We are thrilled to announce this year's recipient of the Big Easy Award for WWOZ On-Air Volunteer of the Year: Jivin' Gene, the host of Tuesday evenings' 50s R&B show. Jivin' Gene – known as Gene Mark outside of the 'OZ studio – has been a stalwart WWOZ volunteer and show host for thirty years. His parents raised him on Texas Swing, but once Jivin' Gene discovered rock and roll and R&B as a teenager, he traded in soda fountains for record stores and has been buying records ever since.
Soon after WWOZ started broadcasting from Tipitina's, Gene began wandering down to lend a hand. He became a member and started volunteering wherever he was needed. Gene came in on Friday nights to help out with Duke A Paducah and BB's 50s show. It was Duke who dubbed him Jivin' Gene and the moniker stuck.
Over the years Jivin' Gene has hosted the 50s R&B music show both on his own or with co-hosts. He started out with show host Leo, and also spent years hosting be side one of his early music heroes one of the pioneers of New Orleans R&B: Bobby Mitchell. For the last twelve years Jivin' Gene's on-air cohort has been Neal Pellegrin. In the 90s Neal wasn't old enough to drive, but he was frequenting Gene's tables at record shows and they got to talking. It just so happened that they lived in the same neighborhood, and soon enough Neal started coming to the station during Gene's show. The duo made the congested drive over to Baton Rouge every week to broadcast their show in the months after Hurricane Katrina.
They pilfer through their personal collections of 45s and LPs to bring a smattering of music to the studio. “We do a lot of the locals: Fats Domino, Ernie K Doe, Professor Longhair, Smiley Louis, Frogman Henry, but we do all sorts of 50s R&B,” Gene explains. “We try to do something different things, not just the normal oldies radio show that plays all of the top 40s hits of the 50s. We play stuff that wasn't a hit at all. We're always buying records. We've come across some odd 45s we didn't know about.” Nearly every week they have folks calling who just discovered their show and are thrilled to hear songs that they haven't for 50 years. They also have their regulars, who call in just to talk about what's on the air.
“I just enjoy the record collecting and the music,” Gene says. “Since I've got all these records I might as well share them with the people. It makes me feel good when people call in and say 'Great show!'”
Bio by Melanie Merz