In the world of radio DJs, David Dye is an anomaly. Instead of moving around to move up in his career, as is common in the industry, Dye has spent nearly the entirety of his 46 years in radio in Philadelphia. For the past quarter century, it’s been as host and producer of NPR’s “World Cafe,” but last week he announced that run is coming to an end.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s tough getting here every day at 8 a.m. and leaving at 7 p.m.,” he told Billy Penn from his office at WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania’s public radio station that’s been home to “World Cafe” since its inception. “I want to do other things.”
Dye, 66, who joined WMMR in 1970 as a Swarthmore College student, has been with WXPN since 1989. And the Mount Airy resident is not leaving the station entirely. He’ll still host his “Funky Friday” program, and also hopes to work on a show in which he would have more autonomy.
“I would like to do a mix tape type of show,” Dye said. “I can offer my own personal take on things. With ‘World Cafe,’ I’m beholden to a lot of stations. I can’t be as self-indulgent as I would like.”
Still, he can’t help but look back at the show with pride.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to interview my favorites, such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Robert Plant — who is a shockingly humble person. I have a lot of great memories.”
Canadian folk-rock legend Bruce Cockburn was the first-ever ‘World Cafe’ guest. Richard Thompson and the Old 97s have made the most appearances. Asked who was his favorite guest over the years, and who was the most memorable, Dye paused for a moment to reflect.
“Every so often you run into someone who is truly crazy and that was Arthur Lee, who was completely out there,” he answered at last. “My favorite was probably Robert Plant, who I’ve talked to two or three times. Plant has great stories and so does Robbie Robertson. Andrew Bird has always been great whenever he’s been on. I’ve been incredibly fortunate.”
How did Dye handle the late Lou Reed, a notoriously terrible interview subject?
“Lou took great pride in testing you,” Dye said. “I think I passed his test since he answered some of my questions but yes, he was very difficult. Also tough was Paul Simon. “[He] gave me some really dull answers. I’m not sure if it was my fault or his fault — but then when we were off mic, he told me great stories about rehearsing in his apartment with Bob Dylan.”
In March, the lifelong Phillies diehard will be feted with two concerts at World Cafe Live, the University City concert venue that was inspired by his show.
“We’re going to try to get some of my favorites to perform,” Dye hinted. “Nobody has signed on yet but it’s still very early. I’m looking forward to the concerts and I’m looking forward to going out while I’m still feeling pretty good.”
Dye could have followed a very different path. He started out as a history major at Swarthmore.
“But radio had me from an early age,” Dye said. “I had no idea how amazing the scene was when I was living it during the early ‘70s. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be around it for all these years — and I’m still going to be around it.”