my mom was one of those 1950s housewives. The good kind. I actually grew up on boarding school campuses. My dad first taught at a New England boarding school and then we moved to Delaware in 1958 and he became the headmaster of a kind of New England-style boarding school that’s in Middletown, Delaware. So I was very much a faculty brat. A faculty kid.
Phawker: Sounds like Rushmore meets the Dead Poets Society.
MMC: In fact, Dead Poets Society was filmed at the school where my dad was headmaster. Just so you know.
Phawker: Did it have any connection to his life story?
MMC: No, not really. But that was my life, growing up.
Phawker: And you are Marty Moss. Moss is….? Why do I think Irish-Catholic?
MMC: Well it’s a little bit of Irish. There’s no Catholic. It’s that sort of British mix of Scottish, Irish, British and probably something else thrown in that we don’t even know about. And the Coane part — my husband is Jewish. His family, as legend goes, came to Ellis Island came from Poland or Russia, or wherever they were from, with the last name of[unpronounceable Eastern European name] and that was very quickly changed to Cohen. And his grandfather apparently wanted to get into dental school at Penn and, as the story goes, was told that they had a quota about how many Jews they were gonna take. So he changed the name to Coane thinking it sounded more Irish. So it’s this totally ridiculous, made-up name. This was all family legend so you have to take it with a grain of salt. But that’s the story that was handed down with the name. So yes, some guy with a pen at Ellis Island had decided that another Coane had come to the United States.
Phawker: And you came of age in the ’60s?
MMC: Yeah. Oh god, this is so frightening! I was born in 1949. I’m really getting old. I graduated from high school in ’67. And then I went to George Washington University from ’67 to ’69. It was ground zero for the anti-war movement, which is why I nearly flunked out of college and decided to leave after two years — because I was essentially wasting my parents’ hard-earned money mostly going to demonstrations.
Phawker: Were you there when the war protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon?
MMC: I’m not sure I actually made it over there that day because there were other things going on. But I was definitely part of that. You know, not in a big way. In my own little, small, 18, 19-year-old way. And it was quite an education. And it essentially taught me that I didn’t know anything about anything. And that’s the other reason I decided to quit school for a while. Because I didn’t think I knew anything about the world.
Phawker: What radicalized you about Vietnam? Youthful idealism or was it largely fashion and peer influence?
MMC: We’ll say it was a mix of both. I mean, I think I had that idealism, and I think the Pentagon Papers and all we were learning about the war, and various things the government was telling us about the war and that in itself was an education. And … you know, it was a nice place to meet guys. There was the whole dating scene that was part of the anti-war movement as well so I certainly didn’t mind that. You know, a mix of opportunity and idealism and clearly being politically involved.
Phawker: Well, I don’t know if you’re aware of this but the former editor of the Inquirer Robert Rosenthal, was actually given the Pentagon Papers to hide from the FBI. There was a time when the Times thought the FBI was about to raid the Times to get the Pentagon Papers back. He was an intern at the time and they basically said “Take these, kid, and go get lost for a few hours.” And he had to go somewhere for three hours and go be anywhere he could not be reached by phone. I mean, nothing ever came of it but it was real cloak-and-dagger there for a minute.
Jumping ahead to the present for a second, how would you compare that to the climate now and the circumstances the country finds itself in now to then?
MMC: Well, we’re a country of war so you can’t escape those parallels. To be honest with you, I think the main difference is we had a draft back then. And having the draft was one of those energizing events. It helped to create a groundswell against the war because people didn’t want to draw a number and be forced to fight in a war they didn’t believe in. And not to get too wonky here, but I think the fact that we have a voluntary military, at least on paper, has created a very different environment.
Phawker: Wonk away.
MMC: Well, the more this war goes on, you do begin to see some parallels between how the government has been handling it and what the people are told and the role of the press and all of that.
Phawker: OK well, more specifically, everything that has gone down in the name of national security in the wake of 9/11. Does that seem to parallel to some of the steps the government was taking back in the late ’60s and early ’70s that were revealed later when the Watergate hearings started?
