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It's Wednesday night and I'm sitting at the bar in Café Havana, tipping back a cocktail with a coworker, when I realize it's 7:50 p.m. "MOM-bo," I say to my friend as I sprint out the door, racing to my car to get to the station for the start of the show. At exactly eight bells on KFAI, 90.3 F.M. (that would be 106.7 F.M. for the St. Paul listeners), MOM-bo is heard every Wednesday on the local radio airwaves. I grin when I hear the theme music, and feel an immediate affinity for the program because of the Latin-ness of the name and music. As if the tag line, "a mom show with an attitude," wouldn't be enough to make me dig it.
If you think your daily grind is hectic, sit a spell and watch Nanci Olesen, MOM-bo's host and producer, while she's operating the soundboard. "A half-hour show is really a lot of work," says Olesen. "I used to think it wasn't. I used to think, 'Oh, half an hour? I should have an [hour-long show].' To make good radio for half an hour you need to work your butt off," she assures.
Nanci Olesen is a mother of three/wife/teacher/actor/puppeteer/sax player/window dresser/B.A. in theatre and wilderness studies holder/radio producer. But don't call her a stay-at-home mom. "That's a label society has insisted on applying to those who have chosen to work within the home. I don't think anyone is a 'stay-at-home mom' and I really hate those labels," Nanci explains. "I've done about three or four different shows about the work- and-home dilemma. You know, it's such a stereotyped idea, roles of moms. We all work. There are moms who do more or less outside work. Of course, there's a mom you could easily say is a 'working mom' because she leaves at eight-thirty a.m. and she's back at six p.m."
For her "money job," Nanci does window displays for Baxter's Book Store, and says it's a great mom job. "I take jobs here and there, like an artist in residence from my former life--well, it's not my former life; it's still my life. It's theater and puppetry, the kinds of things I know how to do. But I hope that about a year from now I would say, 'I'm a radio producer.' I already kind of say that, but I still feel a little uncertain saying it."
From 1990 to 1992, Olesen was host and producer of Artifacts (another KFAI program). Late one night, toward the end of her tenure with that show, she decided she needed and wanted to put her energy into something she knew about, to explore things that were important to her personally. Although she loved interviewing interesting people for Artifacts, motherhood was the thing that consumed her, especially new motherhood. I asked her to tell me the story behind the idea and the name of the MOM-bo show.
"Actually, it's sort of a cheesy story, but it's true. The idea came to me in the middle of the night while I was patting my son's back. If I were to think about it more, I would say that it does have to do with a 'dance.' Motherhood is kind of a dance . . . just trying to juggle it all or keep it going."
MOM-bo's format is uniquely personal in a radio genre that's small to begin with. "There seem to be plenty of call-ins--parenting shows that are about how to do 'this,' or 'ask Dr. so-and-so.' This is more about the mom," Nanci explains. The show's tag line, "mom show with an attitude," foretells its tendency toward the sassy, its veering away from the mainstream. "MOM-bo's not mainstream, which is why I want to market it in the public-radio realm. I don't think it would be acceptable commercially. That's not where I live. That's not what I do." And the tag line, says Olesen, is more than an attention grabber. "The attitude is . . . the very most important thing. It's what I would call a 'good night line.' The attitude is, 'You're a mom and you're doing a good job. Don't forget you're doing a good job and take care of yourself. Don't be too sacrificial. Don't take in too much of what the media is trying to give us. There's a lot of cheesy stuff about parenting out there, really cheesy. If you look at the mainstream magazines, you think, 'Who are these women? Where did they come from?'"
Another nonmainstream mom who has the 'tude is MOM-bo's associate producer, Andrea Pearson, one of Nanci's good friends. "Seven years ago in a postpartum support group with our sons--my oldest and Andrea's second son--we met. There were about eight of us who got together with a facilitator from Women's Health Care. I enjoyed it a lot and it really felt good having that kind of support. Andrea and I continued to meet after the seven-week class and I just invited Andrea to read an essay on my show. Then I invited her to read another essay, and then another, and we just kind of carried on from there."