By Justin Morris
It’s 6 am, and in any given city in America, the airwaves are all a flutter with those duo-based morning shows that are all peppy, upbeat, zany or whatever variation on the format that program directors, hosts and producers think will keep people tuned in while keeping them awake during their morning commute.
The Lake City is certainly no exception, though we do have something that rings a bit differently on the FM band. Incidentally, this show just turned one year old but a few weeks ago.
That certain something is The Generation Gap, a ‘60’s and ‘70’s Top 40 and Classic Hits formatted morning show aired locally on 88.3 FM KBYS, and around the world on Facebook and kbys.com. And yes, it’s a two-person upbeat and goofy morning show.
But this show has a special dynamic in that the hosts are 35 years apart in age, the younger of the two being only 32. How does that work? you may ask. Well. to start, we look at the hosts themselves and just how “different” they really are.
Wesley, “Wes” Guidry
High school: Suphur High School, 1968
LA99 (oldies show, 14 years) and KBYS (oldies show and The Generation Gap, 2 years)
— Served in the United States Army from 1968-71
— Entertainment consultant for Lake Charles Hilton
— Booked national touring acts for Eddy Ray’s Night Club
— Owned and operated DeSign Art (commercial art and signs)
— Has been employed as the Director of National Meetings for the Vietnam Veterans of America
Stormi Vincent Sonnier
High school: Sam Houston, 2004
Hometown: Moss Bluff
KBYS (The Generation Gap, 1 year)
— Born during a Hurricane, hence the name
— Married high school sweetheart Clayton Sonnier
(son of Cajun music Legend Jo-El Sonnier and his
— Works for family business
(Louisiana Radio Communications)
— Certified yoga Instructor
— All-purpose hippie
Sooooo, wait a minute. How does a show featuring ‘60s and ‘70s music work with someone who wasn’t even born until the late ‘80s? And what could these two possibly have in common enough to be a compatible, even functional, pair on the morning drive airwaves?
The morning of Nov. 7, I pried my eyelids open with a few cups of strong, hot, dark caffeinated goodness and recalled my mornings as a very young newsman walking through the streets of downtown Lake Charles as I headed for the radio station to gather up the morning headlines in time to be on the air by 6 am. This morning was, fortunately, later.
It was a whole new studio I would be visiting as I entered the KBYS studios for the very first time. I was greeted by an incredibly enthusiastic, yellow-haired hippie woman (whom I’ve known for a number of years) who escorted me into the broadcast studio, where good Sir Wes sat at the console, minding the “ones and twos.”
Once there, I figured we’d take a few minutes to chat and compare notes and get a general idea as to how the hour was going to go down.
That’s not quite how it happened.
Unlike my days in radio when you could have “a face for” it and it not be an issue, I found myself suddenly thrust into the internet age of broadcast radio. The studio is set with a number of cameras that stream from the moment the announcers take the air at 6 am and don’t stop until they sign off at 9. From the moment you step in the studio, you’re technically “live and on the air” to an audience that is not only able to see and hear what happens on the air and off, but who can (and very much does) interact with the host via the chat on the live stream. This “G.G. Family,” as they call themselves, is a huge part of this show, and one I would have likely missed the impact of had I only been listening to the broadcast.
So, I jumped right in with them like I’d never left my microphone, and talked about music, our beloved magazine here, and our Best of SWLA awards. We actually stumbled onto a little story that has been an ongoing thing on the show that specifically concerns Lagniappe Magazine.
As it turns out, a little play on the words to a famous Dr. Hook song has had them thinking about us for some time …
Stormi: Well, we kind of started this thing a while ago. So, we made it on the cover of the Thrifty Nickel a little while back. We said that that was our starting point, but we wanted to build up to being on the cover of the Lagniappe. So, we started, I guess, a sort of petition with the little joke “we take all kinds of pills, they give us all kinds of thrills, but the thrill we’ve never known is the thrill that’ll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the, well, the Lagniappe Magazine!” So, it’s a goal and the listeners have been very supportive (laughs).