MMC: Well, I don’t want to draw too many parallels that aren’t there. I mean I think there are certain things that have a nostalgic ring to them. And there certainly were members of the government that were spying on members of the anti-war movement or civil rights workers, things like that. There are questions now about the FBI spying on people without getting warrants to be able to do that. So there certainly examples of government overreach. But I don’t want to go too out on the limb to say there are direct connections there. I think countries at war do similar things in order to both protect the country and also to deal with problems within the country.
Phawker: I guess what I am asking is does this feel unprecedented to you or is this a cyclical thing and we’ve kind of been like this before?
MMC: Well, during Vietnam it didn’t feel this way but I think in hindsight that was a war that was contained within a certain part to the world. And I think what we’re dealing with today is a war that is borderless. It has so many worldwide implications because the world is so much more connected, etc. So I think we’re only just beginning to realize where all of this could take us, and it’s quite troublesome. Obviously, we felt that way about Vietnam but at the same time, in hindsight it felt like a much lesser problem to be perfectly honest.
Phawker: OK, back to college. You were majoring in?
MMC: I didn’t get that far. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. So I [quit school and] moved to Philadelphia. I had some friends who were going to Penn, and I lived with them. And I worked in two schools in Germantown. I don’t even know if they still exist. But anyway, they were programs for inner-city kids with learning disabilities or emotional problems. So I basically lived as a teacher’s aide for a year, and carpooled kids from West Philly to make a couple of extra bucks. It was actually great. I learned a lot. And at one of the schools I met the person who eventually became my husband. And he ran their music program in the summer between his college years. And the second year I was a college dropout I moved with him to Atlanta, Georgia.
Phawker: His name?
MMC: His name is Jim Coane. He’s a psychologist.
Phawker: But he was a musician too?
Phawker: He must have cut a very romantic profile back then. Folk singer, probably had long hair …
MMC: You got it. Folk singer, long hair, the whole thing. I know it seems kind of corny today but it worked for me. And that was enough for me to go south. He enrolled at Emory University and we lived outside of Atlanta. And a bunch of his friends and myself decided to start… [laughs] this is really stereotypical: a macrobiotic vegetarian restaurant. Which we did. I was a vegetarian at the time. And I tried to be macrobiotic. It was just too austere. So because they were all in various stages of going to school, I and another guy were the cooks. And we just cooked up a storm for a year. It was called Morning Star Inn.
Phawker: That’s not a very hippy-ish name. Why not The Exploding Morning Star Inevitable?
MMC: It’s just seemed right at the time. And it did have a little coffee shop we made so it had a place where we could do music. And we just had really cheap, basic food. And it was a blast. It was really fun. And it became kind of a big hangout place so that was kinda fun too. And I just cooked morning, noon and night.
Phawker: Are you a musician?
MMC: No. He tried to program me to be his bass player, and he’d just tell me where to put my fingers but (laughs) that didn’t work out very well.
Phawker: Did you ever perform together?
MMC: We did. We performed at this really horrible … they called it the Atlanta Folk Festival. I think four people showed up. And then I decided to go back to school. We came back to Philly. He went to graduate school and I went to Temple for two years.
Phawker: Oh okay. So you’re a Temple graduate?
MMC: I think I am.
Phawker: You think you are?
MMC: Well, I didn’t go to graduation and I kept changing my major.
Phawker: [laughing] I love it!
MMC: Yeah. So, I don’t know. I didn’t go to graduation so I don’t have the pigskin. But I certainly took all the courses. I do believe I’m a college graduate (laughs).
Phawker: What did you study at Temple?
MMC: I ended up studying psychology, but I took a lot of English courses and things so I think I ended up being a liberal arts major. I graduated in ’73.
Phawker: And what was Philadelphia like back then?
MMC: I’ll be honest with you. I think I just went to school. I was waitressing. I went home. Did my thing. The ’70s is sort of this empty hole. I don’t remember very much.
Phawker: Did you guys eventually get married?
MMC: We got married in ’73.
Phawker: So what happens next?
