And the beat goes on
Silky-voiced John Lemley keeps the music playing at his new Midtown home.
This fall, it will be two years since the strains of Vivaldi, Mozart and Mendelssohn disappeared from local FM airwaves. And in the shift away from classical music, one of the city’s most soothing voices was out of a job.
But that didn’t mean the dulcet tones of John Lemley’s tenor were going to be unheard for long. Within weeks of being made redundant, he found a new home at AM 1690-WMLB, “the Voice of the Arts” station in Midtown. Packed in his arsenal of musical knowledge was the format he’d perfected at his prior gig: “City Cafe”, two hours of music, cultural news and interviews with headliners of the local arts scene. The biggest challenge was amassing a classical library.
“The station owner loves opera, so there was a lot of that, but opera alone does not a classical program make,” says Lemley. “I had to start from scratch building a collection.”
“City Cafe” relaunched on February 2, 2015—the sixth anniversary of its debut. Recently, the station shifted the show to a three-hour, Sunday afternoon slot, freeing Lemley to host a new late afternoon program, “High Tea,” that showcases music from the 1940s through the ’70s under the broad umbrella of “oldies.”
“I’d spent the better part of a quarter century up to my neck in really old music from the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, so it’s been some fast and furious continuing education for me,” he says. “I’ve had to do a lot of research and listening to find what most appeals to people.”
Lemley has also been under a learning curve at his other job: reporting and anchoring the news on 106.7 FM-WYAY. “I was having fun with the music, but I did miss the news,” he admits. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to work in a newsroom, and it’s really made me strengthen my news chops.”
The last year has brought personal changes as well. In February, Lemley married his long-time partner, Mike Selk, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a regional food and beverage director for a national country club corporation. A few weeks later, his sister passed away. One of his pets died. And now the couple is looking to move out of their Decatur-area home. But music remains a constant.
“Music of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s is seeing an amazing Renaissance, and it’s not just a nostalgia thing,” he says. “Younger listeners shop for music as they do for food: They look for music of substance and quality with a fresh, ‘organic’ sound—not the mass-produced ‘factory’ variety. Plus, if it weren’t for Millennials, vinyl and turntables would have never seen such an amazing comeback!”
Off the Air
On food: “I’ve always felt a strong connection to food. My fondest memories are built around meals with those I love. I actually read cookbooks as literature. I also collect family recipes. I am not a cook, but I do dabble with some success as a baker. My favorite creation is a family-recipe pound cake.”
Eating in Midtown: “Some of our favorites are Empire State South, BoccaLupo and the tiki-fabulous Trader Vic’s in the downtown Hilton. Left to my own devices, I’m all about Southern food establishments—Mary Mac’s Tea Room and Silver Skillet. One of my beloved lunch spots is Bab’s Midtown on Juniper.”
Down time pastimes: “I’m an avid, maybe rabid, genealogist. There’s nothing I enjoy more than working on the many branches of my family tree. I also brake for cemeteries, whether or not it contains my personal ancestors. Mike jokes that I actually do see dead people!”
STORY: H.M. Cauley
PHOTO: Erik Meadows