by Alex Cosper
Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is Mimi Chen, who hosts a show on 100.3 The Sound in Los Angeles and has worked at many other large market stations for years, including the legendary SF Bay Area stations KSAN, KFOG, KRQR and KOME. She is also a singer and TV/movie actress. Today we will talk about her media career and how she has helped independent musicians. Here's Mimi singing the National Anthem at an Oakland A's game when she was at KRQR (The Rocker) in SF.
Alex: You sure sound great singing the National Anthem.
Alex: What did you learn first - singing or radio announcing?
Mimi: Both actually.
Alex: Tell us how you got into radio.
Mimi: Well I was in college and a classmate wanted to work at the college radio station. So he dragged me along into it. I did it for fun mostly. The station was located in a dingy basement called Holder Hall. It was pretty nasty. The equipment was all outdated old equipment mostly donated by commercial stations so you get the idea. However, we did have great service from all the labels because the music industry was having its heyday. Consequently, I was a very spoiled radio DJ.
Alex: I understand you went to Princeton University .. was that where you learned radio?
Mimi: Yes. I was still in college when working at my first pro station ... that was WPST - Trenton. Then, for a lark, I sent WMMR a tape. I was shocked when they called me !!!
Alex: So what brought you to San Francisco, where you worked at all those great rock stations?
Mimi: After I finished school, I followed my boyfriend at the time to SF. I began knocking on doors. Having two big stations under my belt drew attention and I was hired by both KOME in San Jose and KSAN in SF. I started working at KOME and then KSAN called me. I really PO'd the people at KOME ... but I think they all understood. SF is a much bigger market than KOME and KSAN offered me a news job for the morning show with the caveat that I would fill in for either news and/or be a jock. Worked with two great guys in the morning, both of them are gone now. Stephen Capen and Jack Popejoy (who people may recognize from his work with KNX here before he passed).
Alex: How did you get the gig singing the National Anthem at the A's game?
Mimi: Oh ha! That was thru the radio station KRQR. I bugged our promotions director Denise St. John into bugging the baseball teams to book me !!! They both asked for tapes and passed the test, so I sang for a Giants game and an A's game.
Mimi Chen at KRQR in San Francisco
Alex: Out of all the rock stations where you worked, which one did you think rocked the most?
Mimi: KRQR the Bay Area Rocker hands down. I had a show segment called "Rock on the Wild Side," which I did at 11PM on Friday nites. I played super super heavy metal for that segment. At one point, a friend challenged me to play Slayer. So I did. According to him (because he was more of a metalhead than I was), it was THE hardest tune he had heard at that point in the world!! I'm pretty sure I blew out the mainstream rock audience at that point. But daaang, it was fun!!
Alex: I know you helped indie bands get airplay in LA at KSCA in the 90s .. What about in SF?
Mimi: I also had a local music spotlight in the Bay area. It also (like KSCA) aired at 11PM at night. It was actually more comprehensive than KSCA because not only did I play two songs, but had the artist in the studio for a quick Q and A.
Alex: Did you ever give early airplay to a band that went on to become well-known?
Mimi: Yes, I had Primus on before they were signed; they were pretty funny for their first interview. Very shy. Then later on, they became really chatty like any other well-known signed band.
Alex: I love Primus, so congrats on that one. Now let's move on to LA .. What was that transition like going from the Bay to LA?
Mimi: I went to work at KSCA. And it was run very much like a family. The place was almost like a house too, with cubicles and very small offices/studios. So it felt as if it was a small market station. Yet, it broadcasted into the number 2 market. I was surprised going to places and having people recognize me if they heard my name.
Alex: That was an adult album alternative (AAA) station. I remember it being pretty cool. How much freedom did you have at that station?
Mimi: It was good. I don't think I needed much freedom because the music being programmed was already so varied with an amazing dose of fantastic new music. It was quite the time. We were breaking new bands left and right.
Alex: Tell us about how you helped indie bands at KSCA.