MMC: What happened next is I had a series of disconnected jobs. But eventually I guess my first real job was working for the Philadelphia public school system as a school counselor in an elementary school that was part of a federally-funded program that provided counseling and family services to low-income schools. So I worked in one in West Philly, and then one in South Philly as a school counselor for about three years. It was difficult. It was hard. Kids in trouble and you know, I never was a great student, so I didn’t have a great love for school so I could kind of relate. So I felt, I think, like the kids, caught between the administration and your own life. But it was a great experience and some amazing teachers and I get along with kids pretty well so I enjoyed that part of it as well. And then after that I worked for three years for a community mental health center, kind of Kensington, North Philly at Front and Huntington streets. And did lots of home visits and kind of crisis intervention and case management, stuff like that. It was a lot of knocking on peoples doors and…
Phawker: So that was six years of very noble public service. I’m not being sarcastic. The people that do those jobs, God bless them. They are essential to the social safety net and yet they get no credit, and no pay, and just…
MMC: But to be honest with you I just kind of burned out on it. When you’re knocking on people’s doors and you go inside and you see how they live and you find you can’t do anything to actually help them because there’s no social services, blah blah blah. That’s when I kind of wandered into public radio. Which may seem like a bit of a jump. But I kind of just said to myself, “What do I do all day? I talk to people. Well, where else can you talk to people all day?”
Phawker: Were you listening to public radio at this point?
MMC: I had just started listening. My mother had turned me on. She said, “There’s a kind of radio I think you’ll like.” So she turned me on to WHYY and NPR and she was right. And I just got intrigued and thought, “Gosh, maybe I could do something down there.” And I literally walked in the front door 25 years ago as a volunteer. Worked in the newsroom. I was a terrible reporter. That was obvious.
Phawker: Wait. Hang on. The show is 20 years old, right?
MMC: It’s 20 this year. Something like April 1st.
Phawker: So you worked at WHYY for five years before the show started?
MMC: I did. I worked as a volunteer. I had a baby. I started a show now called “Family Matters” that became “Voices In The Family.” The station manager at the time and I put our heads together and he said lets see if we can do something that draws on your experience working with kids and family and schools and all that. And the people that you know in the city and lets do something on the radio. So he and I came up with Family Matters. And eventually hired Dan Gottlieb. And you know, the rest is history.
Phawker: Tell me a little bit about what WHYY was like back then.
MMC: To be honest, it was a place where someone like me, who had no experience, could get a radio show. It had a much smaller audience. And it was probably willing to take risks that we probably don’t take now. So it was really a wonderful time to be there. Plus this guy Bill Siemering was the station manager, which is a story in itself. I mean, I’m just the luckiest girl in the world to have worked with him for a while. He started “All Things Considered.” So that was just a very happy, lucky accident that I was here when he was here. And he was able to really mentor me. So, that was wonderful. And I mean it was smaller, and probably a little funkier. And we had typewriters and we could smoke in the newsroom and you know, all that kind of stuff. Yes, I was a vegetarian smoker.
Phawker: That’s quite a combo. When did you quit?
MMC: Well, I was one of those smokers that I never smoked a lot. Which then convinced me, with my smokers’ mentality, that, “Oh, I could manage this.” And I could stop and start. And to be honest with you, my mother died of lung cancer about five years ago, and she hadn’t smoked for 50 years. And may this be a lesson to all smokers — I watched her die of lung cancer and it was horrible. And to be perfectly honest, I mean talk about aversive stimuli. I have had no desire for cigarettes since then.
Phawker: So then how does “Radio Times” come about?
MMC: Well, I worked on “Fresh Air” when it was a local show, as like an associate producer.
Phawker: Lets talk about that. When did you start “Fresh Air”?
MMC: Well, this is where my brain doesn’t really work so well. Let’s say … 20-some years ago. ‘Cause if “Radio Times” is 20, it’s all connected to when “Fresh Air” went national and blah blah blah. But anyway, when “Fresh Air” was a local show, I worked part-time there. I worked part-time on Family Matters and part time with Danny and Terry and Amy on “Fresh Air” as an associate producer. And I did a lot of editing. And I did some occasional interviews, which I really liked I must say. I really enjoyed that.
