Friday, November 21, 2003

Jazz fans tune in to Mama


Oxford radio show is now on the Web

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Phyllis Campbell, aka Mama Jazz, at the microphone at WMUB at Miami University.
(Mike Simons photo)
OXFORD - The "on-air" light flicks on in Studio D, and Mama Jazz leans slowly into her microphone, her unmistakable raspy voice filling the room.

"Hi, I'm Mama Jazz and I'm so glad you're here with me," the 80-year-old disc jockey says, starting another night of a show that's not only a Southwest Ohio icon, but one with a global audience now, thanks to the Internet.

Mama Jazz, otherwise known as Phyllis Campbell, has been doing her program on Oxford's public radio station WMUB for more than two decades.

Starting at Miami University as a secretary roughly 30 years ago, Campbell, a lifelong jazz fan, went to the radio station during a fund-raiser to talk about jazz. By the time she returned home, she was offered a job. After starting on weekends, she began a nightly show in 1984.

"Here, years later, they still haven't been able to shut me up," Campbell says with a laugh.

The laugh triggers coughs, her nasal oxygen mask shaking slightly with each hitch. Campbell has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which impedes air flow, and has emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Her ailments have forced her to cancel shows from time to time recently. However, tonight is "Traditional Jazz Night," her favorite.

Starting the program with two versions of "Tin Roof Blues," one of her favorite songs, Campbell follows no play list. She lets each song "lead into the next."

According to WMUB program director John Hingsbergen, many recognize the station only as "Mama Jazz's" and her loyal fans love her eclectic song selection.

"Today with national program play lists, to have a local host picking music and responding to listeners is a thrill," he says. "The only scientific research Mama does is if she likes it, she plays it. She's done it with instinct, without any formal training."

Besides devoted listeners in Butler, Warren, and much of Hamilton and Montgomery counties, WMUB's Internet broadcasting has expanded her fan base. She gets e-mail requests from around the world, from Denmark to New Zealand.

Tuesday night was no different, with an Australian listener named Chris giving Campbell a "G'day."

"He wants to hear 'Ice Cream' and any band will do," Campbell says. "I'll have to put that on for him."

She still tries to do four live evening shows a week, and tapes two more shows, including "The Gospel According to Mama," which airs Sunday mornings. The mother of four can't imagine not doing her show.

"Why would you want to retire from something you love doing?" she asks. "Would I go sit in a corner? I will never retire."

Technology has changed and so have some of Campbell's tastes. She's come to like John Coltrane, but still hasn't been sold on compact discs, saying that LPs "just sound better."

Some things, however, never change: Duke Ellington remains her favorite and she wants to spread her love of jazz to her audience, especially the younger generation.

One Miami student fan, Glenn Danielson, is running the control board for the broadcast.

"I am a huge jazz fan, that's why I have this job," the 18-year-old freshman linguistics major says. "I have to be honest, though, I'm not familiar with traditional jazz, but how can't it grow on you?"

That simple mission to share jazz drives Mama Jazz.

"It's just like when I was a kid; we'd buy a record and invite everyone in to hear it," she says. "I'm just inviting everyone in to listen to what I found."

E-mail jgambrell@fuse.net




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