Not only did I discover that charming little tidbit, but we decided to do something kind of cool. Since we had the G.G. Family all tuned in, Wes suggested that we start the interview on the air and let them share in a bit of that process. Sounded fine by me, and during our second break on the air together, we jumped right in …
Justin: For me, having a background in radio, I love the medium and the interactive nature of a multi-host show. And that’s really implicit when it comes to morning shows … So, what about all of that do you think makes radio a continuously viable format for you as in, what do you enjoy about getting up and doing this and what makes it important and something that is still embraced by the listeners out there?
Wes: For me, radio has really changed. I got out before and then I came back in. In the good old days, you would say your part, turn your mic off and that was it until you turned the mic back on. And now with the cameras and live feeds, it’s everything you say and do. So when you start, you’re on for three hours straight.
The background of what we do — it’s called the Generation Gap for obvious reasons. I’m the old guy and she is the young one. We’re from different generations. But we had the same interest in the same music, so it makes for a great back and forth with each other.
Stormi: Music has always been my escape and my love. It’s an escape for people and it brings a smile to your face. It can bring you back to a happy moment in your life. And that’s why I always think that radio is still important, because you always have that with you when you’re going to work or, these days, just about wherever you are, because you’ll always have that music to lift your mood, or those (on-air) personalities or whoever is on the radio to help turn that frown upside down and make your day a little bit better.
Justin: And for the listeners?
Wes: We can tell (The Generation Gap) is getting out there. We’re out around town … They don’t recognize me; I look like any other white, bald-headed guy (laughs). But Stormi has a unique voice and personality and people will recognize that voice and say “You’re Stormi? You’re on the radio?” And other people will ask me “Is Stormi for real?” (Laughs). And yes, she is. This is not scripted, so … But yeah, they really do respond to it.
With actual chat time on the air being short, we wound down the show with Stormi giving her signature sign-off, “You can change the world with a smile at a time,” and the three of us settled down into the now-quiet studio to pick up what we’d only just begun.
Justin: Let’s start with the show itself. How old is The Generation Gap now?
Wes: It’s just over a year old now, by only a couple of weeks, in fact. And that’s from the point that it was just her and I. There were three people at one point, but we’ve been doing it like this since last October.
Stormi: Yeah, we did that for only a couple of weeks. But the way it began is that he had actually asked me to come in for an interview. He found me on Facebook and liked how I lived the hippie lifestyle … I’m only 30, but I acted like I was from his generation. so he asked me for an on-air interview to just talk about music and just … try to be interesting, I guess (laughs). I came in that day and he asked me to stay on, just out of nowhere. And at first, I was like “Umm. No, I can’t really do ‘up at 5 am every day,’ but I’ll hang out for a few days and see how it goes. I made it through, I think, only one more day, and I was like “OK, I’ll do it.” I was just hooked.
Wes: I was doing a Sunday night oldies show just like I used to on LA99 and there was a point that this station went through some big changes very quickly, and there were a number of us old retired DJs who were willing to come in and help. In that time, the morning show host decided to move on, and that left a hole, and I was like “Eh, OK. I’ll do it for two months or so, max.” So, I did mornings solo and it was fine, but I was getting tired of it.
So, we got Stormi on. She’d never been in radio before, and even she didn’t think that her voice sounded good enough for it. Nobody thinks their voice is that good, though. So, I asked her to come on. And since then, just the camaraderie and the mixture we do … It’s amazing how we finish each other’s sentences. And none of it’s scripted. People like to tell us that it’s scripted, but you can’t write this stuff! It’s fun again. It made radio not a chore anymore. Just fun.
Justin: How long have you been in the business, Wes?
Wes: Well, I left for a while and came back; but 14 years then and two now.
Justin: For all those years, we didn’t have a public radio station here in LC. I remember even hearing talk of bringing one back to McNeese when I attended many years ago. How long has KYBS been on the air now?
Wes: Probably about five years now, I guess.
Justin: So, looking at your dynamic in how you two relate and where you differ, do you think that resonates with the audience in any particular way, being that you seem to have the tools here to reach both of your respective generations with this great older music? Does that say anything to you about where music has gone today and anything about the younger generation being able to embrace some of this timeless music?
