Voice on the Air
by Ronald Sklar
When asked if he was indeed the world’s youngest DJ, at age 11, in Jamestown, North Dakota, Shadoe Stevens answers like a true native.
“Yah,” he says, in that clipped Midwestern drawl, like a character out of the flick Fargo.
The answer is true, but the “yah” is tongue-in-cheek, as Stevens’ voice has refined a bit since he was a boy. In fact, it has come along way from Jamestown without sounding the least bit weary.
Influenced by the likes of media innovator Ernie Kovacs and DJ Chuck Dann (Stevens once drove two hundred miles just to meet him), he set out to make a name – and a voice — for himself.
Though as a child he built a tiny radio transmitter and broadcast for a whole eleven miles (until the authorities put a stop to it), his voice went on to be heard over airwaves cascading and bouncing all over this planet. You may not know him by his handsome face – or perhaps you may remember him slightly from some on-camera gigs, like the sitcom Dave’s World or the ’80s version of Hollywood Squares, in which he was so popular he was given the dubious distinction of “permanent square.”
However, Steven’s voice is actually one of the most recognizable and sought-after in the world, from announcing the Grammy and Emmy Awards to Comic Relief and about a bazillion TV and radio commercials.
For six years, he took over the helm as host of radio’s legendary American Top 40 (originally hosted by Casey Kasem), which was heard by no less than a billion people, as he would say between hits: from Helsinki to Houston.
That’s billion with a b.
If that wasn’t enough to top off the ol’ resume, he was also responsible for creating the revolutionary alt-rock music format at K-Rock in Los Angeles, which, although it went through several reincarnations, remains popular to this day. And this is before we make room for his series of children’s books. Oh, and his collection of computer-generated art (he’s a self-proclaimed Mac freak).
Hey, take a breath, Shadoe! But he already knows how to control the breath. All part of his training. He has it all under control and, true to his North Dakota roots, he is nothing less than a pioneer. That work ethic comes from his entrepreneurial parents.
“My parents were the coolest people on earth,” he says. “Still are. I had the most amazing childhood anybody could ever hope for. My parents owned toy stores, clothing stores, go-kart tracks, they rented bicycles, and they had fireworks stands on the fourth of July. We had speedboats and did water skiing in the summer. Sleds and toboggans in the winter. It was just remarkable. My parents didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs, curse or fight in front of the kids [there were five siblings, including Shadoe, whose real name is Terry Ingstad].”
He remains as ambitious as he was as a child, with that unmistakable, perfectly-pitched voice filled with a sort of relaxed enthusiasm. In fact, according to Stevens, his golden tonsils are not what he considers his first choice for his golden ticket to ride.
“My greatest asset is enthusiasm,” he says. “When I don’t have my enthusiasm, I am really in trouble. That’s because I am not the smartest and I am not the most talented guy. I am willing to work hard always. Usually, the reason I’ve gotten ahead is because I’ve been willing to take on more than most people and work harder than people around me. And that’s really been the key to survival and change. You think that you obtain a certain amount of success, and automatically, it leads to other opportunities and other success and other jobs. It’s not true. Things happen that are going to be inexplicable.”
A little more explicable is the success of the NBC night-owl talker The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, of which he is the staff announcer. The show is growing a solid audience, especially among the college crowd.
Of Ferguson, the popular Scottish comedian late of The Drew Carey Show, Stevens says, “We’re really good friends. It’s part of the reason I was hired to be on the show. He wanted to have somebody there who was in the same head space as him. We have a nice thing going there. He’s a clear-thinking, high-minded type guy. So ridiculously talented. He is really funny and really smart. He is just an exceptional person. I really like him a lot. I’m really happy to be there. It’s a great job with good people.”
He is also working on creating a new radio station for Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Mexico.
“It’s phenomenal,” he says of his latest venture. “It’s just going to be an amazing time. It has all the things I like best: it’s all rock; it’s all up, all the time. It’s where the world comes to party, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. High energy. New rock, hot rock, cutting edge and classic. Undiscovered. Rediscovered. Underground. All party. All the time.”
