Q & A with Sarah from 97.3 Alice Radio

Over 18 years ago, Sarah Clark made her first morning show appearance on 97.3 Alice Radio and her success has remained ever since. In addition to co-hosting the wildly popular radio show, The Sarah & Vinnie Show, every weekday morning from 5:30-10am, she has now started a new creative adventure with SlappyStuff which she will be selling at the Holiday Craft Fair at the Mill Valley Community Center on December 6th. I caught up with Sarah to talk about her life, being the Bay Area’s #1 radio DJ and a busy mom.

Tell me about growing up on the east coast.

I was born in Rhode Island then moved to Massachusetts. I've been horse crazy from the get-go and spent the first 12 years of my life trying to convince my parents that I had to have a horse. The area we lived in was more rural when I was young. In my freshman year in high school my parents got me a horse. I love it and that inspired me to go to horse college. I attended Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island and studied Equine Business Management…..and I also discovered partying. I was awesome at partying! During that year I met a rock-guy friend from high school and he invited me to a studio rehearsal space in Brockton Massachusetts. That one night in 1989 changed my life. I met, John, my husband of 20 years.

I played piano and guitar and discovered my passion in music and I thought, “This is it. I’m quitting school and I’m going to be a rock star." The next two years I spent with a good cover band – we worked all the time. The first band I joined was called Geneva. Then I joined my husband's band Joe Rockhead and then we later formed a band called Slappy. I got into a bit of trouble in the band because with bands comes a lot of partying which I was really good at. So I left the band and decided I needed to get my life together. I moved back in with my parents.

Now John and I are in a band with No Name called Friday Night Living Room Jam Sessions. 

What kind of kid were you?

I was a ham at home but at school I was a bit obnoxious. In 3rd grade I started having behavior problems. There was one teacher who just did not like me. I was loud, not a great student, and a bit of an underachiever. I always tell my kids, if only I can go back and apply myself I'd get a better education. I was not an outcast at school but not popular either. I always tell my kids don't “peek” or feel the need to overdo it in high school because for those kids that do, that's it for them and they miss being a kid. You're a kid for such a short time, it feels like forever because that is all you've ever know but that gets away from you fast. 

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How did you become a DJ? 

When I was working at my dad’s factory I would listen to Charles Laquidara on The Big Mattress Morning Show on WBCN. They use to run ads for the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and I said “That's what I'm gonna do!” I started attending night school and then it was a series of one "right place, right time” after another. I had my demo tape, sent it to Charles and he called me to be an intern on his show. For over a year I worked for free and paid millions of dollars in parking tickets. The station was an hour south of Boston and I had to be there at 5am. It's funny that I ended up in morning radio because man I hated it. You have to be really disciplined. That was my first step into radio. I continued to send out tapes and there was an AM station closer to my house where I got my first on-air gig. 

Is there someone you admired?

There was Kathryn Lauren who was funny and great. She left and Tami Heide replaced her. I met her when I worked at WBCN. I also liked Charles Laquidara; he was the person who gave me my first shot. However, I learned from him how not to treat people. I always felt I spent a lot of money on gas, getting there as an intern, and I don't want to get yelled at. I can't say I've never yelled at anyone but I certainly appreciate interns especially since I was one for a long time. They're the next generation of what I’m doing and I want them to remember me fondly. I do remember Charles fondly and I did learn a lot from him but I remember him making me cry in front of the staff and I thought I’m never going to do that to anyone; that's humiliating. That said, he got what he wanted out of everyone and there is something to be said for that too. 

How did the Sarah & Vinnie Show come together?

I was working on a morning show in Philadelphia and looking for a partner. Vinnie's tape showed up and I just knew he was the right partner for me. We had him out, toured around Philly together and it clicked right from the beginning. He came to join me in August and then in November the owner of that station announced he sold the station and in February 1997 we're going dark. So we had only a few months to figure out what to do next. 

This was such a weird and unique situation to get an advanced warning. Usually you’re told the day you’re out and that’s that. For the next few months we sent tapes all over the country and had a wall of rejection letters hanging up. I knew this consultant and he was working with Alice which, at the time, was less then one year old. They didn't have DJ's when I started talking to them. I knew they wanted a female morning show host because they tried to get Darian O’Toole but she wasn't interested. The consultant mentioned me and that was it. Vinnie and I came to San Francisco.

Then right around our five year anniversary Vinnie stopped being able to come to work. He's really good at partying too. Unfortunately he got drunk and fell off the show (our internal joke.) Then No Name came on for six and a half years and then Vinnie came back.

What's your favorite part of working on the show?

The best part is the family I have there. I’ve been in some really unhealthy situations but now I've been at Alice for 18 years and it just gets better all the time. We have so much fun. Uzette is amazing, Hooman is one of my very best friends, Bryn has taken his position with sound effects to a whole new level, recently we added Vanessa who does our video simulcasting of the show and Jamie does our traffic, I have the same amazing boss, Michael Martin, and we have a really great relationship with our listeners. We've had a good solid stable family for a long time. My favorite part is, I have my family and love my family, but I also have this other family that I have four to five intense hours with five days a week. We go our separate ways and then catch up again in the morning. 

