Orlando Montoya goes solo

Savannah Morning News column

June 15, 2014

Let’s get one thing straight from the start.

“I am not a good spokesman for Georgia Public Broadcasting,” says Orlando Montoya.  Montoya is the erstwhile on-air host of WSVH, our local public radio station. Last February the folks in Atlanta summarily dismissed Montoya and four other people on staff, three fulltime, two part-time. They were encouraged to throw their hats into the ring for a job.  Montoya did. Four months later he found out he did not get one. He insists he’s not bitter.

“I had 15 good years and all people want to talk about are the last five months,” he said. “I liked my job. It was an ideal job. I wanted to keep working.  I’m a chat show host.”

But he’s moving on. And he’s still chatting.

Only this time the chats will be via a self-devised podcast concept. An inveterate learner who has always gone to as many local lectures, speeches and panel discussions as he could, Montoya has decided these public events should be recorded. So now he intends to record, reshape and reformat them back in his studio at home and then make them available as a podcast on his site, SavannahPodcast.com.

Like many media-related things, radio is changing. People’s habits are changing. We no longer want to watch a clock and wait until a certain hour to hear a certain program. With new capabilities, we are spoiled. We are impatient. We want to download and listen to anything we want whenever we want. With SavannahPodcast as his vehicle he will attend lectures, such as those sponsored by the Savannah Council on Foreign Affairs, and make them available to the public. They will be free. Once a month he will interview someone and make that available too.

“Podcsts are easier for people,” he said. “It’s like shaping a play list.”

Unlike the three-minute-30-second format of radio, each interview will be as long or as short as he wishes. He’s already got a pretty good selection online: education consultant Erika Tate; Savannah’s Bishop Kevin Boland on the new book about Flannery O’Connor’s “A Prayer Journal”; writer Will Harlan on Carol Ruckdeschel, “Untamed: The wildest woman in America and the fight for Cumberland Island”; and a recorded lecture by Dr. Kevin Spooner who appeared before the Savannah Council on Foreign Affairs

Montoya’s not sure how the podcast will pay off financially. He’s hoping to get sponsors – the Savannah Council on Foreign Affairs is his first – and contributions from individuals, “kind of like putting out a tip jar,” he said.

Other than loving radio Montoya, 39, didn’t know what he would do when he started college. His first major was foreign languages, Russian, in particular. He had taken three years of the language in high school. He thought he’d either teach Russian in this country or English in Russia. But when a professor assigned a book by Boris Pasternak at the University of Central Florida, he changed his mind. “That did me in,” he said.

That’s when a college counselor asked what he wanted to do. All he knew at that point was “listening to radio.” His parents kept a shortwave radio in his bedroom, “so maybe something in radio,” he answered.

That’s when he changed his major to broadcasting.

“I walked into the college station and said, ‘I want my own show.’ Because of Russian he already knew verbs and tenses and grammar, so changing AP copy into a radio style of active sentences wasn’t hard for him. He became a jazz radio host.

“I did not go into radio to do news,” he said.

But when WSVH offered him a job as news producer, a title that stuck, he took it.

He’s not worried about his new venture. He will continue doing walking tours, which he now does for Savannah Walks, and which he used to do on his own. He will look for people to interview.

“I’m a radio reporter,” he said. “We like the sound of our own voice.”

That’s what people who listen to radio like – the sound of someone’s voice.

“Take Rick Cluff,” Montoya said. “I heard him on air when I was in Vancouver. Now I stream him. I like his demeanor. Why do I need to know anything about Vancouver to listen?”

Same with Leonard Lopate in New York. He likes his voice and his style.

“All I ever wanted to be was that friendly voice on the radio,” Montoya said. “That show host.”

Life moves on, Montoya said, just not always as we expect it will

“The other day I ran into a woman in her late 20’s. She said to me, ‘I listened to you when I was growing up.’ That was a little weird.”