Stormi: We have a 9-year-old listener, Skyler, and he called in the other day and answered the trivia question about The Guess Who! I was like, “How did you know this?” So, we range through all ages that know this music. I feel like the music of the ‘60s said something, and music meant something then and in the ‘70s. All of those songs had a reason behind them, and were about that specific time, and a lot of it you can still relate to today.
Wes: Well, with different ages, you’ve got younger people that will be tuning in for Stormi, and they then say that the music is good, and they start listening to it. And even for those who tune in for me, that’s mostly the older generation, they are just as excited about younger people getting into and enjoying this music as I am.
Stormi: That’s actually one thing I have to do — is prove myself a lot. A lot of people will call in and try to act like I don’t know anything. They’ll be like “Oh, you don’t know about this or that …” and I really do! Sometimes I’ll just play it up like, “oh, OK,” but, yeah, I do get tested quite a bit. But I really do know and love this music. My thing was, growing up, my last year of middle school, I came across the Woodstock documentary on TV and I just fell in love with it and everything that it was about is pretty much all I’ve listened to since (laughs).
Wes: You know, when we’re talking about music and Stormi plays it off, or even when we’re just talking about anything, they love that. She’s the entertainment, I’m just nuts and bolts.
Justin: It’s almost a Penn and Teller dynamic. Penn is the big boisterous personality and showman and Teller is the technical magical master of the two. But there are certainly ways to make those dynamics work really well. But I think that has a lot to do with that old concept of “personality radio.”
Wes: Back in the days when KLOU was the one, people could name every DJ on the air and know their personalities: people like Ron Riley and Rob Robin. But that eventually went away, and everyone turned into time and temperature jocks or PSAs or one cart after another … That sucks. I don’t need that. I want to hear people really talk about the music; really saying something; or even if it’s just Stormi saying “Oh, I didn’t know that …”
Stormi: Hey, and I teach you too!
Wes: Oh, yes, you do! I remember one time somebody said to me, “You had her! She was wrong! Why didn’t you slam her?” and I thought, “Why would I? And accomplish what? She knows the music, ‘cause several times I’ll say that she’s wrong and look it up and … oops (laughs). And then I’ll hope she won’t remember until she says, “Do you remember when you said …” (laughs).
Stormi: See, he knows; well, he knows it all, but his main thing is the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and I’m more into ‘65 to ‘70. So we educate each other on both, because I like the early ‘60s music; I just don’t know as much about that as I do The Doors and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that. And he knows more about The Troggs and … whoever all those bands are (laughs).
Wes: And we will also look at the same song different ways. Take Joe Cocker’s “A Little Help from my Friends” … She’ll be like, “Here comes the scream,” and I’m like, “What scream?” (laughs). And then she tells me that he wouldn’t do it live sometimes because of that scream that I didn’t really pay much attention to.
Justin: Do you have any regular segments and features on the show?
Stormi: Well, we have themes each day. Monday is Mystery Monday, where we do a contest by giving you clues to a band. Tuesday is Twin Spin, where we’ll play two tracks from an artist back to back. Wednesdays are my favorite — Woodstock Wednesdays, where we feature a Woodstock artist with facts and music. So that’s my baby (laughs). Thursday’s are Tie-Day Thursday, where we give away tie-dyed Generation Gap t-shirts and Friday’s are …
Wes: Country Crossover. We feature songs that went out country and hit big over here.
Justin: Some Ronnie Milsap and the like, huh?
Wes: Actually, I haven’t done him yet, but I’ve done Willie and Waylon. You know, every generation went through a country period, and I blame it on John Travolta. He did Urban Cowboy, and everyone went cowboy. He did Saturday Night Fever, and everyone went disco. I am so glad he didn’t do (Texas) Chainsaw Massacre (laughs).
Justin: So, for those who out there who have not tuned in yet, what would you say to them to make them spin the dial over to 88.3 FM in the mornings?
Wes: She made a comment one day … “If you’ve never called a radio station, do it now” and someone did.
Stormi: And we got someone to call in time and he’s one of our biggest listeners and he calls all the time now. Our goal is to play music, of course, and give you that feeling; bring you back to whatever makes you feel happy. We live feed on Facebook every weekday morning from 6 to 9, but you hear me say at the end of every show — and this is the truth — “We’re just trying to change the world one smile at a time.” It’s cheesy but it’s true. That’s what we want to do — try and spread smiles. There’s so much negativity and bad in the world, and we just want to change it with smiles and music and just make people happy.