Are you ready to jam? Stevens always is, and always has a sixth sense for what people want to hear. He says, “It’s ludicrous that people only want to listen to new alternative rock or only want to listen to classic rock. Or Top 40 pop. It’s silly. It’s so 90s.”
You may ask, “What makes Shadoe run?” Fear of failure? Nah.
He admits, “I’ve gone through lots of failure. I’ve probably had fifty times the failure of any of the success I’ve had. People don’t ever hear about the failures. They don’t hear about things that don’t work out. There are big letdowns that are so complicated that you can’t make them work. And you really have to control your mind. I’ve gotten good recently at being able to be aware of a negative thought trying to get my attention. Before it becomes a complete thought in my mind, I have tools for dealing with it. Whether it is picking up the phone and calling someone, getting busy, writing, meditating, working on a project even if I know it isn’t going to work out. Action. The old mantra: Trust God. Take action. I really believe that.”
It wasn’t always that way. People around the world were tuning him in, but at one time, he himself was turning on and on the verge of dropping out. The golden boy from North Dakota almost bought the farm, in the grand old Hollywood style.
“I was drug addict at one time,” he admits. “I got sober twenty-three years ago. I was one of those garbage-can alcoholic drug addicts. I did everything. I was particularly addicted to cocaine and crystal meth. It enabled me to get up, to have more enthusiasm than I already had. Drugs enabled me to be enthusiastic, and then they turn on you like they always do and they consume you.”
Rock bottom could not have come soon enough. He recalls, “After everything was falling apart, my doctor said that I was a time bomb. High blood pressure, cholesterol. I was ashamed and humiliated. Ultimately, my parents intervened on me. They were quite shocked. They had no idea I was that out of control. And none of my other family members are like that. I went into a rehab and it took for me. There, I met my best friend in life, and really turned my life around. I got involved with recovery. My life got indescribably better in ways I never could have predicted for myself. I am very involved in helping others. It takes one alcoholic to help another one. It takes one drug addict to help another drug addict. It’s a remarkable, spiritual program that changes people’s lives.
“I’ve also taken up power yoga. I’ve become a complete fanatic. Every day for an hour and a half to two hours, and it’s so hard, I can’t believe it. But it’s balanced me in remarkable ways: mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. I decided to try it, because it seemed really vigorous. I had no idea how deep and thorough it is on every single part of your body. I do it about five or six times a week, and every day I wonder if I can get through it. It’s that hard. I sweat through it. It’s not boring, ever. It’s always challenging. And you leave feeling higher than a kite. It balances your thinking processes and your attitudes and your emotions and your body. I’m in the best condition I’ve ever been in.
“I have really taken care of myself for a long time. I’ve taken up martial arts when I got sober. I have so much energy and so much drive that I realized that I had to do something that would be a positive habit. So I took up martial arts and I wound up studying for twenty years with [the famous martial arts expert] Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez.”
Yoga has also enabled him to get into another type of space – that of children’s book author. He has created a series of inspirational stories for children, with Dr.-Seuss-like titles such as The Big Galoot. He can compare his writing experience to other challenges in his life. He says, “It’s what happens when you take on a discipline and you are willing to go through a struggle to try and do something. You just trust that you are going to figure it out. You put down some ideas and then you put down more ideas. And you write and you write and gets collected. It’s like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle; the story is revealed to you by your effort to be willing to try.”
Of this intense multi-tasking, he admits that it’s not as easy as he makes it look. He says, “It’s very difficult to change careers. It’s full of fears and apprehensions and anxiety and doubt. And then you go through it and take a chance, and maybe you’re given an opportunity, and you go through the fear and the anxiety, and learn the processes of discipline. Then it becomes an enjoyable activity. I’ve done that four or five times in my life. Each shift was accompanied by an enormous amount of apprehension and doubt and the little voice that says, ‘you can’t do that. You’re not good enough. You’re not cool enough.’ All of that stuff you’re mind tells you. It’s non-productive. And if you listen to it, you end up in paralyzing despair and it puts you in a place where you can’t do anything.”
Fortunately, Shadoe does not have to listen to the little voice.” Once again, he affirms, “Enthusiasm is my greatest asset, and it propels me to do things.”
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 4, 2007.
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