When KEXP DJ John Richards lost his mom to lung cancer, he went on the air, played songs that he played at her funeral and talked about what he was going through.
A decade later, Richards still does that on the anniversary of his mom's death. But now listeners get involved too.
Their emails fill his in-box, their play requests fill his annual KEXP show about music and grief near the Nov. 13 anniversary, and the listeners themselves filled Town Hall recently for a live event for a second year.
“I had no idea there were so many people out there grieving and had no one to talk to or felt alone,” Richards told KUOW's Jeannie Yandel. “My message has always been, be it grief or anything else, that you're not alone. Whatever your situation is, there’s somebody else out there with a similar situation.”
That shared experience of grief is the basis of his annual “Mom Show,” as some listeners call it.
He recounted hearing from a family who lost a 3-year-old daughter and asked him to play a Pearl Jam song, “Just Breathe.” As it begins Eddie Vedder sings: “Yes, I understand that every life must end …”
Richards said an Instagram photo then came in.
“Just as you get off 99, where we are at Dexter and Denny, we have a big mural there. And [the listener] took a picture of it and they said, ‘I'm sitting in my car and I can see KEXP and I’m crying as I hear this song played for this child who passed,’” Richards said. “If that doesn't sum up everything that's going on that morning, I don't know to do with it, because I'm on the other side of that wall.”
Richards said he thinks that unique intersection of music and grief is rare on radio.
“You don't hear people just talking about it like you would talk about it if something tragic happened in your life,” he said. “But talking about it on the air, I just didn't know any better.”
Richards said that preparing for the show takes a lot out of him emotionally.
“It's all songs I've played at some point during the year. There's no new song or just a song dedicated to that show. But when I sit on my own and start to work out the playlist with the mindset that this is about grief or my mom or my dad, I can barely make it through two or three songs without getting sad,” he said.
“That's what happens when you're grieving. There are so many songs I listen to that now have different meanings for me because I experienced them when I was going through a death or grief.”
But he can’t stop.
“I feel like I'd be turning my back on everyone,” he said.
Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.