Although we now have sadly learned that Liz passed away in 2002, it still
comes as a shock to all of us who knew her back in the heady days of 1985,
onboard the M.V. Communicator.
Liz didn’t play the rock n’ roll part; she lived it. Even when we would
occasionally run out of food, or fuel or water, rock chick Liz remained ever so
rock chic; a rocker with a heart of gold.
On air, she was a true professional. If you’ve ever heard her Fourth of July
parade broadcast you know what I mean, pure class, a one of a kind jock.
Shortly after coming onboard, I made her music director, a role she was born to.
She did a great job and when eventually we would hit land, Liz absolutely loved
hitting the record companies who wined and dined us, and she could smooze with
the best. The nightclubs, the studios, mixing with pop celebs, it was all
happening in the mid ‘80s in the west end, a world made for Liz.
And then there were the trips. Liz and I made it out to the Arabian Sands resort
in Morocco. Party we did, and I still remember one surreal late night
after-hours tour of the Caves of Hercules with the cave keeper’s radio cranked
up to the max. It was David Lee Stone coming in loud and clear all the way
from Luxy. Yes, a small world indeed and no, you couldn’t make it up.
But of course time would move on. Laser would eventually go. And although we all
went our separate ways, the memories of 1985 remain as fresh as ever -- the life
and times on the North Sea and the magic Liz brought.
Liz was there. She wore the t-shirt. She lived life to the full. We miss you Liz.
Rock on Liz, rock on.
Liz West was
one of three female deejays who joined Laser 558 in February 1985. Journalist
and photographer Dave Chappell visited the MV Communicator and asked Liz how she
started in radio…
My first job
legitimately was as an RCA record buyer for a record chain in the States. I was
17, and it was great because I pestered these people into hiring me, and I think
they got so tired of me coming in every day and drawing "Yes" logos on their
employment applications they figured they would give me a job, and two months
later they upped me to RCA label buyer and managed the rock department. I seem
to be destined to be in this business. I enjoy music so much I could hardly see
myself as a Certified Public Accountant. I have had men tell me that they could
never picture me baking or carrying a brief case! I think that's a sort of
compliment in a sense, so I'm an ex-debutante turned rock and roll animal think.
Liz at 4
Liz at 13
Liz at 20 with Dad, Brothers Geoff & Westy and sister
courtesy of Geoff West
Where did you
work before you came here?
I did a brief
stint in California because I was out there when my mother was ill, but it was
really nothing. Primarily where I worked last it was a radio station in Orlando
called WDIZ Rock 100. Before that was Tampa 98 Rock. That was an interesting
situation. I had gone there to work on a radio station owned by a company called
"Taft'', they are huge in the States, and their logo was a pirate station, skull
and crossbones, that type of thing, it was really weird. It was the number one
station on the market. 98 Rock called me up one afternoon and offered me $7000
or more to do an afternoon drive show so I kissed everybody goodbye and left. At
the time, I was one of maybe 20-25 women in the whole country that was doing an
afternoon drive show so it was good. Then I went to California. I had worked in
Miami, Orlando, all over you know. I had truck drivers call me up and say they
used to hear me on 98 Rock and then they heard me on WCID and then they heard me
on.... and so on. I was big with prisoners too, I found. I was really popular
with hardened criminals -like the Arcadia Correctional Institute outside Tampa
used to call me and want me to MC talent contests.
Well, you are
a million miles from that now. What made you decide to come here?
A multitude of
things really. I have always been one for challenges. I am an adventure seeker
and, like most people, I have always to go to Europe. With this job, I get 13
weeks a year holiday - 13 weeks to see Europe has got to be a perk. Also
although my record in the States in terms of ratings and radio stations etc. is
very good and could be considered impressive in some circles, it is very
difficult for a woman to get the right kind of job without being reduced to
really ridiculous kinds of politics, not just sexual politics but other politics
as well. Let's face it, it's a very political thing you are dealing with, a
women, when she is hired is sometimes pigeonholed and is not allowed to really
expand. This here is an ideal situation because we live at our radio station,
it's an ideal situation to be creative and stand out, not that I couldn't handle
competition in the States, but to be able to come over here and reach an
audience of up to 12 million people it's an awesome kind of experience.
Why do you
think Laser is so successful - what is it that makes it work?
It's the music,
not to be overly judgmental of the media here; there is a very small media pool
here. It's a large area with a very small media pool to draw from. People do not
have a lot of choice and because of the needle laws over here a person will only
get on an average, from a government regulated station, a very small amount of
music per hour, the rest being meaningful chatter! You could find yourself
tuning to a radio station and hearing a Brian Adams record followed by a 45
minute discussion on the joys of asparagus! People can tune into Laser, get a
minimal amount of chatter -when we do open our mouths we have something to say.
It's usually something exciting hopefully, without the hype. We are Americans so
there is a dash of novelty there and we play all the hits -we play proven
charted hits all day.