Phawker: Interviews that were on the air?
MMC: Yeah, this was the time they would let people do stuff like that. And “Fresh Air” was three hours a day, so they needed people to interview people on the air. So when they went national, I got some of their leftover hours. And that’s when “Radio Times” started, as a one-hour-a-week in the afternoons. Also, “Family Matters” was folded into it. But I began as host and producer of “Radio Times,” and then some years later “Radio Times” became the morning, two-hour, interview, call-in show that it is today.
Phawker: So, you have a son, correct?
MMC: Yes. His name is Jesse Coane. He’s 25. He is actually a filmmaker in New York. He works for a production and advertising company, and he does editing and some directing, and he’s done everything from documentaries to more commercial work. But it’s a great job and he’s doing really well. He’s a cool guy.
Phawker: You know, he could have wound up like Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties.” There must have been a time when he was rebelling against the hippy parents.
MMC: Well, its funny you say that. We used to joke. Well, at one point he did say, “You dad, are so conservative.” You know, probably ’cause we didn’t let him stay out all night somewhere. And we used to joke that if he really wanted to rebel against us he’d be a banker. I don’t think that ever made any sense to him.
Phawker: What is a typical day in the life of Marty-Moss Coane? How do you balance all of this? How do you not make a fool of yourself talking about two diametrically opposed topics everyday for an hour?
MMC: Well, not that I haven’t made a fool of myself, I definitely try not to. I mean this is so boring, but it’s something I’ve learned from Terry and from “Fresh Air” which is one of the ways you do that is you do your homework. You actually spend time reading and thinking about things. So my day is really filled with reading lots and lots of material. And I’ve learned over time how to be a very organized and frankly, a very efficient person.
But my day begins at 5:30 a.m., the alarm goes off. And I try to get to work by 7:30-ish. I take the train. I gave up on driving. My whole day is how to get my work done. So on the train I’m reading theInky and the New York Times. And by the time I’m pulling into the train station I’ve pretty much read those two papers. And I get there around 7:30, 8 and it’s quiet. And between that time and 9 a.m., I’m looking at books that we might have the authors on. I’m looking through material producers here have given me. I’m answering emails. I’m reading some magazines. I’m going through piles of stuff trying to remember things that I had thought about yesterday. So mostly I’m just trying to feed that monster of 500 shows a year that we do. Just trying to keep all that information going. And then the producers start coming in around 8-ish, around 9 Allen gets in, so by the time 9:00 rolls around the phones are ringing and blah blah blah. I have studio time from about 9:15 to 9:30 where I pre-record my billboards. And that’s the kind of musical introduction to each hour that you hear at the top of the hour of each hour. And then I also cut the promos for the next day’s show. And then by 9:30 I’m pulling all my notes and thoughts together and rereading my questions and going over things and last-minute details. And on a good day the guest arrives at quarter of 10, and we have time to chit-chat. And then we go on the air obviously for two hours. And then from 12:00 to 1:00 it’s how did the show go? Was that good?
Phawker: Do you sketch out an outline of questions for the show?
MMC: I do. And not that I ask all of them or sometimes even any of them. But I feel like as an interviewer that I have to have a kind of game plan going in. And it just sort of helps me focus. I kind of think in charts. So, where do I want to begin? I want to begin with blah blah blah. And I can follow this little train of thought down here, and we can pick up some news item there. So I’m constantly diagramming in a way where I think the interview should go, and then there’s the interview that actually happens. And if you’re really prepared, you don’t actually really need all these notes. You can actually follow where you think the conversation is going. So that’s why when I’m interviewing I always have a pen in my hand. Cause I’m always scribbling notes cause I’m trying to remember my question, but I’m listening to them say something else, so I’m trying to figure out, “Okay, where should we go with this?” And it’s fun, and a little hair-raising.