What does it take to prepare for a daily morning show and how do you keep it fresh?

It can't help but be fresh because there is always something on the news or a celebrity thing or whatever our dumb running joke is. We’re all avid readers and the internet has made our job so easy. Just a few years ago I had stacks of magazines at my door from all the tabloids. I'd rip out articles and come in with a big pile but now we use TMZ Radar Online, the gossip sites and we use a prep service which does a big round up for us. If you follow Kim Kardashian on Instagram there is always something on her. Did you see those pictures of her butt? It's so ridiculously airbrushed but looks amazing.

I go in 40 minutes before the show starts and there’s a pile of possible things to talk about. We just start whipping through it for what looks remotely interesting and the other stuff goes away. Then you look through that pile and divide it into the different breaks. My goal is to find something to jump off on. Let’s face it, people really don't care about Kim Kardashian or need our opinion on it. What we offer is a spin and a jumping off point into something else. To take someone like Kim (which I use as an example - she's just so prevalent in the news) she does some dumb parenting thing and we take it and put it into our life and then the texts start lighting up. Listeners used to call in but now people have a moment to craft something really funny and text it to us. We have a few regulars and I know people get a kick when they hear it read on the air and it encourages them to text more. 

It's easy to keep fresh, there are always new stories, we find out new stuff about each other and if it's not about us it's about some listener, or someone gets super pissed at something we said. We are on the air talking for five hours straight so we’re bound to say something dumb or wrong, use bad grammar, and piss off somebody. By voraciously reading and living life, truly some of the funniest moments are some dumb thing that happened on line at the DMV.

What was your favorite interview?

We used to interview on the phone but my favorites are face-to-face because there is no way to connect with someone on the phone. I want to sit down, look them in the eye and see how they react. You can really connect with someone. 

As far as a favorite interview - that's hard – recently Bill Bellamy. He's been on a few times but he's so funny and ready to go every time he comes in. All time favorite.....Jewel. She surprised me. I didn't think she'd be an easy interview but she came in, had a great time, played songs, and was open. Pink was awesome, open and ready to perform, Matt Damon was awesome even though I was super star struck. 

Some of the best guests have been random people. We do a podcast called the secret show and it's with a random person. I think normal people are more interesting because they don't have all the layers of insulation that a star has. Stars have done five million interviews and there is nothing you can ask them that's gonna throw them. But a regular person sits down and you start digging at them and we’re all insane inside or have some crazy secret we're ashamed of but turns out everyone does. My favorite guests sometimes are just people because you can really mess with someone who doesn't interview a lot and find out some cool stuff. 

Tell me how it's been juggling two boys with your career?

It hasn't been difficult for me because I have an incredible husband. Long before we had kids, we decided that whoever is making the most money is going to keep working and the other person will stay home. So John stopped working as a graphic designer on very important computer crap. We didn't have family here or know a lot of people so this was an important decision that we are there for our kids. We have the luxury of being able to make this work. We thought even if it was a stretch we wanted someone home. The brunt of the physical day-to-day chores have fallen to John. It's been great for him because he's really close with our sons and also hard because it's difficult being the primary caregiver. And because of my hours it's all fallen on him. I get up at 4am and I'm out the door by 4:45am. I don’t see them in the morning. He gets up with them, gets them their breakfast and to school. Then I come home in the afternoon and take over, we get to dinner then the kids go in for a bath and I'm in bed by 7:30pm. When the kids were really little and going to bed early we'd have a couple of minutes together but now my kids are a 10th and an 8th grader. He deals with a lot of stuff for school, volunteers for everything and drives every field trip so he knows all the kids. I’m home when the kids return from school so we get some good quality time. I'm sure at this point in their lives they'd love it if we weren't there as much but here we are. We’re very lucky, grateful and blessed. Hopefully they'll look back and say life was pretty great.

You talk about very private areas of your life. What do your spouse and kids think of your on air persona and do you make compromises? Are there any topics off limits?

Basically if it happened in my life I'll talk about it. But I do make compromises since my kids are at an age where I’m a super embarrassment to them. Because their friends and their parents listen to the show, they have their own mini celebrity at school. My youngest likes to work it. He knows every girl is going to know who I am and will say aloud, “Oh mom, when you were on the air today with ......” and I'm the one shhhh-ing him. He looks around to see if anyone noticed. Mothers would be there and notice. But he's over that now and my kids don't want me to talk about them. If I want to talk about them I'll usually say “Oh my friends kid....” I try not to tell embarrassing stories or reference them now. 

