Home Media Radio station features DJs from senior homes across the US

Radio station features DJs from senior homes across the US

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This one goes out to all the music-loving senior citizens who remember when actual DJs — not Spotify or iPods — were there to play your favorite songs.

Take heart, dear elders, and turn your dial — your web browser, actually — to Radio Recliner, the first and only retiree-run radio station dedicated to the music and memories of the Silent generation.

The DJs and programming are “100% run by residents” and the station operates 24 hours a day at RadioRecliner.com, with new shows premiering daily at noon EST. Each program, which lasts about an hour per DJ, features their favorite tunes, tales and shout-outs to family and friends tuning in from outside senior homes.

“I never thought that this kind of thing would happen with me,” says 73-year-old Bob Strand, from Rochester, who was asked to volunteer for the gig by the lifestyle director of his nursing home. His show included an eclectic set featuring classic rock and folk, such as E.L.O., Jethro Tull, the Mamas and the Papas and Slim Whitman.

“I’m just beaming about it. I think it was an awful lot of fun, just the experience of it,” Strand, a k a “DJ Ras Man” — R.A.S. being his initials — tells The Post.

The project began as a campaign to encourage residents at senior living centers across the US to share memories and connect with loved ones — especially those high-risk individuals who have been isolated the most during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were thinking a lot about retirees, and especially people in the senior living community,” says Mitch Bennett, chief creative officer at Luckie & Co, an Atlanta-based marketing agency. “Even during the best of times, social isolation is such a problem for them.”

Bennett, one of the creators of Radio Recliner, on behalf of his client Bridge Senior Living, tells The Post that his team “wanted to create a way for them to have a sort of form of social media that made sense for them.”

What began as an activity designed exclusively for residents of Bridge Senior Living, with 24 facilities across the US, has since expanded to include retirees in nursing homes outside of the brand. They also boast a request line open to anyone who has a song and dedication to make.

Radio Recliner

It’s not like traditional radio, though. Resident DJs are generally anywhere from their 60s to late 90s, so no one’s asking them to learn audio engineering. Instead, Bennett appointed Denise Arnold, Luckie’s assistant creative director and, now, radio station director, to produce shows using sound bites from interviews with resident DJs.

Arnold, who does the work almost exclusively on her own, estimated that she spends at least one hour talking to a new DJ every day since the station went live, and the waitlist continues to grow, she says.

Being able to connect with others is “particularly important with this audience,” Arnold tells The Post. “[They have] so much personality, and depth and diversity and incredible stories to tell.”

Cindy McGreivey, 83, from Rochester, says, “It brought back the memories of the music that my husband and I would listen to from the time we were in college together.” She tells The Post that her late husband had been a jazz drummer, with DJing experience from the St. Lawrence College radio station.

And if you think dating a DJ and musician was pretty cool and edgy in the ’60s McGreivey would agree: “Yes, it was.”

Arnold, who had no prior experience in radio, says she “didn’t know what to expect” at first.

“We just wanted to let real people do their real thing. And that was, you know, to basically be a good listener and let this be about them,” she says. “And they have inspired me, and I’ve seen them inspire each other.”

Strand describes the experience as something therapeutic. “Just the interchange of information, getting a chance to say some of the music I’ve enjoyed over the years,” he says, “I never really discussed it much before. And talking to people that’s easy to talk to is fun.”

The interview and song selection gives residents the opportunity to explore memories ignited by the music.

“ ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ by Bing Crosby . . . was the last song, and I dedicated that to my wife who passed away about two years ago,” says Victor Frascia, a k a DJ Yankee Forever, who resides in an assisted living facility in Pennsylvania. The 93-year-old was especially grateful to share tales of wartime.

Victor Frascia
Victor Frascia

“They asked me some of my experiences being in the service,” he says. “I enjoy talking about it.”

He says, “I tell some funny stories . . . some of the things that I did aboard ship, which I never shouldn’t have gotten away with.”

One such story, Frascia told his listeners, was the time he conspired to pilfer pies from the ship’s baker. “This smell of apple pie drove me crazy,” he says. It was a sweet victory: He and two buddies stole three pies in the middle of the night — and left a note that said “Kilroy was here,” a reference to popular World War II-era symbolism often seen in graffiti.

“I had wanted to hear that story again,” he says.

While Radio Recliner was designed to be an outlet for all seniors to share, the channel’s creator admits he had one in mind in particular when he spawned the idea. Back in June, Bennett told The Post about being separated from his mother, 72, due to the pandemic. “I can’t see her at all and, and it’s really sad,” he said.

He took a breath, and continued, “So . . . that was one of the inspirations for the station.”

He used his platform to give his mother, who enjoys just listening to Radio Recliner, a very special shout-out. “I left her a dedication on Mother’s Day,” he says, “[and] played her a song that meant a lot to both of us” — Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home,” who they saw live together 30 years ago.

For now, they can only remember what it was like to see live music with loved ones. Until that time comes again, Radio Recliner will be there to help more seniors and their families reach out through song.

After speaking with dozens of DJs already, Arnold found there’s been a common thread among them: resilience.

“We like to ask them if they have any advice for other seniors,” she says. “They feel like this is not the hardest thing they’ve been through in their lives so they let people know that it’s gonna be OK and you’re gonna get through it.”

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