A familiar voice that greeted a generation of Bridgeport area residents as they began each work day but suddenly went silent in 2007 is back on the airwaves.
John LaBarca’s big personality was, for all intents and purposes, the morning voice of WICC AM for 20 years, and its absence left a void. (Video produced by DoingItLocal.com)
Now LaBarca, 64, of Stratford, has returned to State Street in downtown Bridgeport as morning show host at AM 1530 WDJZ, interactive leased time radio. The 5,000-watt station reaches 65% of Connecticut and streams live at WDJZradio.com.
LaBarca’s down-to-earth tone and exuberant style once again exudes a local presence and reassuring quality, almost as though he was never gone.
“It feels great,” LaBarca said during a weekend interview. “People want to hear a real person in the morning — a human being talking to another human being.”
His new show began with a soft opening Monday, Nov. 14, and will be broadcast each weekday from 7 to 10 a.m. He will host his original “Italian House Party” Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Some people grew up listening to me until corporate took over and lost sight of the relevancy of what AM radio is about,” he said. “Rather than relating to the audience they chose shows where people yell at each other or talk real fast. AM radio has been formatted to death.”
He wasn’t the only one let go; other veteran broadcasters also found themselves out of a job. LaBarca said his new show would do things differently and relate to people interactively with the full support of management.
Every 15 minutes listeners will hear top stories, weather, traffic reports and sports updates. His morning show, John LaBarca and Friends, also features fellow long-time broadcasters Matt Levine and Bill Buchner.
“The three of us have a great rapport in the studio doing the show,” he said. “We have conversations and will make an effort to really entertain the audience every day.”
After LaBarca’s job at WICC suddenly ended four years ago, he landed a job at 1400 WSTC/1350 WNLK in Norwalk. He worked there until recently, when the long-time local stations became NPR affiliates upon their sale to WSHU.
In the beginning, LaBarca thought he would do the Italian House Party at WNLK one day a week and sleep in and take off the rest of the week.
“I said never again,” he said about hosting another daily show.
But as time went by he began to miss it and wanted something more, leading to his becoming morning news host on WNLK.
But LaBarca’s new show will not be a carbon copy of his old show.
“You’re got to reinvent yourself every day,” he said. “I want to change and be more interactive and have people on the station who are experts in their field. They can have their own show.”
Mike Raub, a former colleague at WNLK, produces LaBarca’s show on WDJZ and said the station would be adding more live shows very soon.
“John’s back home again,” Raub said. “He was a huge personality in Bridgeport for two decades, and we’re bringing him back to the city.”
LaBarca is excited about being back in the city where he has many personal and collegial ties.
“I live five minutes from work,” he said. “I had to get up at 3 a.m. to do the show in Norwalk. It feels so good to be home.”