So once the two hours are over, we really do decompress about how was the guest. And if we did a debate, was it evenly sparred or are we sick of this guest by now? Do we need a new person? How were the callers? All that kind of stuff. And then I have two full-time producers and a part-time producer who is generally on the phones. And she’s probably going to finish up some stuff before she goes home. And there’s shows that she’s working on that she can take care of.
Phawker: How far in advance are you planning these shows?
MMC: It depends. Like, I’m looking at next week. We have Monday set. We have the second hour on Tuesday. We have nothing for Wednesday. We have one hour for Thursday and one hour for Friday. Which is fine. I mean, that’s good. And we probably have about 25-40 shows in various stages of readiness.
We try our best if there is breaking news to try and do something. Even if it’s not breaking news, you just feel like the conversation is really moving in a different direction. For instance, today we did a show on Iraqi refugees. And not that we don’t know about that yet, but you just sort of feel that there’s a bit of a groundswell. People are beginning to really pay attention.
Phawker: Well, I think you guys do a good job of chiming in when these perennial topics seem to take a little bit of a turn. So the two-hour thing, don’t you ever think it would be easier to just do one hour? Whose idea was that?
MMC: It was probably mine. There’s a part of me that loves to go on the radio. I love to talk to people. I like to see what people are thinking and talking about. And I mean, there is a lot of prep that goes into that and there are times when I feel like, “Oh my gosh, it’s four in the afternoon and I have to read this great big book. Wouldn’t I rather go home and play tennis or whatever?” But I really do like my job. So, I like the two hour format. Not that I haven’t thought maybe it would be great that every one would be better than what you could do for two hours. But it fits my personality and it suits the station the way it is for now anyway.
Phawker: Okay. Maybe when I get my show together you’ll give me that extra hour. How about this. Tell me your worst guest experience. Radio meltdown. The most shameful day in Marty-Moss Coane broadcast career. Is there one moment like that?
MMC: Yeah, there is. It goes way, way back. And his name will come to me. It was probably 18 years ago, and there was … he was either a congressman or a state legislator in Pennsylvania. He was very anti-abortion. But that’s almost besides the point. I was so naive at the time because he really went after me on the air. And talk about preparation and frankly, experience. It was less about his politics than his personality. But he just tore me to shreds on the air.
Phawker: Were you discussing abortion?
MMC: I think … well, to be honest with you, its like one of those hours I don’t want to relive but … oh my goodness, honestly, I mean … I was just stuck there. I didn’t know that to do. He just took the stuffing out of me. He had the upper hand.
Phawker: For the whole hour?
MMC: Well, its probably exaggerated hindsight. But it was bad. I mean, I know it was bad. It was just one of those moments where I just felt like, “Either you gotta toughen up, girl, do better than this, or just give it up because you don’t want to do that again. You know, get with the program here.” And it’s not my job to beat up every guest, ’cause I don’t think it’s necessary. But to lose control of a show is something I don’t want to relive.
Phawker: Were you inadequately prepared? Or was this guy just such an attack dog?
MMC: He was. And he was just attacking me personally in every other which way and I had no comeback for him.
Phawker: Was this guy like an old school conservative type? And you were more the young hippie type? Was it a generational thing?
MMC: I don’t think it was generational. It was … it was terrible. And it was awful. And honestly, if I could have put a paper bag over my head and walked home that would have been better. But the truth is, we had a much smaller audience then and the world didn’t come to an end, thank God.
Phawker: Do you have any idea what your audience was back in the beginning?
MMC: You know, I don’t know. Maybe 40,000. As the [cumulative per hour]. Now I think our cume is 150,000 and I forget what it is every minute.
Phawker: So roughly 20,000 every given minute?
MMC: Well, you know, one of the advantages of working in public broadcasting is that you don’t actually have to know that. But I know the sort of overall rough numbers so whatever that translates to.
Phawker: So, you did toughen up after that. You vowed this would never happen again, with God was your witness. Started lifting weights, eating raw eggs in the morning.
MMC: [laughs] You know, just focusing more.
Phawker: So where did you get your verbal sparring chops? You’re very good at handling people. When did you learn the power of just turning down the volume on their their mic?
