The film, from executive producer Edward Norton, provides a fascinating snapshot of the fall of 2008, a unique moment in history that comes alive thanks to the genuine curiosity, persistence, and humanity of its focal point, Clay Pigeon.
Five days a week, listeners to Jersey City’s WFMU rise to the comforting voice and gentle demeanor of morning man Clay Pigeon, who will soon become a celebrity of sorts with the release of “One October,” a documentary that follows the disarming radio reporter as he queries random passersby about their hopes, their dreams, and their relationship to New York City.
The film has remained largely unseen for a decade, but it will finally be released on Video On Demand and DVD on May 11, with a special showing at WFMU’s Monty Hall on Friday, May 18.
Director Rachel Shuman shot “One October” in the fall of 2008, just weeks before America would elect its first black president and find itself plunged into a devastating financial meltdown. The film, from executive producer Edward Norton, provides a fascinating snapshot of a unique moment in history, one that comes alive thanks to the genuine curiosity, persistence, and humanity of its focal point, Pigeon.
“I think a lot of that has to do with my small-town upbringing,” Pigeon said. “I grew up in Audubon, Iowa, which had about 3,000 people and was pretty isolated, about halfway between Des Moines and Omaha. … When you grow up in a little town like that, you had to talk to everyone. You chatted with anyone you met walking down the street. You waved to anyone you passed in your car. You had to develop your conversational skills because that’s how you survived in a small community like that. But I think I am a naturally interested person. I like to meet new people; I like to ask them questions.”
Pigeon spent much of his life bouncing around the country, working in radio and playing in rock bands, until he landed his first job at WFMU about a dozen years ago.
“I didn’t even know about WFMU until around 2005,” Pigeon said. “I was living in Milwaukee and I had a friend who knew (station manager) Ken Freedman, and he gave him a CD of the show I was doing at the time. Ken liked it and thought I’d be a good fit for the station. ”
Originally, Pigeon hosted “The Dusty Show,” a weekly talk show that focused on politics and featured man-on-the-street interviews.
“I was doing the show from Milwaukee at first, then just randomly met my wife and we wound up moving to New York City,” he said. “I wound up getting a crash course in New Jersey.”
A few years later, when he took over the morning show, politics had to take a backseat. Pigeon now spends every weekday morning, from 6 to 9 a.m., making his listeners believe that the day will be a good one.
“It’s kind of an oasis where we don’t talk about politics at all because there’s so much of that available the rest of the day,” he said. “Ken’s philosophy was that I should look at the show like a bunch of little 15-minute radio shows strung together because that’s the average length that most people listen in the morning. And the regular features of the show should happen at the same time every day because people set their internal clocks by that. I’m a lot more loose than that, so there’s been a lot of push and pull.
“I probably do cater to the imaginary listener who does listen to the entire three hours. That’s one of the different things I’ve brought to the show. I reach out to listeners by name and acknowledge the international listeners we have through the Internet, not just do the show for the people in New Jersey and Brooklyn and Staten Island who are getting up for work. I really like that personalization. … I try to bring a small town vibe to a big cosmopolitan setting. I think the world has gotten a lot more impersonal and people feel a little lonely out there sometimes, and I can brighten their world by making them feel part of a community.”
Pigeon wakes up at 10 after 4 every morning to reach the station by 6 a.m. (“It’s easier to get up that early when you like your job,” he said.)
But it’s after he leaves the air at 9 a.m. that Pigeon’s work day really begins.
“I take a lot of calls on the show every day, but I also do the kind of interviews you see in the film,” Pigeon said. “Only now I tend to do a lot of those on the phone instead of out on the street. But I do still go out and do street interviews.
“The morning show isn’t a talk show so it’s a lot more music-intensive than my old show, but the street interviews are definitely something I want to do more of,” he added. “I was a little leery that it wouldn’t work on a morning show when people are listening in their cars, but they’ve been very well received. They just have to be two and a half minutes long now instead of ten minutes.”
Despite WFMU’s reputation as a free-form station where deejays can play whatever they want, Pigeon’s role as the morning man is unique.
“All of the music I play on the show is on a laptop and input by various people at the radio station, including the music director,” he said. “That being said, there’s a ton of music there, and so I do pick the music from what’s available. There’s a bunch of categories from different decades. In some ways, I think my show is a greatest hits of all the shows on the station. A lot of the songs that are favorited on all the other shows wind up being played on the morning show, so maybe my show is that a little more accessible. It can be a gateway for people who aren’t ready for the full WFMU experience. We’ve generated a ton of new listeners through the morning show.”
Called “a small masterpiece of cinema” by Arts Fuse, “One October” should bring Pigeon even more listeners and new fans.