The current boom of classic songs from the so-called “Great American Songbook” on the record charts, on radio and in movies and television is good news, but no shock for Palm Springs “beautiful music” DJ Don Wardell, who dryly observes “I’ve seen it before.”
Now in his 22nd year with radio station KWXY, Wardell is also a Grammy-winning musicologist whose radio roots reach back to legendary “pirate” broadcasting outfit Radio Luxembourg off the coast of his native England in the early ’60s.
And KWXY itself, which now reaches the world beyond the desert via the IHeartRadio online platform, also speaks volumes about the durability of classic songwriting as the station is now celebrating its golden anniversary of broadcasting timeless pop hits. There’s clearly some magic remaining in the songs of eras past, as Wardell proudly notes that “the average radio listener spends 15-18 minutes tuned in while our listeners spend closer to two hours.”
Wardell’s early passion for music led him to see such greats as Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald perform live. So drawing from his time on U.K. radio, his 20 years at RCA Records and his decades at KWXY, his radio programming weaves in immeasurably enriching commentary based upon love and a scholar’s knowledge. Listeners learn why Frank Sinatra’s brilliant “Watertown” was also his biggest flop, or how Erroll Garner came to record the landmark jazz album “Concert by the Sea” on location in Carmel.
If none of his sounds like “elevator music,” as the format is so often labelled, that’s because in Wardell’s view, “The continuing popularity of the music is proof that there’s life beyond electronica.”