Marchiony: Sitting down with a radio legend

In her first column, Victoria Marchiony talks with WXPN music director Helen Leicht

Hello and welcome, Temple University, to the latest column I somehow convinced The Temple News to give me, “That Was Fun” where I’ll be sharing tales of the weird things I find entertaining. I hope to inspire you to stretch outside the confines of your usual leisure activities, and to amuse you along the way.

This week, I attended two concerts, saw a poetry slam, went to a new bar, hung out in South Philly, saw a movie, went trail running and visited with old friends in various adorable coffee shops. However, this article isn’t about any of those things, because the true highlight of my week, the one thing that stole my attention and got my heart racing, was going to work with my mom.

Mama Marchiony runs the Philadelphia Songwriters’ Project, a non-profit that serves the local singer-songwriter population. PSP just celebrated its 10 year anniversary, and over the course of the past decade she has cultivated some pretty sweet connections within the Philadelphia music scene. One afternoon, I was invited to tag along for her interview for XPN Local with Helen Leicht, WXPN’s music director and mid-day air personality. Unable to recall the last time I was in a radio studio, I said yes, figuring it would be a good way to avoid doing my homework.

When we first arrived, Leicht and my mom chatted about typical ‘mom stuff’ (children, husbands, diets, etc) for a while. My big take-away from this was that Leicht is exceedingly likeable and cool. As a 21-year old who is obsessed with identifying self-actualized adults to assure me that you don’t stay as lost and confused as I feel now, forever, I was deeply comforted to encounter an employed grown-up with vivacious life force.

The journalism student in me was somewhere between impressed and awestruck to watch Leicht glide confidently through the interview with my mom, never missing a beat, never consulting notes. I wondered how long she had spent perfecting her skills – if she had always been gifted at speaking off-the-cuff, or if she had refined her technique after years of fumbling through note cards and filling pauses with the accidental “ums” and “likes” that plague so many novices.

When they wrapped, I pretty much blurted out,  “So… what was your major in college?”

Chuckling, she explained that this hadn’t been her major, but had always been her life. With the general manager of WIBG for an uncle, she found herself sitting front row at Rolling Stones shows by the time she was nine. Perched on the edge of my chair with eyes wide and mouth agape, I urged her to continue.

From there, the stories started pouring out, including the one about the first time she met John Lennon and Yoko and got to hold Lennon’s guitar. At a certain point, my mom jumped in and they played the “do-you-remember” game name-dropping this artist and that venue from The-Good-Old-Days. Hearing them go back and forth was like cracking open a time capsule and peeking into the golden years every college hippy fantasizes about. At one point, Leicht casually dropped into her story that x or y was right around the time she started Breakfast with the Beatles. (If you’ve been living under a rock- Breakfast with the Beatles is a widely repeated Sunday morning radio tradition exclusively featuring Beatles music).

I was incredulous. I was stunned. I was geek-ing out super, super hard. “WAIT WAIT WAIT- that was YOU?!”

Apparently, by 1976, the Beatles had broken up and people were so focused on their solo projects that they had forgotten about the days of Beatlemania. As an avid Beatles fan, Helen convinced her boss at WIOQ Philadelphia to let her play 15 minutes of Beatles music on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m.. Then, it ran for 30 minutes. Then an hour. Then the 9 o’ clock hour. Then 10. Suddenly, other markets had stolen it and the idea and it was officially a “thing”. I was in the presence of someone who had created something recognizable, something legendary that I grew up loving without knowing where it originated. The revelation felt magical.

I left the office feeling absolutely privileged. I got to sit and chat with a Philadelphia radio legend on a whim, just for giggles. I think it was even more fun because it felt special, serendipitous, and spontaneous. It was also humbling to remember that having conversations with strangers can be one of the most rewarding activities to invest your time in. People, especially elders, are veritable goldmines of hilarious anecdotes and wisdom, and it is too infrequently that we turn off our cell phones, sit still, and allow the space for these wonderful, random encounters to unfold.  A life lesson and a rad afternoon all rolled into one?

That’s what I call a fun time.

Victoria Marchiony can be reached at

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