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‘Big Hurrah’ for WXPN’s Helen Leicht

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Montco resident has been on Philly radio scene 40 years

STORY WRITEEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

If you somehow hadn’t heard Helen Leicht the last 40 years on either WIOQ, WMMR, WMGK or WXPN, and can’t figure out how to say her last name, a famous Philadelphia singer/songwriter will clue you in.
Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, and composer of hits such as “One of Us” (Joan Osborne) and “Kiss the Rain” (Billie Myers), stated in a Facebook message: “Despite her name, ‘light’ is not a word I would ever use to describe the force that Helen has been in the music scene in our hometown for these 40 years. Whether championing emerging talent, or honoring those who have bravely stood the test of time, the name Helen Leicht is synonymous with Great Music. Thank you for your dedication to our beloved cause and our beloved home, Helen.”

Helen Leicht’s Top 3 career moments
By Brian Bingaman
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter
1. A face-to-face interview with Paul McCartney in 1984, who at the time was promoting his “Give My Regards to Broad Street” album and movie. A photo of Leicht and McCartney is the profile picture on her Facebook page.
2. The 2007 Philly Local tribute concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Leicht shared that she collected Beatles bubble gum cards and their “16” magazine covers, saw them in concert, and watched “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” in their theatrical releases. Before the internet and the iPod, “everybody was listening to everything at once,” Leicht said, pinpointing why The Beatles were a distinct, unifying cultural force. “As (radio) stations got bought by big organizations … everything became little slices (musical sub-genres and radio formats with tight playlists), and that’s unfortunate.”
3. The 2009 Philly Local tribute concert to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” in honor of Springsteen’s 60th birthday. This one stands out because of what happened the days after the show. It was when Leicht discovered the real cause of the nagging run-down feeling she’d been having for about six months. A surgical procedure for an ovarian cyst revealed that she had cancer. An ovarian cancer survivor, Leicht urged women to visit www.ovariancancer.org and look over the symptoms of the silent-but-deadly disease. “I believe in angels, so I believe my mom (who died earlier that year from lung cancer) was watching over me. That’s important to me, that people pay attention to their body,” she said.

The assistant program director of the listener-supported, adult album alternative XPN, and a board member of the music education nonprofit LiveConnections since September 2012, Leicht will be recognized with a Connector Award during a fundraising gala thrown by LiveConnections, called The Big Hurrah.
Thanks to Leicht, who lives in Montgomery County, students from LiveConnections’ Percussion Studio summer camp were able to meet The Bacon Brothers before their XPN Free At Noon performance, and share their newly-acquired percussion skills with Kevin and Michael Bacon. Leicht also brought in Jon Bon Jovi and Jonatha Brooke to support LiveConnections’ Kids Count Campaign through videos that boosted the campaign’s visibility.
Melinda Steffy, the executive director of LiveConnections, submitted this statement via email: “Helen has been a public voice for 40 years, but she’s also worked tirelessly behind the scenes building relationships and supporting the careers of numerous musicians. She’s passionate about making sure music gets to people who might not otherwise have easy access, like the students in LiveConnections’ educational programs. LiveConnections has benefitted so much from Helen’s willingness to make connections and leverage her relationships for the good of others, and we are thrilled to honor her with our Connector Award.”
Long before she became known for her XPN Philly Local picks and the listener-input-heavy “Leicht Lunch,” she started her radio career in 1976 at WIOQ, which back then was one of those freewheeling kinds of rock stations that used to be common on the FM band. She was one of the first in Philadelphia to play the music of Tom Petty, The Cars, The Pretenders, Gerry Rafferty, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. It was at 102.1-FM where she created the often-imitated “Breakfast with The Beatles” program.
“I’ve been real fortunate,” Leicht said of being one of the rare voices in the cut-throat radio industry that remain in the same city. During her time at XPN, she’s helped Adele, Hozier, Josh Ritter, Dawes and Arcade Fire find an audience in Philly.
She started hosting WXPN’s Saturday “Mid-Day Mix” show in 1990 when then-program director Mike Morrison let her know he had a slot open between NPR’s “Car Talk” (which the station no longer airs) and an Afro-pop music show. It was around that time she started encountering future Philly rising stars Ben Arnold and John Flynn, sowing the seeds of her commitment to homegrown talent. “Both of them gave me cassettes (of their songs),” Leicht recalled.
Later 93.3 WMMR programmer Joe Bonadonna came calling with an opportunity to host a show called Acoustic Sunday, which she did from 1993-1998. XPN program director Bruce Warren was among Acoustic Sunday’s followers, and lured Leicht back to 88.5-FM to stay with an appointment as the full-time mid-day DJ.
Finding her niche as champion of local music — an important catalyst, Leicht said, was XPN moving its offices and studios from 39th and Spruce streets into the World Cafe Live building on Walnut Street — she’s helped launch the careers of musicians such as Amos Lee, Jim Boggia, Good Old War, Mutlu, Lauren Hart, Andrew Lipke, Melody Gardot, Matt Duke, Sharon Little and Kuf Knotz.
For a decade or so, she’s stepped onto one of the stages at the Philadelphia Folk Festival to present a special Philly Local Showcase. “If you’re a local artist, and say: ‘I played the Folk Festival,’ that’s huge. Maybe they’ll get (a booking at) Falcon Ridge (Folk Festival),” Leicht said.

WXPN's Helen Leicht  Courtesy photo

WXPN’s Helen Leicht
Courtesy photo

Since 2004, Leicht has been coordinating local musicians across three states to perform at hospital patient bedsides and provide the healing power of music, as coordinator of the WXPN Musicians On Call program. “I love how all those pay-it-forward moments happen,” she commented.
The Big Hurrah runs 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. Among the performers will be R&B a cappella ensemble BrotherlyLove, jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale, Philadelphia poet laureate Yolanda Wisher, keyboardist Luke Carlos O’Reilly, percussionists Alex Shaw and Joe Tayoun, and singer-songwriter Ami Yares. Advance tickets are $100. To attend, visit http://liveconnections.org/big-hurrah2016

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