Loves Music, Loves the Bronx—
But Dobbs Ferry…
For WFUV DJ Darren DeVivo, radio is a sound salvation.
Forty-two-year-old Darren DeVivo, the DJ behind the City Folk Midday program on WFUV (90.7 FM), is full of contradictions. The Dobbs Ferry resident is heard by thousands of listeners each week, but he hates the sound of his own voice. “It makes me very uncomfortable,” he says. He loves music, but stick an instrument in his hand and he wouldn’t know what to do with it. “I took guitar lessons about half a dozen times, but I’m not the kind of person who likes to practice,” he says. “I want to just wake up and be Eric Clapton.” He’s proudly Bronx born-and-bred, but he’s a die-hard fan of the Mets and hates the Yankees. “My grandfather was a New York Giants fan,” he says. “Being that he preferred the National League, he picked up the Mets when they were born in 1962.
That’s the only reason I can come up with on how I became a Mets fan.” And he spends his days rubbing elbows with artists like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Sting, David Crosby, Ringo Starr, Donald Fagen, and Robert Plant, but he is so thoroughly and completely normal without any hint of I’ve-met-Bowie-and-you-haven’t attitude.
It’s DeVivo’s passion for music—a description that may very well be an understatement—that keeps him down-to-earth, still recalling all of his experiences at WFUV first as a music geek (especially when it comes to all things Beatles). “He’s the ultimate music fan,” says Rita Houston, WFUV’s music director, who’s worked with DeVivo for 14 years. “He has thousands of CDs and thousands of records at home, and then he comes into work and there’s more of the same.”
Hang around him even just a little bit and chances are he’ll impress you with the scope of his knowledge, either through the little facts he can insert into conversations (“Hey Rita, do you know how the band Death Cab for Cutie got its name? It was a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in Magical Mystery Tour”) or from his daily noontime “Under the Covers” sets, for which he digs out lesser known cover versions of well-known songs.
DeVivo’s love of music, especially of that famous Liverpudlian quartet, began so early that his mom wrote down “Favorite Music Group: The Beatles” in his baby book when he was still an infant. “Maybe she knew what I’d develop into,” he says. “I honestly don’t know where it came from. Neither of my parents were Beatles fans, and neither of them kept up with music.” Unlike most fickle children who’ll ditch Barney for Dora in the blink of an eye, DeVivo’s fascination held, and he has memories of getting brand-new Beatles records when he was four and five years old (Abbey Road, which is still his favorite, and Let It Be, to be exact) and being taken by his mother to see the Let It Be movie at the Palace Theater in the Bronx. He still hasn’t grown out of it. Today, he’s a yearly attendee at The Fest for Beatles Fans (formerly, and more elegantly, known as Beatlefest), and Beatles albums are his primary interest in his massive record collection, which includes nearly 10,000 CDs, 500 LPs, and a couple hundred seven-inch singles. (For the record, his favorite Beatle is Paul: “Growing up in the 1970s, Wings was my favorite.”)
Being such a fanatic, DeVivo always knew he wanted to make music a big part of his adult life. When it came time for him to choose a college, he picked the close-to-home Fordham University because of WFUV, something he thought would be nothing more than a cool extra-curricular. “I thought it’d be a fun thing to do on the side,” he says. “I went to the School of Business Administration. I thought I was going to be an accountant.”
Even after he made it on the air, in February 1984, DeVivo thought the radio station would be a footnote on his resume, not the bulk of it. “I had no idea that I’d be working in radio as an adult,” he says. “I was just focused on that first show. It was a Sunday morning at six am, when there were only two people listening and neither of them were in any mental state to pay attention. It was nerve-wracking, scary, and exciting. I thought: ‘I made it on the air at WFUV.’” He still remembers the first song he played: “Venus and Mars” by Wings.
At the time, WFUV was like any other college station: laid-back, free-format, and student-run. DeVivo—who, with his Jets jersey and scraggly goatee, still gives off a low-key, college-student vibe—describes the atmosphere of the station as very loose.