Do you think
being American is part of the success
With the other pirate Caroline, the thing they have going for them is just
basically they are a legend. They are not consistent though. In other words the
Jocks there do whatever they want to do -there is no format - so you will find
that at some point during the day you will be hearing a lot of hits and then at
other times you will be hearing very avant-garde ethereal kind of stuff that the
masses are not familiar with and cannot relate to. People basically want
consistency, they want to be entertained.
Having three girl DJ's in a row
during the day is not common is it?
No-one else is doing that, it is unheard of. Men
love it though. Sometimes male DJ's depending on their delivery, have a tendency
to sound as though they are shoving something down your throat, whereas a
woman’s delivery makes it seem like a suggestion or an option. When a woman
talks, 9 times out of 10 somebody's ears will perk up and listen to what she has
Was this a deliberate policy from a
Well, yes and no. The rules that apply in the
States or anywhere do not necessarily apply here. Nobody in the States would put
three women back to back. I am not sure if that is just a preconceived social
kind of notion or whether people are afraid to try. The audience here is more
forgiving because we play music; we give them what they want and we entertain
them. We play on average 59 minutes of music each hour. If we say something we
say it over the beginning of a record. We keep it short and to the point, the
audience has their music and they can count on that. We have a very loyal
audience, if we go off air for whatever reason, people will grumble but they
will come back. There is no audience sharing here, we know that when people tune
into Laser they are going to tune in for hours at a time. They don't punch
around to see what the BBC is doing.
is not a place where people can easily get to visit but I have heard you get the
odd boat load of fans out here. Is that right?
People do get
on boats and spend money and six hours traveling to come here and see us and
maybe take our picture. That to me is awe inspiring. I mentioned this to one of
the people that came to see us as I had not realised exactly what it entailed
for them to make the journey and I said "My God, you spend money and travel for
six hours in a boat to see us" and the guy was most indignant and said "you
people spend two to three months out here at a time. What we do is nothing, what
you do is important ". I was humbled by that. I had never thought about it that
How do you know what to put on air?
There are so many variables, you have to concern
yourself as to whether or not a record is accessible to your audience. The
charts over here are so weird. For instance you can have a record that came out
in 1981 which doesn't chart until 1984 it's very strange. I spend approximately
3 hours a day on the computer researching charts, even old charts. With a CHR
station you are going to have a quick turnover of music. In the States the
reason for that is because there is a high tune out factor, in other words
people punch out because they have so many options but with Laser because people
stay with us so long you have to be careful. We play say, 1500 records. You may
think that is a lot of records for a CHR station but because the time spent
listening by a person is much higher than with any other station you have to be
very conscious of freshening up your music or maybe resting things so that they
can be brought back and still be viable to your format. Maintaining that
consistency is very important.
There seems to
be a new enthusiasm in the station.
This is a new
generation of Laser. This is the whole attitude in New York as well. OK the
station is not a fledgling any more, there has to be growing pains but because
we have fresh blood here now there is a higher level of enthusiasm and morale
and this could be due to the fact that there are now women on board, and women
who have basically very positive attitudes to radio, Women who say this is not a
job but their life. We eat radio, we breathe it and we care. I am in heaven
musically here. When I sat in that control room and had a look at the music in
our library I was in heaven. It's a lot of fun as a disc jockey. I like to turn
my monitors up and just rock and roll and dance to the music, that has a lot to
do with the level of enthusiasm when we go out on the radio. If we believe in a
product we are going to sell it 110% and have fun doing it.
Would you say you had more
commitment than the guys?
Yes I do, I think a lot of it has to do with the
fact that we are new but most importantly I think it is because you feel that
maybe we have something to prove, that's the preconditioning we have from being
in the business so long, no matter how talented you are it seems that for some
of the time you have to bite and scratch to prove how good you are. Here we do
not have to bite and scratch so the level of enthusiasm is higher because we can
basically be happy to do what we want on the radio although, as with everybody,
we have certain boundaries, but these boundaries are not constricting at all. If
I do something on the radio that I consider really funny, as I don't have phones
and I can't get an initial feedback from the audience, I'll run and tell Chrissy
or Erin and get their opinion or maybe they will be in the studio and will, just
by their presence, inspire the programme to be better or conjour up some extra
little thing inside me. There may also be a little bit of competition but it's
very friendly competition and I think that obviously when you get three women
together there are going to be tiny brawls at times but we are close enough and
we are good friends so it's very healthy. We revel in each others successes.
Nobody tries to outshine one another, which is rare.
have left Laser for stations on land -what will you do?
my immediate goal -granted I am sure that if I go back to the States something
will result from Laser being on my resume, but I think most importantly I am
going to benefit as a person because I am learning how to live with such a wild
mixture of people, how to work with them, how to channel my energies, it's a
soul searching kind of life, it is just us, God and the sea.
THE LASER 558 STORY
LIZ WEST FEATURES IN THE FOLLOWING DVD
AVAILABLE FROM OFFSHORE ECHOS