Many people might not know him by his “real name,” David West, but everybody knows Dr. Dave. He’s the breezy voice of local sports in the mornings on WNZF, and he hosts an oldies show at lunch time on KOOL 100.9 — until May 31, when he retired after a career in the business including 11 years at Flagler Broadcasting.
I stopped by the radio station during the lunch hour to interview him but soon found that he was busy with more important people: the fans of his show, who stopped by to wish him well in his retirement. I didn’t want to interrupt, so I walked around the studio and interviewed his coworkers instead. West and I met a few days later for a more personal interview.
‘A great mentor’
West will be remembered around the office for his upbeat attitude, sense of humor, words of wisdom and encyclopedic knowledge.
“When the lights go on, you have a choice: You can either make believe you know what you’re doing, or fall apart."
— David "Dr. Dave" West
General Manager David Ayres first met West in 2008, shortly after Flagler Broadcasting launched its studio on State Road 100 in Bunnell. At the time, there was one just one other local station: Blizzard (WFBO-FM 97.7), out of Flagler Beach. Because of “financial and FCC fine problems,” the station “went dark” in November 2008, according to clfradio.net.
That meant West was available at just the right time. Ayres met him in the WNZF parking lot because, as it happened, West and his wife, Jo Anne, had a shop called Candy Bouquet next door.
“It was a find,” Ayres recalled. “We gave him his own show, ‘Lunch with Dr. Dave,’ and said, ‘You can break all the rules and play whatever you want and have fun with it.’ So that’s kind of his legacy.”
Marc Gilliland, operations manager now at WNZF, began as an intern in 2008, so West has been a constant in his career. He worked on the technical side of the first live high school football broadcast done by the station, with West doing play by play.
“I remember being a nervous wreck,” Gilliland said. “Dr. Dave was a total professional. It went off without a hitch. … Dr. Dave has always been a great mentor and someone to work with and really made me enjoy working in radio.”
Now that West has retired, Rich Carroll, who took over as news director after the death of Ron “Charles” Gitschier last year, will also be sports director and do the play by play. Gilliland feels the broadcast is in good hands with Carroll: “It’s a job he was born to play.”
Gilliland was one of three staff members — Terry Turner, Mary Friar and Mary Adams — who said on May 31 that they will always remember West’s wise words at the end of staff meetings over the years. Ayres said he gives everyone a chance to speak at the meetings, and he saves West for last.
“He’s very observant, and he’ll pick up on something somebody said,” Ayres said. West’s comments are sometimes philosophical, always positive. Because of West, he said, staff members “leave the meeting in a good, positive spirit.”
In his last meeting before retiring, West told the rest of the staff, “Always be happily optimistic.”
It was quintessential West, according to Adams: “It’s a double positive instead of a double negative,” she said.
That was West’s style on the radio as well. He and Dave O’Dell in the mornings ended their broadcast with a call-and-response of positivity:
O’Dell: “Until then, blue skies …”
West: “… and green lights.”
During his final edition of “Lunch with Dr. Dave,” which ran about 25 minutes longer than usual, a parade of fans chatted with West while he was off the air as the songs played. To conclude, he repeated his staff advice to the rest of the community, telling everyone to be “happily optimistic.” He also said to the retiree audience, which he was about to join: “Don’t let an old person move into your body.”
As his final music selection, West then picked a classic song that embodied his positive attitude: Roy Rogers’ “Happy Trails,” which goes like this:
“Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then.”
Making Hazel happy
I wanted to also get West’s point of view on his retirement, so I met with him on Monday, June 3, and it was fun to see his reactions to what his coworkers had said. He was pleased that he would be remembered for his positivity.
“Being positive is its own immediate reward,” he said. “It draws good things out of your life.”
One reward from his extended final show on May 31 was to meet a listener named Becky, whose sister, Hazel, was also a longtime listener. One day, Hazel, who was mentally handicapped and 70 years old, called West to request a song during “Lunch with Dr. Dave.” He played the song. That night, Hazel died. Becky came by to thank him for making Hazel’s life a little better.
“Hazel couldn’t tell time,” West said, “but she knew when my show was on. Hazel would clap her hands and be happy during ‘Lunch with Dr. Dave.’ That means so much to me that I could make a difference in even one person's life.”
In the locker room
West began his radio career in the early 1970s when he was a volunteer sports reporter as a student for the station at the University of Massachusetts. (He put himself through school by playing drums in gigs at nightclubs and played drums full time for several years.)
After working as a Hardwick Stove Co. salesman in Arkansas and Oklahoma, he took a course in broadcasting and worked hard to improve his pronunciation and radio voice.
In 1991, he got a job in sports radio at WDU in Gainesville, Georgia, about 50 miles from Atlanta. In that job, he got to interview famous athletes in locker rooms after games. He interviewed Chipper Jones so often that at an All-Star game, West and another reporter were waiting on Jones, and Jones said to the other reporter, “I’ll talk to you first. I talk to this guy every day,” pointing to West.
West also interviewed Braves pitcher Greg Maddux. He interviewed Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in locker rooms when their teams played the Atlanta Hawks (“I’ve seen Michael Jordan naked,” West said). Among NFL greats, he has interviewed Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Do it all again
In 2002, West and Jo Anne moved to Palm Coast. Their daughter, Stephanie, has Down syndrome and needs constant care, so while Jo Anne got a job at the courthouse, West stayed home to care for Stephanie, who is 33 years old now.
“She’s a trip,” West said with a smile. “She’s a 4-foot-10 little Down syndrome girl, with a little autism, a little of this, a little of that.”
“Get compassionate or die. You gotta laugh all day long.”
— David "Dr. Dave" West
Helping Stephanie has taught him important lessons in his life.
“You have to be compassionate,” he said. “Get compassionate or die. You gotta laugh all day long.”
Because his schedule was flexible, for five years he was able to become a volunteer DJ for the Blizzard. He also got to do some live broadcasts of Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School football games — using only his cell phone — for the Blizzard.
Meeting Ayres and joining the WNZF team was an enormous opportunity, he said.
“It’s almost like it happened for me,” he said. “I always wanted to be a sportscaster. … To be able to do sports at the radio station in my own home town — you talk about icing on the cake.”
He remembers broadcasting that first game with Gilliland, and he said experience helped him through the early broadcasts.
“When the lights go on, you have a choice,” West said. “You can either make believe you know what you’re doing, or fall apart. It’s like anything else, like being on a stage: You have to go out there. You gotta just do it. That’s radio in a nutshell. I used to tell people who would come in to be on the shows at WNZF: 'The first rule of radio is, Don’t sound like an idiot.’”
He said he'll miss his job, but he’s retiring because “there are people in my life that I haven’t seen that I need to see.” He felt it was time. But he will always remember his days at Flagler Broadcasting.
“It’s a great group of people,” he said. “ … I wish I could be 10 years younger and do it all again.”