Wes: We give them three hours to come in and leave their problems at the door and enjoy the music. Our live feed friends have named themselves the “G.G. Family”
Justin: So they’re already identifying as fans?
Stormi: Yeah, but I don’t like to use the words fans, so I always say friends.
Wes: We have a certificate that’s the Generation Gap Fan Club, but “Fan” is scratched out and “Friends” is written in above it, so that welcoming atmosphere is part of it. We do a laid-back radio show. When I did the show by myself back at LA99, I made so many mistakes and I would just laugh. The CD would stop, and I’d say “Huh. Well, I’ve got to fix that, so you just talk amongst yourselves.” So, you didn’t freak out and you just fixed it. It was a very relaxing environment. And we’re doing the same thing.
Stormi: You know, I never imagined that being in radio was a dream of mine. It never once crossed my mind until I came and did it. And I guess it was a dream that I didn’t know I had because I am hooked. I’m beyond hooked.
Wes: There’s still a lot of people that don’t understand that we don’t get paid, and they’ll ask me, “Why on earth would you do that?” You’ve got to just love the music. And there is a certain element of not getting paid that allows you a little freedom to do things. If something happens, it’s not like you have corporate listening in and the phone rings and you’ve got them complaining about what you did. But it’s really because it’s what we love to do, and we hope everyone enjoys it at least as much as we do.
In a world of Abbot and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sonny and Cher and oh so many more, Wes and Stormi are hardly the biggest or best paid in the entertainment game. But what they are is a unique, dynamic and amazingly cohesive entertainment team, despite the litany of obvious “differences” between the two.
They have a natural and confident rapport that allows them both to focus on the task at hand — and that’s making sure everybody, the listeners, the streamers, and yes, even they themselves, are having a great time. There’s something great to be said for two people who are up with the break of day, doing work that people all over the world make careers of, and do it for no more compensation than sharing the music of years gone by; entertaining and engaging with their listening public.
So, to close, here’s the last word from Stormi:
“Well, my name is Stormi. I was born during a Hurricane in 1985 in Lake Charles. And I have had a love for life ever since that day.
“I met my husband my senior year of high school when he moved here from Tennessee with his dad Jo-El Sonnier. We married in 2009 in my dream wedding, which was ‘60s-themed, with Beatles music and all.
“As I grew up, I wanted to be everything under the sun, from an astronaut, painter, teacher, writer. But I ended up following in my family’s footsteps, and started working for our family company LRC Wireless.
“Hyper-ness and lots of energy runs in my family. So I had a lot of energy that I needed an outlet for. I searched; then just in the past year, two passions were discovered. And those are radio and yoga. You know my radio story, so my yoga story is I went to a class and fell in love with the practice so much that I wanted to teach it. So I took on teacher training, and I am now a certified yoga teacher, which makes job number three. I wake up at 5 am and go to radio from 6-9 am, then leave there and go practice and teach Yoga at Yoga Y’all. Then from there, I go to my family’s company.
“Many ask how I do it and the answer is I love it. I love all three places so much that it doesn’t even feel like I’m doing work or a job. It’s just my passions that I’m lucky enough to do each day of my life.
“Before I found my passion in radio and yoga, I had a lot of my energy that still needed to be put to use. So I found a outlet: something to focus on; and that was changing all the negativity in the world. And I came up with a plan to change the world one smile at a time. Smiles are contagious, and just spotting one can make another smile, which is a chain effect.
“And that’s actually one of the reasons I do radio. Wes knew that was my goal when he met me, and he said ‘Radio would be a great outlet for you to change the world.’ And he was right, because we get calls all the time from people expressing the smiles we help bring.
“One time, a guy called and said he saw a lady on the side of the road with a flat tire. He pulled over and helped her fix it and she asked, ‘What do I owe you?’ And he responded, ‘Nothing. Stormi told me I could change the world with a smile, so I just wanted to bring a smile to you. And all you have to do is keep that smile going and spread it to someone else.’”