Then, in the summer of 1990, WFUV brought down the hammer: it changed from a casual college station into the polished, professional public radio station that it is today, touted as “a musical oasis in the New York Metro area” by Billboard magazine and reaching 320,000 listeners each week. “They got rid of many of the on-air students, brought in new DJs, got all new shows,” he says. “I figured I was done.”
By then, he had graduated from Fordham but was still working on-air shifts in his free time for no pay. “Theoretically, I should’ve already moved on into the real world.” And he tried, testing out a bunch of different jobs: a tour guide for the Bronx Zoo, manager of the cassette department for Tower Records in Yonkers, interning at television stations like WNYW Channel 5. He even received some training as a cameraman. Ultimately, nothing blossomed into a career. “All the television stations saw my love for radio, so I never got those jobs,” he says.
DeVivo was still working at the cassette department for Tower Records when WFUV called. One of the DJs was away for Christmas week, would he fill in? “I treated those shows as an audition,” he says, “and not just for FUV. I was going to record them and use them for demos at other radio stations. I approached those shows like they were big deals.” Luckily, he didn’t need to bring his demos on the other stations. Two days into his holiday-week stint, he was offered a permanent position DJing during the prime afternoon-commute time slot. He accepted and started full-time in January 1991, and has been there ever since—a very long time in radio years. “When I start to feel stale, I remind myself that I am on the air at a one-of-a-kind radio station in the greatest city on the planet,” he says. “My voice is on the airwaves five days a week on the hippest spot on the radio dial in the tri-state area.”
Besides offering DeVivo a career path in an industry he loves, WFUV can also be credited with introducing him to the woman he loves: Sherri DeVivo, now his wife of 13 years. Sherri had little interest in radio, but wound up interning at the station when it offered her a scholarship toward her graduate degree in public communications. “Darren came and introduced himself, and there was something right from the first handshake,” says Sherri, who today is a vice president of institutional relations and marketing at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens. “He had me at hello. He asked me out a few months later. That was sixteen years ago. It’s funny, because he thought that once he got on the air, women would flock to him. That didn’t happen. I was the only one who thought it was a big deal.”
It was Sherri who convinced DeVivo to give up his beloved Bronx for a life out in the ’burbs. “I didn’t grow up in the urban environment,” she says. “I wanted the kids to have a backyard.” The couple also wanted their children—Emily, 8, and Dylan, 6—to have access to the county’s great public schools. So they searched around, finally settling on a house in Dobbs Ferry in January, 2003.
“That was the big, traumatic eleven-mile move,” he says.
“When we moved, all his listeners knew,” Sherri says. “He kept moaning about it on the air.”
DeVivo is still dealing with the culture shock of leaving his hometown. “I’ve lived in the Bronx all my life,” he says, “and now suddenly I have a lawn? And I have to mow it? What’s with all this dirt and bugs all around? How do I know that termites aren’t eating through my ceiling and it’s going to collapse any second?” Despite fears, those close to DeVivo say the suburbs haven’t changed him. “He didn’t morph into someone who cares about his lawn or anything,” Sherri says. “The grass can die. He doesn’t care.”
Today, the couple enjoys taking their kids to Tomatillo and Mykonos in Dobbs Ferry and Horsefeathers in Tarrytown, along with stealing quiet moments in bookstores whenever they get the chance. (See? Totally normal.) DeVivo is also training the next generation of Beatlemanics with his daughter Emily. “She’s got a Beatles backpack and Beatles buttons, and she goes with him to Beatlefests,” Sherri says. “It’s good because it gets me off the hook.”
And even after almost a quarter-century at WFUV, with newer bands like Son Volt and Elliott Smith joining Steely Dan and Chicago in his roster of favorites, DeVivo still talks about music as if it’s a hobby and not his job—and he still sounds like a die-hard fan. “I’ve gone to every Paul McCartney show since he resumed touring in 1989, and the same with Ringo Starr,” he says. “I’d sleep in the street for tickets to see Pink Floyd.” Hopefully, someone at the station will be able to hook him up with tickets so it doesn’t come to that.