DJ John Fisher remembers life as part of The Mountain family
John Fisher, an on-air personality on KMTT-103.7 FM, The Mountain, for more than 20 years, reminisces about the golden era of the eclectic radio station, which has switched formats.
Seattle Times columnist
John Fisher woke from his regular afternoon nap one recent Friday and looked at his phone.
The thing was filled with voice mails, texts and emails from the program director at KMTT-103.7 FM — better known as The Mountain — where Fisher had been an on-air personality for more than two decades.
Call me as soon as you get this, the messages all said.
“I am so sorry to have to do this over the phone,” the director told Fisher when he called him back.
The Mountain, one of the most innovative and eclectic radio formats in the country, was gone, as of 3 p.m. that day. Fisher had slept right through it.
It is now something called “The new Hot 103.7: The Rhythm of Seattle.” The station’s owner, Entercom, stated that the new format was aimed at “Seattle’s modern women.”
Fisher, 59, was a little relieved.
He was tired of being the The Last DJ, the only holdover from the time when The Mountain was not just a number on the dial, but the musical curator for an region of listeners who felt part of something special.
The Mountain was never gimmicky. The hosts talked like people, not personalities, and never down to listeners, who they knew to be literate, and interested, and involved.
“The bond with the listeners, plus our ability to cut through all the clutter and help busy people stay current, that’s what people miss,” Fisher said. “People said, ‘I can go Spotify, Pandora or YouTube, but I have to do it all myself. These guys made it easy.’ ”
The music wasn’t formatted, it was curated. Chosen. Noticed early on, like Carbon Leaf and Brandi Carlile and Adele, who performed live in the Mountain Music Lounge long before they sold out venues.
But the numbers didn’t support the magic. And after most of the longtime talent had left, and the station changed to a classic-rock format last year, Fisher knew it was just a matter of time before The Mountain came down.
“I knew that it wasn’t getting the traction they wanted to get,” he said the other day. “But that’s just the radio biz.
“And it was kind of lonely,” he added. “That was the hardest part for me, having come from a station with an atmosphere of fun and creativity and adventure. And then I was the only one.”
Fisher grew up in Detroit, the son of an ad executive who took him to the Auto Show every year. It was there Fisher first saw someone doing a remote radio broadcast.
“I locked on it,” he said. “I was entranced by it.”
He came to Seattle from Chicago in 1992, when The Mountain was just a year old.
From the very start, on-air talent and listeners spent time together both on and off the air. They picked blackberries and cleaned public spaces, in keeping with the station’s green heart.
They traveled to Mexico, where John Hiatt played on the beach, and Whitefish, Montana, where they skied for days. They took buses to concerts and got together for remote broadcasts in bars and cafes, and at 5Ks and festivals all over the region.
“We were them. They were us,” Fisher said. “It was a mindset and a lifestyle. We were in sync with one another.”
But over the last year, after the departure of longtime DJ Marty Riemer and the classic-rock format change, listeners seemed to leave, too.
“You felt less of a bond,” Fisher said. “A lot of the people who were original fans, you didn’t seem to hear from them anymore.”
Oh, but when it was good, it was very good.
A few years after joining the station, Fisher was teamed with Mike West for a morning show that would run for years.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of his favorite band, Steely Dan, called him, on the air, on his birthday. (“It was surreal,” he said. “If you told me at any point in my life that they would know who I was ...”)
David Bowie came into the Mountain Music Lounge.
“The nicest, the warmest,” Fisher said.
And, apparently, the most disdainful of regulations. Bowie freely lit up in the nonsmoking building and flicked his cigarette ashes on the carpet. (“I wasn’t going to say anything!”)
Paul Simon performed a Music Lounge session at KeyArena, with just Fisher and West in the audience.
“It was just us and the band,” Fisher said, shaking his bleached blond head. “He was the greatest. As normal as could be.”
Now, it is Fisher’s turn to be normal. To sleep past 4 a.m. for the first time in 21 years, and figure out what he’d like to do next.
“I took the path of least resistance and never had any strategy, and I am as amazed as anyone that I have been able to do this for my whole career,” he said. “Now, I feel as if there are a lot of possibilities for me, and I don’t know what that really means yet.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to spend time with his wife, Melinda, and 2-year-old son, Dawson.
Neither of them would be in his life if not for The Mountain. Fisher met his wife when she came to the station to see Michael Franti play live in the Music Lounge.
A few months before, Fisher had lost his wife, Sandy Stahl, to a sudden illness — a trauma that he shared with listeners after a month off the air.
“I felt like I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen, and I thought they deserved an explanation,” he said.
Listeners deluged him with emails offering sympathy, their own stories of loss and encouragement. Fisher won’t forget it.
“It gave me hope that I would get through my grief and that life would be normal someday,” he said. “The listeners were a huge part of what made me feel like I was going to be OK.”
So while he feels badly about not being able to say goodbye, “I also feel like the relationships haven’t ended.”
A few days after the format change, Fisher was allowed into the station’s offices to collect his things.
He packed 20 years of radio into two boxes, and then remembered that he had left some CDs in the studio.
The place had already been cleaned out. And in the spot where he had pressed and played, talked and teased and connected with the community for more than two decades sat a young man with only a laptop.
“Can I help you?” the kid asked. Fisher was, for a moment, speechless.
“It did pass through my mind to say, ‘Don’t you know who I am? You’re looking up at me like I am an annoyance.’ ”
Fisher let out a laugh, shook his head again.
“It’s fine,” he said. “It’s the next era and I’m not part of it. And that’s showbiz.”
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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