She plays many roles in the XPN community. Celebrator of women’s and other music. Champion of the Philadelphia arts scene. Lover of cats. And most significantly, host of the XPN Morning show for over 25 years. But that era is coming to an end as Michaela Majoun announced her departure from WXPN. Her final day on the air is Tuesday, June 30.
“I’m leaving to pursue writing,” Majoun says. “I’m working on a couple of things right now. I’m finishing a screenplay to submit for a competition. I’m also working with a historian I recently visited in New Orleans to turn one of her books into a television series.”
Writing has always been a passion along with radio. After doing a radio show in college and hosting morning radio at public station WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin, Michaela moved to Los Angeles to give it a go in television. While working on the show Designing Women in the 80s, she studied screenwriting with Syd Field (“everyone in Hollywood had his book Screenplay“). Then she got an agent with a writing partner she met in class. That’s when she got a call from an old radio colleague.
“Mark Fuerst, who worked with me at [WORT], was brought in as station manager by the University of Pennsylvania to turn WXPN from a volunteer station dependent on the University, which holds our license, into a self-supporting entity.” she explains. “I was the first professional hired at XPN.”
She wasn’t sure how long she’d stay; she initially hoped Philly would be a temporary stop along her career path, and that she’d use the experience to land a radio gig in L.A., where she could be on air in the morning and write the rest of the day. But a couple of years became 25 years, and as she became ingrained in the cultural community, it became harder to imagine XPN without her.
Eventually Majoun took up the reins of The Women’s Music Hour from prior host Laney Goodman, and it was folded into the XPN Morning Show..
“It was at a time when women were still really struggling in the music industry” she says. Over the years, the Friday segment has been a place to showcase artists from Susan Werner and Jonatha Brooke to Jenny Lewis and Birdie Busch. “It used to be at noon, but then we decided to just put it in with the morning show. I’ve really enjoyed presenting it all these years.”
She also mixed in a dose of arts and culture with the music during the Weekend Arts Crawl on the air and online and fall and spring arts previews that went in depth into the local arts and cultural scene.
“I just love the arts, obviously, I’m into music and film and writing, also visual arts,” Majoun says. “And the show I was hired to do was initially geared toward presenting the arts, with music in between arts segments. I also brought with me the Word of the Day from my show in Madison.”
Her involvement extended beyond the airwaves. Michaela was involved with the Philadelphia Film Festival and the Philadelphia Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival from their inception. She has also for the past 20 years hosted the Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual Shut Up and Dance benefit for MANNA, which delivers meals to people battling life-threatening illnesses across the Delaware Valley.
“I got to be really boffo on stage, with lots of great costume changes,” Majoun says. “I was able to bring a kind of levity to the event. It gave me a chance to be the performer in a way that I can’t be on the radio.:
Her charitable work in the Philly community extends to other groups; she has co-hosted the Philly AIDS Walk with Pierre Robert for the past two decades, and she worked with homeless advocacy group Project H.O.M.E. to create a fundraising video.
But for Majoun, being involved in the community also meant simply going out. She recalls meeting baseball great Tug McGraw at Rembrandt’s during her first week in town and brought him on the air right away. She was a fixture at music venues like North Star Bar and Tin Angel. “I was at The Tin Angel constantly, hosting shows,” she says. “I used to hang with George the sound man back at his booth.”
Early in her tenure, Philly was a very different city. “It’s grown enormously,” she says. “There’s no comparison.” The station was located at 39th and Spruce, a neighborhood that was “kind of dangerous then” compared to today, she says. There wasn’t much in the way of Center City nightlife; “The sidewalks would roll up at 8,” she says. The Avenue of the Arts was not in existence yet – that came after Ed Rendell stepped in as mayor in 1992. And, “The other thing was nobody knew what WXPN was,” Majoun says. “I would tell people, I’m here at this radio station and they would look at me blankly.”
The profile of XPN has grown over the years as well, from an early boost in power to the later power increase to include Central Pennsylvania, the growth of the XPoNential Music festival, and maybe most of all the development of XPN’s nationally-syndicated NPR show World Cafe, for which she has been an interviewer and at times alternate host since the beginning.
“I’m proud to say I helped get XPN to the point where we could have a World Cafe,” Majoun says.
For her, the music remains the biggest memory. Beyond playing it on air and hosting innumerable live shows over the years, she became close with performers like Rufus Wainwright, whom she met backstage during a show at the Pontiac Grille (now The Legendary Dobbs) in 1998. She’s also gotten to know Jonatha Brooke, Frances Dunnery, Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo, Susan Werner and Rhett Miller of Old 97s as more than just voices who sing the songs she’d spin; Miller last year give her a big hug and kiss onstage when she introduced the 97s at the XPoNential Music Festival, and he and Dunnery performed at her 20th anniversary party. She also attended Lucinda Williams’ wedding in Minneapolis.
“In terms of the breadth of musicians that I met and interviewed, and some who I became friendly with over the past 25 years, it’s just been the most amazing run,” Majoun says. “I’m going to miss that.”
“And of course I treasure the listeners and members and volunteers at the station,” she adds. “XPN has a wonderful support network that you can see in action at our fund drives and especially at our summer festival. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything.”
Bob Bumbera has been Majoun’s news anchor on the Morning Show for 20 years, and holds her in high esteem, up there with other Philadelphia broadcasting legends he’s worked with – Ken Garland to John DeBella and David Dye.
“For over the past two decades Michaela has been my on-air partner, my work-wife, my confidant, and one of my dearest friends,” Bumbera says. “I’ve shared so much of what’s happened in my life with Michaela over the years that it’ll be hard to imagine mornings at XPN without her.”
“I couldn’t have done the past 20 years without the joy of working with Bob Bumbera every morning,” says Majoun. “First of all, he made the coffee, wonderful coffee. Haha, most of all Bob’s sense of humor and excellent newscasts and on air presence and collaboration have been the frosting on my cake.”
“I am so truly happy for her as she enters the next phase of her fantastic career,” adds Bumbera. “I wish her nothing but success and good luck! No one will miss her more in the mornings than me.”
XPN General Manager Roger LaMay calls Majoun “an essential part of the XPN connection to our community.” “Hundreds of thousands of people have started their days with Michaela,” he says. “And both they and the artists she championed are the better for it. She kept it real. I am happy that she’s pursuing her passion but we will miss her.”
Plans are in progress for send-off events next month to celebrate Majoun’s final days on the air; stay tuned for more information on those.
“Leaving is really bittersweet for me,” Majoun says. “I love my job and I’m really going to miss it.”
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