Michaela Majoun celebrates 20 years at XPN.
Michaela Majoun’s voice is instantly recognizable to locals who listen to WXPN. It can be disconcerting to meet her in person and hear the radio coming out of her mouth, but after a few minutes she’ll crack a joke, collapse into laughter—and sound snaps back into sync.
A bubbly riot in person, Majoun’s got a lot to celebrate. This week marks her 20th anniversary hosting WXPN’s Morning Show. If you told Majoun she’d be here doing that 20 years ago, she might’ve cried.
“I loved L.A. so much at the time,” says Majoun, a notoriously energetic showgoer and culture vulture. Originally from the East Coast, Majoun loved L.A. nightlife, and was making solid career strides in the City of Angels. She had an agent, had found work on Designing Women , and had a promising screenwriting partner. Though one of those goofy high school preference tests advised her to become a musician, and though she had worked at her college radio station, Majoun had her sights set on television and film production.
Then Mark Fuerst, WXPN’s general manager at the time, invited Majoun to host the Morning Show at this odd little student-run station at the University of Pennsylvania. Majoun figured she’d jump to Philly as a pit stop, then bounce back to L.A. to pursue a career in movies and television.
“I thought maybe I could come here for a year, get on the radio and then go back there and do morning radio and write in the afternoon,” she laughs. She missed L.A. A lot. A year passed, and her agent wasn’t doing much. Eventually she started to feel at ease and at home in Philadelphia.
“This city is so incredible. You know, it took me five years to actually feel like ‘OK, I’m going to stay here, I live here,’” says Majoun, hanging around the XPN studio to chat one afternoon after signing off the air. “I literally used to watch TV to see streets in L.A., I missed it so much. But it was a tough time when I moved here. The city was bankrupt, there were lots of shootings in West Philadelphia, nobody went downtown at night. Now look at it, it’s just such a gem. And such wonderful people live here.”
Soon, Majoun devoured the arts scene.
“I became embroiled here, and I just kept going,” she says. On top of the daily WXPN Morning Show , Majoun lends her voice to all kinds of arts projects. She hosts the monthly Live at Kelly Writers House program and emcees Shut Up & Dance , the annual Pennsylvania Ballet fundraiser that benefits the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA). She hosts a public-access cable arts and culture show, co-hosts AIDS Walk Philly with WMMR personality Pierre Robert and works for Project H.O.M.E.
It makes sense, as the XPN Morning Show was initially conceived as an arts and culture program with some music thrown in—evident in the interviews with authors and artists. “When we decided to focus on the music, the real XPN was born,” she says.
Majoun soaks up local arts off the clock, too. Come Fringe time, it’s Majoun you’ll see closing out the Cabaret bar every night, wine glass in hand.
Her secret to omnipresence? Constant sleep deprivation.
“Every hour after 4 a.m. makes the biggest difference ... when I started doing the morning show, I used to get three hours of sleep a night routinely. Three to four. In the really early days, by Friday I was toast. I’d go out on a date and fall asleep. The worst thing is if I was talking — no, maybe it’s worse if the guy is talking,” she says, cracking herself up. “Sleeping is like a muscle you develop, you know? After a while you need less and less. I’ve never wanted to miss anything.”
Energy radiates off Majoun like heat off summer pavement. Though cool, calm and collected on air, off it Majoun is all cackles and crack-ups and thoughtful tangents. She can talk excitedly all day about musicians, artists and creative industries.
“Radio has really gone downhill I think, in a lot of ways,” she says. “Everybody was decrying the plunge of movies and television because big corporations got in, but actually, despite that, movies and TV in this country have gotten better. There was a bad period, but they’ve gotten better. I don’t think radio has.”
Except, of course, WXPN, which has grown from a tiny student-run radio station (XPN stands for Experimental Pennsylvania Network) to one of the leading noncommercial public radio stations, recognized for pioneering one of the earliest free-form formats and the syndicated program World Cafe with David Dye , a show in which Majoun used to be billed as “alternate host,” and still works on here and there.
“Back in the day when David Dye was first on the radio, there were these progressive forward-thinking amazing places to go for radio, and it’s not that way anymore,” says Majoun. “They’re really commercial. They’re cynical. They have tunnel vision for what people want to hear. And I feel like XPN really is a bastion of that old kind of idea of FM radio.”
While Majoun’s vision of radio is old school, everything else about radio has changed in the last 20 years: labels collapsed, and production and distribution went digital.
“It’s hard to believe we didn’t have a Web site back then,” she laughs. “There’s so much more music now ... there are new ways of music coming to people. And yet XPN can continue to do what it’s doing in the same way. We just have more ways to find music and more outlets for music because we’re on the Internet, too.”
Plus, she has gotten to meet some awesome people and has memorable celebrity stories. She has hung out with Willie Nelson (“He was so cute, and I have pictures of him kissing me”), met Bob Dylan and attended Lucinda Williams’ wedding.
PW's Music Issue 2014