The big man looks happy behind the microphone. Happy as in “I’m home.”
Longtime Bridgeport radio personality John LaBarca has returned to the Park City after a brief exile in Stamford, and the DJ (do we even have DJs anymore?) is happy to be home.
“It’s great to be back,” said LaBarca during a brief break from his new morning gig on WDJZ 1350-AM. “This is real radio; this is what real radio is all about. Local news, local conversation, serving the community; this is what Bridgeport needs and you’re not going to find it on any other radio station.”
After the Stratford resident and WICC parted ways over irreconcilable differences a few years back, the radio veteran quickly hooked up with WSTC/WNLK in Stamford and Norwalk. Although the station lacked the size of the Bridgeport market, LaBarca was happy in his new home.
“We had a great show going there and that’s a little bit of what I want to bring back to Bridgeport,” he explained. “In Stamford we were just about 100 percent local. We had great relationships with the community, city officials, you name it. We were all over local sports in a way that no other radio station in Fairfield County was.”
That run came to an end when the station’s parent company, Cox Communications, sold the station to Sacred Heart University and became public radio. In an eye blink, though, LaBarca was back behind the microphone and back where he wanted to be.
As luck would have it, WDJZ was in the midst of converting its format from all religion to mainstream radio, and who better to anchor the new format and give it an identity? And before you could say ratings bonanza, the man they call JLB was doing his morning show Monday through Friday and bringing his beloved John LaBarca’s Italian House Party to the Greater Bridgeport area every Sunday.
“This is ready to explode,” LaBarca emphasized, noting that WDJZ has brand new studios located at 211 State St. above Tiago’s Restaurant. “The format is great; we have great people working here. We have a lot of support from the community and we have a lot of our old fan base back. This is going to be exciting times in Bridgeport radio.”
The new name for JLB’s program is “John LaBarca and Friends,” and that’s exactly what it is. On any given morning there may be as many as six of LaBarca’s cronies creamed into the studio and sharing two microphones. Somehow it works as the hectic but friendly atmosphere gives off a family-type of feel to the program.
Friend No.1 is Bill Buckner, who worked with LaBarca in the Stamford/Norwalk days. Buckner is much more than a poor man’s Ed McMahon, delivering news, traffic and weather, orchestrating a dizzying array of sound effects and playing off as JLB’s comedic foil.
Also joining LaBarca from his former station is Matt Levine, a veteran local sports broadcaster who knows the Fairfield County sports scene as well as anyone. Levine delivers a balanced mix of professional, college and high school sports in each of his sports broadcasts.
Another friend who drops by to chat with LaBarca at the WDJZ studios is Amy van Arsdale, a Westporter who runs her own business. Van Arsdale is a professional home organizer and it is a field she is passionate about.
“My message is to simplify,” stressed van Arsdale. “Your house is like your haven. It shouldn’t be cluttered at all. I know people are sentimentally attached to some of their belongings, but the loved one who it reminds you of would rather see that item being used by somebody than cluttering up your living room. Keep making lists, prioritize, have plenty of storage bins and labels on hand. Don’t let your clutter rule your life.”
As for her on-the-air rapport with LaBarca, the mother of four said it’s just a load of fun.
“I try to play off John,” laughed van Arsdale. “He’s the thought provoker. Or should I say, he’s just the provoker.”
You never know who’s going to pop in and join LaBarca on the airwaves. Recently, legendary traffic reporter Morgan Kaolian stopped by for a discussion about the future of Bridgeport’s Pleasure Beach. LaBarca is hopeful his old partner Tim Quinn will join him once in a while to do the news as in the old days. And on Sundays, well, there’s just a cavalcade of personalities having fun with the Italian House Party.
So LaBarca’s back and ready for Bridgeport. And Bridgeporters are probably ready for him.