Mimi: My boss at the time was Mike Morrison and he was very open to the idea of showcasing new local music. When we started airing the local spotlight, it caught on like a frenzy, the station received a ton of tapes. I actually listened to ALL of them. But it cut down on my listening to the new product. For that, Mike Morrison and Nicole Sandler were both amazing at finding great new songs, I left it up to them. I did have one artist, let's call it 'the legend' because this is what the record guy told me and I don't know if true or if he was just handing me a line. Anyway, his story was that he heard me play Jeremy Toback on the radio and because he liked what he heard, he signed him!! Lol.
Alex: Wow, that's great you helped him on that level. Now you run a show on 100.3 The Sound (KSWD) in LA called "Peace, Love and Sunday Mornings." The show name alone is pretty amazing. Tell us about that show.
Mimi Chen with KSWD/Los Angeles staff
Mimi: Ah, this is a show that is also created out of the spirit of fun. It's actually something that was created by several people, including myself and Dave Beasing, at the station, so I can't claim credit for the whole thing. I think it was Dave who came up with the idea I should call myself the Flower Child. LOL, I thought it was pretty funny. But it seemed to have hit a good note (so to speak) with people.
Alex: Your history is surrounded with good vibes. You yourself are a singer. How long have you been singing and what are your aspirations?
Mimi: Well, my mom was an opera singer, so if I couldn't sing, she would have thought there was a mix up at the hospital. I love to sing, just wish I had more opportunity to do so! At one point, I was very good friends with the producer Sandy Pearlman. He was one of the founders of Blue Oyster Cult. He used me as a backup singer for some of his recordings.
Mimi Chen with Leslie Spring
Alex: I understand sometimes you appear in public with a blue wig ... Is that true or just a rumor?
Mimi: Ah, yes, I actually have several wigs! If you can, look at my twitter page. @Mimi_The Sound ... I wear wigs for cosplay mostly though.
Alex: And on top of all that, you've been an actress who has appeared in TV shows and movies, as you are a SAG-AFTRA member .. What are some highlights of your acting career?
Mimi: Ah, the biggest show I was in, did not even air, sadly. But I can proudly say that at one point I was cast as a co-star for a primetime network sitcom show that starred Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O'Connell, Kal Penn and Chris Smith. Sadly, it was cancelled after two episodes. My episodes were later. I got into acting because just for fun, a while ago, I auditioned for and landed a role in a theater production called "Memoirs of a Ninja" - total chaos and fun!!
Alex: Your TV/films are listed on IMDB .. I think that's pretty impressive ..
Mimi: Why thank you !!!
Alex: Mimi, what do love most about your media career?
Mimi: There is an old saying, if you find something you love to do, you will never work a day in your life. That about sums it up! Gads, am I obnoxiously happy or what!? Heh.
Alex: And don't you do other interesting work on the side as well?
Mimi: It's a 180 degree twist from radio/acting/singing, but I co-founded a tech start-up called Cognitive Code with the better half.
Alex: Briefly, what does that tech company do?
Mimi: We'd like to be like any of those big unicorn companies that went from obscurity to unicorn (defined as a billion dollar company) quickly but it's taking us longer. This company specializes in conversational Artificial Intelligence. It's similar to Siri, but we feel there are some advantages to our tech, which we call Silvia - Cognitive Code.
Alex: Seems like last century was all about music and this century is all about tech. That's an interesting sounding venture. Do you consider yourself a techie?
Mimi: I can't consider myself a technie because I don't really code. I learned some Basic a long time ago but never progressed beyond the initial stages. I do consider myself a Tech Lover, though!
Alex: And that brings us into the future .. what would you like your future to be?
Mimi: Hmmm .. taking Cognitive Code into the unicorn stage! Getting more fun gigs in acting would be nice too. But the future I really wish to have is to get to the point (if CogCode were successful) where I could be a philanthropist and have the wherewithal to help people. That is my ultimate goal.
Alex: Those are amazing goals. Mimi, you've shared great info about your career in radio, TV, movies, music and tech .. Any closing thoughts?
Mimi: Ah ... to quote The Flower Child - "Make sure you go out and make the world a better place for those you love!"
Alex: Great advice !!! Mimi, thanks so much for this interview that appears on this page for the world to share .. http://www.playlistresearch.com/interviews/mimichen.htm
Mimi: Thanks, Alex.
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