John stopped listening a long time ago. He says I lie a lot – which I don't, I only tell the truth. But he'll show up to the playground or school and moms would say to him, "I can’t believe you did that." And he'd say 'What are you talking about?” and they'd say, "Sarah just said it." So he just doesn't listen which is for the best. The kids have put more constraints on me than John. Sometimes the kids would say “I can't believe you....” and I'd say “Look around you. Me telling your secrets is how we got all this stuff.” 

What do you tell yourself on days you really don't want to get out there? 

I don't have those days. It sucks getting up at 4am and I grumble. I’m a big affirmation person. It sounds cheesy but I always tell myself first thing in the morning as I’m getting out of bed and brushing my teeth, “You’re so lucky. You’ve the best job. You’re going to hang out with your other family right now." Those things really help. I smile and think about something funny that happened on yesterday's show and I really psych myself up every morning. And when I drive to work and I go through the tunnel, see the city and I say, "I'm coming to get you San Francisco!" I'm my own pep talker. I haven't missed a lot of work. Some days I’m tired and that's why it’s great to have an awesome radio family to help pick up the slack. It can even be something to talk about on the radio and next thing you know you can vent on air and have a great time. I tell myself good things and force myself with positivity so that I can put myself in that frame of mind and just be positive. I have a show to do – I can’t go in and be whiny and quiet.

How do you envision the Sarah & Vinny show in the future?

I envision us being in our 80's and still doing it. I hope in life, and I feel this way with my real family, you have to really appreciate where you are for that moment. Sometimes I wish I can make time stop. I remember a day when my kids were three and five and it was a perfect day, I love my husband and love my job and where I live and thought if I could just bottle this. If I could have this day every day but you can't. So you have to appreciate the day you’re in and the good things about it that you’re experiencing that moment. So I don't spend a lot of time envisioning what the show is for the future but how much fun I had today and what a great time I’m going to have tomorrow. Because you can’t mark time and march in place. Life goes on and I hope this goes on until I'm in my 80’s. So, I envision nothing for the future.

When you look back at your career what are you most proud of?

I don't know. That's a hard question. I’m proud of a lot of it...and a lot of stuff I’m not. I'm proud when one of our interns goes out into the world and gets a killer job. I'm proud when I hear that somebody likes the show or I get an email from someone in Germany who says I'm so home sick but I listen to your podcast everyday. I'm proud of my radio family. I feel like we’re here for the right reasons and that we all really care. I can't possibly pick out a single thing regarding my job that I’m most proud of. 

In my personal life, I’m really proud of my relationship with my husband and my two awesome pain in the ass kids. I made a lot of dumb mistakes but what I really got right was marrying John and everything since then has been right. Of all the dumb things I've done in my life I managed to get that one right.

What would you say to the young Sarah if you could go back in time?

I know I mentioned earlier that I wished I’d applied myself better but I wouldn't want to interfere otherwise I’d have ended up doing something completely different with my life. I’d have been a different person. I don't know that I want to upset that delicate balance because I might make her take a tiny step in a different direction that would change everything. Those little moments may seem insignificant at the time but if you hadn't done them this whole other thing would have never opened. So I would shut the hell up for once in my life and say nothing. Just let her continue bumbling her way through life because it all worked out.

Tell me about Slappy Stuff.

That's out of sheer boredom and a life long artistic streak. Now that my kids are older I could either watch tv, play video games or create which I prefer. If I had an hour or two to sit I was creating and drawing ideas. It started with a duct tape wallet. At Christmas time we get together with a large group and go to Tahoe with the kids. It's nice to have a project for them to do. I checked out an online tutorial to make duct tape wallets and the kids all made their wallets. I changed it around and started to make clutches. Then I thought about my old sewing machine that was packed away in a place that was difficult to get to. I dug it out, picked out a few things from Joanne's Fabrics, and I created clutches. I was having so much fun with this creative outlet and made things that I found useful. I hate carrying a huge bag so I made tiny pouches that fit my phone, ID, credit cards with a strap I could wear across my body. 

What's Next?

  Photo by Steve Wyrostok

Photo by Steve Wyrostok

I’m going to Holland with my family. One year we went to Japan. It was great, scary, awesome and John booked all the hotels and trains and did all the research. Then I said let’s go somewhere crazy. My son wanted to go to Iceland. I was like, "Iceland, I don't want to go to Iceland ever, no way.” But he was really determined so I said, "You have one week, I want a Powerpoint showing me why I would want to go." Sure enough, he sat us down for a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation showing us why we need to go. At the end I looked at John and said, “Were going to Iceland!" It was a great family trip. So this time I said I want to choose. My favorite flower is the tulip. As soon as I saw the blooming fields in Holland I thought that looks like a cool place to visit.  As matriarch of the family I can say we’re going to Holland and no dessert for you unless you agree. Regarding work, more of the same. I really love where the show is at right now, our listeners are amazing and have been supportive for 18 years. What’s next is more of the same.