MMC: Well, the truth is when you have a radio show you are largely in control. The technology allows you to be in control. And I always feel like with callers … the show is for listeners and the callers have an important role to play, and they’re an important part of the show. But there’s that fine line between having a role to play and having someone’s opinions take over the show. So it’s like, finding that perfect balance of working them in, thanking them very much and moving on. And it’s tricky sometimes. It’s just sort of everyone, and this is going to sound terrible, but knowing their place. If you’re the guest, there is a certain role, the host has a certain role, and callers have another role. And not that we sometimes we don’t have callers that are better than the guests, because frankly that certainly happens. But in the big scheme of things, that’s how I see it.
Phawker: Well, what are one or two interviews you are most proud of?
MMC: It’s funny, cause when I started off I had that long list of all the famous people I wanted to talk to. You know, Nelson Mandela or this sort of cliched list that most people might have. But to be honest with you, I’ve learned that sometimes the people that you’ve never heard of are the best guests. And the person who is just starting off in their career. I think of Michael Chabon, the novelist. I interviewed him on his first, second and third book. I mean there’s a certain thrill to watch someone’s work evolve over time, and sort of meet them at the various junctures in their career and to watch it bloom like that. That’s really fun. I know people always ask this and I always have such a terrible answer — about the best. I mean I’m very hard on myself, so it’s a very small ?
Phawker: Well, who was the biggest in terms of celebrity or political power or prominence that you had the pleasure of ?
MMC: Well, this comes off the top of my head. Laurence Fishburne was in last year. And he did come in with his entourage of body guards, which always is interesting and kind of impressive. And I had a certain opinion about him. And he was so unbelievably personable and willing to do the hour. And we had fun before the show. And we had fun after the show.
Phawker: What was your expectation? Tough and standoffish?
MMC: Well, you read about people and you read what some people have said and sometimes its true and sometimes it isn’t true. And I had read that he might be a little standoffish or looking at his watch and that sort of thing. And we just had none of that. He was charming and wonderful. And sometimes it’s just those little pleasant surprises that you think halfway through the show, “Damn this is fun. I like this.”
Phawker: Did you just say ‘damn’?
MMG: Yeah. I can say damn on the radio. I don’t say damn on the radio, but one can.
Phawker: Do you ever feel that Living In Terry’s Shadow syndrome or is that … you know?
MMC: No, I don’t. I think that was much more of an issue 19 years ago when I did live in her shadow. But I’ve been on the air long enough. And we work in such different universes in many ways, since the shows are so different in many ways. And there’s never been a competitive bone between either Terry and me or the shows or producers or anything like that. It’s a pretty happy relationship that we have, which is terrific.
Phawker: You guys were never buddy-buddy though? Hanging out all the time, you know, do each others’ hair?
MMC: [laughs] No, we never did that. “Radio Times,” because it’s a different kind of show we’ve sort of followed our own little trajectory.
Phawker: Was Terry already there when you came to WHYY?
MMC: Oh, yeah.
Phawker: I’m just curious what your first impression was of her. Was it sort of like, “I want that gig?”
MMC: No, honestly I’ve never had one of those game plans. I just watched her work. I watched how she prepared and how she was on the air and soaked it all up with no intention of trying to have a radio show for my own, but just because I was curious, really.
Phawker: I have to ask you an embarrassing question. I think I read something in a Philly Mag story about you wearing a raincoat with no underwear or something like this? Is this true?
MMC: Oh yeah, you did do your homework, didn’t you?
Phawker: Sorry to put you up on the spot. But we have to sex up this interview up a little bit.
MMC: It’s okay. [laughs] Yeah, it’s too boring. Well, I did go to one of those girls’ boarding schools. So, having grown up in that life and on a boys’ boarding school campus. So one of the things we used to do just to keep ourselves entertained was just silly things like going to church without any clothes under our coats. And taking communion and just trying to keep from laughing and all that.
Phawker: And you’d just wear a raincoat so no one could tell?
MMC: Yeah. And then we’d just laugh throughout the sermon.