The original column on Jimmy Taglioli

The following is the original column I wrote in 1998 about Jimmy Taglioli, a crusty old-timey barber in Savannah. I thought about him when I decided to reprint a book I published in 2001, “Everyone’s Gotta Be Somewhere,” in which I wrote about him. The book was out of print but when I reread the columns that were published in the 90’s, I thought, ‘Hey, these are pretty good. I need to get this back in circulation.” So with the help of Tom Greensfelder in Chicago, I did. And when I heard Taglioli was still with us – he’s 98 – I revisited him and wrote a second column, published today in the Savannah Morning News. I think I like the first column better although this time I left his house with a few branches off his grape tree. Want to buy a copy of “Everyone’s Gotta Be Somewhere”? It’s available in Savannah at The Book Lady, online at Lulu.com, and of course through me.


Nothing Slows Down Barber—Not Even Fire, Knee Operation

 There’s never been anything shy or retiring about Jimmie Taglioli, the earthy downtown barber whose Broughton Street shop shot up in flames last month.

“My knee operation? Here, lemme show you for yourself,” he said, rolling back the pant leg of his flannel pajamas, revealing a patchwork of colorful crosshatches. “I’m OK, but I’ve been taking pain pills like a chicken eats corn.”

Taglioli celebrated his eighty-second birthday in the hospital. The opera-

tion was scheduled months ago, the burnout—Taglioli’s term for the fire— was not.

“Helluva thing, that fire. I was still turning a buck down there, meeting people from all over the world, going to work every day. But like my sixth- grade math teacher Miss Preston—she was one of them big, buxom women— used to say, no matter what happens, it could always be worse.”

He grinned, the space between his front teeth as prominent and hopeful as ever. “And then Lamas sent me back some of my rent for the month. Nice guy.” Art Lamas owns the building on the corner of Abercorn and Broughton streets that housed Jimmie’s shop before the fire. Taglioli was just eleven when his older brother, David, became a barber, but he knew then that he would do the same thing. He liked thinking about how the customers and the barber sat around talking politics and baseball. He liked the chummy clubhouse atmosphere. Now he’s cutting hair at home in Gordonston, bum knee and all. “A lotta beauty people work out of their house,” he said. “No parking problem here. I always had a set of tools at home for outside cuts, for when my customers went to the hospital. I even did Jim Williams when he was in jail.

Nice guy.” That reminded him of something else. “My name was in ‘The Book,’ you know. Page 181. When tourists find that out, they want to take my picture by the barber pole,” Taglioli said. His copy of “The Book” didn’t burn in the fire. Neither did his bike. Not true about his autographed Perry Como picture. “Ever tell you the story about that one?” he asked. “He was a barber, you

know, Italian, like me. Guy comes into the shop once, a singer at one of the downtown clubs who recorded for RCA, same as Perry. Said to me, ‘You know, you’re a dead ringer for Perry Como.’ So, I wrote Perry at the studio, told him what the guy said. He sent me a picture.”

Taglioli’s wife, Ethel, disagreed with one part of the story.

“I always thought he looked like Don Ho,” she said of the man she married fifty-six years ago.

Taglioli and his wife settled in Savannah after his World War II stint at Hunter Army Airfield.

“Saw her sitting in a drugstore near Birmingham,” Taglioli said of his wife. “She looked so pretty it was unreal. She put Elizabeth Taylor to shame. I ain’t fooling you, either.”

Taglioli’s family came to the United States from Bologna, Italy. In 1898, his father moved to a mining town in Alabama, where he dug coal, built houses and raised Jimmie and his five sisters and brothers. “Papa came first, laid the groundwork for the rest of us. But I got my mom’s nose,” he said. “And her hair. She always had pretty good hair.”

Taglioli’s son, Clay, cuts his father’s hair these days. Clay used to work in the shop but since the fire was hired on as an electrician.

“My life’s sort of in limbo now,” Taglioli said. “I might return downtown. I might go back to Italy. Got about twenty-five first cousins in Florence and Bologna, don’t you know. Or I might just want to catch a trout. Ever been fishing?”