Longform

Double Trouble

Page 5 of 7

Things improved on the personal front when he met his second wife, Mary, in the late Seventies; they wed two years later. Thanks to her insistence, he gave up drugs and sought medical treatment. While living in Salt Lake City, where he'd moved in 1986, he says he was finally diagnosed as bipolar at what he calls a "Dickensian" facility run by the State of Utah. But his troubles weren't over. "They never got the doses right. Some days my eyes would be like headlights, and other days I'd be drooling. Going through that taught me what a fucking crime health care in this country is. People like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole and Trent Lott and all these shitheads run around telling us we don't need nationalized health care, but they don't exempt themselves. They only exempt people like me--and back then, I was hanging on for dear life."

When Marvin moved to Florida in 1988, two significant changes occured: He found a doctor who hit upon a prescription cocktail that didn't completely erase his individuality, and he got his first job in talk radio. Before then, he says, he had tried to hide his erratic behavior from listeners and employers. But because tiny WKTN-AM in Saint Petersburg-Tampa had so few callers, Marvin was forced to do hours-long monologues to fill time--and what came out, he believes, was the real Jay. "I could either come in and be a creative character and be a phony, or I could just be myself," he says. "That was my choice--to be a manufactured item or a real human being. And I had no interest in being a manufactured item. I didn't want to be something I wasn't."

In the beginning, Marvin was primarily an ideologue, pummeling Ronald Reagan's America from a leftist perspective. But by the time he'd moved to WFLA-AM, another Saint Petersburg-Tampa station, he says, he'd begun to leaven the politics with humor and anecdotes about his life that dealt with, among other things, his mental condition. Sudden oscillations in his disposition were also part of this package, as they still are, but Marvin feels that they have more to do with his personality than with either his disorder or the drugs he takes for it. He may seem to be out of control at times, but he says he's not. In his opinion, the only time he's lost it on the air occurred in Chicago after he'd sworn off his medication; the next day, he divulges, he tried to kill himself by driving his car into a tree. Since then, he's generally followed his doctor's orders. "I take one Zoloft, two Klonopin, pills for high blood pressure and a diuretic," he says. "It's a pain in the ass taking all that stuff, but I always make sure I do it."

Well, almost always. There are days when Marvin resents his regimen and leaves the capsules and tablets in their containers. On those occasions, Mary, who works as a literary agent (she represents the prose and poetry of Marvin and singer-songwriter Tom Russell, among others), serves as a safety net. If he sounds down and depressed on the air, odds are good that Mary will call and ask if he skipped his medication. And Marvin, who generally brims with bravado, will sheepishly confess that he didn't and promise to do better tomorrow.

Marvin has been on a career upswing since his treatment breakthrough. He had a solid following at WFLA-AM, and after a seven-month detour in Milwaukee, he scored with fans of Chicago's WLS-AM, a talk giant whose signal can be heard in 38 states. When Marvin left WLS to take the KHOW position, rumors circulated that he had been fired, but that's not so. He left on his own after WLS was sold to ABC, a network owned by the Walt Disney Company that he says censors controversial hosts. He gives credit to Jacor Communications, the Cincinnati company that owns KHOW and seven other stations in the Denver-Boulder area, for letting him be himself. Plenty of listeners are pleased by the results: Although Marvin trails KOA-AM's Sports Zoo in the afternoon ratings by a substantial margin, his numbers are big improvements over those of his predecessors, and they keep rising. He won't reveal how much he's being paid by Jacor beyond saying, "I'm not some highly paid radio performer, but I'm managing for the first time in my life to put a little money away."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts