After surviving quadruple bypass surgery and a stroke, Jack E. Jett, Dallas’ weirdest media star, returns to radio
THE RETURN OF THE KING
"The Jack E. Jett Show"
return June 20 and 21,
1â€“3 p.m. on 1360 AM and
streaming on RationalRadio.org.
His "Free Speech Night"
returns to Buzz Brews,
4334 Lemmon Ave.
on June 30 at 8 p.m.
You can call Jack E. Jett many things — most of which he has happily called himself — but he balks at one term in particular.
"The word ‘broadcaster’ sounds far more professional than I am worthy of," he says. In 2000, he discovered that "making an ass of myself via the media was cathartic," and began hosting a quirky chat show on local cable access.
That led to bigger and better things: Co-hosting duties when Q Network was launched in 2004, and series airing across the U.S. and Canada. Then last September, he began "The Jack E. Jett Show" on 1360 AM and streamed on RationalRadio.org, one of the last jobs he ever thought he’d get here.
"It is not easy to find a radio gig in a city where one has been so critical of the local media," he says.
But he has his champions. Jett has been darlinged by the likes of the Go-Go’s frontgal Belinda Carlisle (he was once her assistant and neighbor) and Sandra Bernhard; Olympic diving champ Greg Louganis will soon start as a weekly guest.
Yet his devotion to personal peculiarity has kept him very outrÃ©. Unlike David Letterman, who turned his Midwest curmudgeonliness into a comic franchise, Jett has remained largely inscrutable: a whimsically opaque genius man-child, like an idiot savant whose special talent is not getting the joke while always making sure the joke is on you.
That persona — equal parts ADHD and a droll, whip-smart ironic sensibility, and from experience I can assure you, completely authentic — hasn’t diminished. But it has been missing from the airwaves and Internet streams since early last month. That’s when Jett checked himself into the hospital for quintuple bypass heart surgery (the medic saved him a leg vein by accomplishing everything with a mere quadruple procedure). New episodes of his freshman weekend radio were yanked until Jett was well enough to return.
And that’s this weekend.
Jett blames himself for failing to read the signs that led to his heart condition.
"I had gained so much weight in my stomach that I looked like Octo-Dad without the Botox," he says. Over a year, he gained 50 pounds "for no other reason than I just became a fucking pig. As someone who, in my youth, stayed in shape for the sake of my ego, it never occurred to me to get in shape for the sake of my life."
Looking back, he’s amazed at the power of denial. He ignored the shortness of breath and chest pains after the briefest of walks or exertions. The discomfort increased on a daily basis. Yet he would never let the fear or reality set in enough to be concerned. Despite his father and brother having had open-heart surgery, "I still had this attitude that I was immune to it. I had bilateral hip replacement back in 2000 and have been HIV-positive since 1989, so I thought I was pretty butch when it came to shit like this."
With characteristic snarkiness, he laughs now at the procedure. "The surgeon sawed open my chest and sliced up my legs and got jiggy with my heart valves —and all this without a single hit of poppers," he says. "Somehow is it necessary for [healthcare workers] to talk to patients like they are children. It was a bit much to be asked about how much I had wee-wee’d or tinkled, or about my ‘BMs’ as opposed to bowel movements. The nurses seemed overly fixated on watersports."
But the truth is, the recovery has been a quantum measure more difficult than Jett had predicted.
"This was far more major than I bargained for," Jett admits. He had decided to "get it over with quick," but wonders now if he shouldn’t have thought his decision through more.
"I wish I had studied the pros and cons of such a life-altering procedure. I don’t know if there was any alternative because I never asked," he says. The surgery lasted four hours and when he came to, he found he was hooked up to multiple machines … then overheard hospital staff saying that the power has gone out in the intensive care unit.
"I remember seeing the fear in my partner John’s eyes as he was trying to reassure me that all went well. I remember thinking in the ICU that if I croaked, I would be in the same death cycle as Bea Arthur, and how this would definitely put me out of the running for a Calvin Klein underwear campaign."
Then at some point during the first night, he had a stroke. "I knew it because I could not feel my left side."
He says he’s "about 75 percent" back to his normal strength, although he has had to completely relearn how to use his left side. "I am currently graduating to walking without a cane, but the pain is un-fucking-believable. At this point I am walking like I spent a good portion of my morning at the Hidden Door."
It hasn’t slowed him down … at least not his mind.
"As someone who has a habit of saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times, I now have an excuse," he winks. "I plan on blaming a lot of my verbal spewing on the stroke. I plan on using the gay stroke card as often as I can in order to create the best show ever. I am still a major media whore and have no shame using whatever means necessary to achieve this goal."
But things are looking up. In addition to returning to his radio program, he’s completed a pilot for the ION Network and signed on to do a program on the Auction Network. He’s lost 20 pounds and says "now I look like I am only carrying quadruplets. And once my stomach flattens out a bit, I plan on wearing my shirts unbuttoned to the navel in order to show of my scar, which I find butch and sexy."
"In the whole scheme of things, I am very lucky," he says. "I have an amazing husband who loves me and puts up with my ‘BMs.’ The support from the creative community of Dallas has been overwhelming and so appreciated. In all seriousness, I have had a major reminder of the importance of health and friendship. The reality is that my heart has been touched in more ways than one."
Saturday’s guests include Steve Kanaly ("Dallas"), Paige Davis, Chris Atkins and Belinda Carlisle; Sunday’s guests are Al B. Sure, Bruce Davison, Rev. Harry Harwick (Betty Bowers) and Greg Louganis. Dallas Voice Life+Style Editor Arnold Wayne Jones will co-host with Jett this weekend.
KERA ADDS MUSIC STATION
North Texas Public Broadcast (KERA) has purchased the non-commercial radio license for 91.7 FM, which will begin broadcasting this fall.
The format for the new public station will be "Triple A" (adult album alternative) music with diverse adult-oriented playlists. Shows from NPR and PRI will supplement the station’s own local broadcasts.
Among the programs being considered for the new station are NPR’s "World CafÃ©" and PRI’s "Echoes." Both can be streamed on-line from the distributors’ Web sites.
KERA has broadcast mostly news and information programming since 1996.
Mary Anne Alhadeff, KERA’s president and CEO, says "I heard from long-time listeners who said that they appreciated the expanded public radio news schedule but missed the music programs."
The Dallas market has three full-market FM non-commercial radio licenses. The third is 89.3 KNON-FM, owned by Agape Broadcasting.
KERA broadcasts at 90.1 in Dallas, 88.3 in Wichita Falls, 100.1 in Tyler and 99.3 in Sherman.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.