The last word

“I am very disappointed.”

“This is not what I expected.”

I have, on occasion, heard the subject of story complain about the photo I made for the newspaper. In this case, Lynn Levine was complaining that the photo we ran made her arms look fat. But she wasn’t talking directly to me. She was talking into a microphone and broadcasting her despair to tens of thousands of people listening to the highest-rated radio program in Central Florida.

Then again, it wasn’t really Lynn Levine talking. It was “Moira,” a loud mouth sidekick on the “Philips Phile” that Levine portrays. She had been the subject of a weekly feature I do called A&E Gallery that features people in the arts and entertainment fields. Moira was upset. It might be awhile before I find out how Lynn felt.

Lynn Levine before the start of the show.
photo by Tom Burton, 1998

I rarely edit film with thoughts of keeping the subject happy. My first priority is presenting an accurate and interesting story for the readers. I do keep the subject’s feelings in mind but I also have to temper that with the knowledge that, in some cases, the subject will never be happy.

The difference this time is that a radio personality will have the last word. They can use their medium, where they control the microphone, to blast the photographer for amusement and entertainment. After all, jabbing at the town’s big media outlet – The Orlando Sentinel – is always good for ratings.

The photo that we ran shows Levine sitting across from Jim Philips, the host of the show. They are in the middle of the banter that drives the program and I thought the photo showed an aspect of their relationship. Typically, I might have chosen a tight face shot of “Moira” as she screamed into the microphone but for A&E Gallery, I try to make the photos a little less predictable.

And although Levine might be surprised, I did edit with her arms in mind and I don’t think anyone else would have noticed if she didn’t make such a fuss. And I seriously considered a photo of her in the office before the show, looking like the friendly and cute Lynn rather than the coarse and combative Moira. But since we had never shown her in the paper before, it seemed more important to show the radio personality rather than the woman behind the scenes.

Moira did say on the air that she really like the short story which is reprinted below. In fact, she said I should stick to writing and shouldn’t mess with the pictures. Ouch! It almost made me want to dial in to become a “long-time listener, first-time caller.”

Tom Burton

Originally published on April 30, 1998 on digitalstoryteller.com


Jim Philips and Moria on the air.
photo by Tom Burton, 1998

A shtick that stuck

Almost 15 years ago, a college-fresh reporter interviewed with Jim Philips. The radio news director didn’t have a job for Lynn Levine but he said she could call back. She called a lot.

“I hired her to get her to stop talking,’ Philips says dryly during a commercial break of his Philips Phile afternoon talk show on 104.1 (WTKS). The plan didn’t exactly work. Today Levine is across from Philips, sitting on her tuchis, ready to start yakking again.

Levine is better known as “Moira,” the chatty yenta sidekick with a Bronx accent who plays den mother for four hours of radio schmooze. Moria’s chutzpah keeps a lid on cockamamie ideas as shed holds her own in a business of deep- voiced men.

Moira, using plenty of Yiddish slang, conducts a listener poll called the “Oy Vey Survey” and on Fridays is the expert for “Ask a Jew.” She sounds like a bossy, Jewish grandmother.

“Most people think I’m 60 years old and 200 pounds,” says Levine, a woman who is only a smidgen past the halfway point of both figures. But she can live with the misconception. “They pay me to talk! I can’t believe it,” she says.

Moira wasn’t always in Levine’s career plan.

“I never would have dreamed about doing this shtick” when she was a reporter, Levine admits. But when her radio station changed formats she found herself looking for work. She had dinner with Philips, who was by then a good friend and a big macher with his own talk show. He needed someone to read the news on his show, but did she have a gimmick?

“What would you do? Jewish-Mother-of-Two News?” Philips asked her, says Levine. Of course! “Moira” started reading the “Lah Dee Dah” news in 1994. One the air, Moira is borderline combative with Philips and motherly stern with Brian and Oddo, the twentysomethings on the show. Her catch phrases are often argumentative, all delivered with roller-coaster inflection; “Shut UH-up . . . That is not true . . Stop it!”

This dysfunctional family wouldn’t work if Philips and Levine didn’t get along off the air. The Moira bit worked immediately because they had been friends first.

“We didn’t have to learn to like each other,” says Levine of their on-air relationship. It’s become a perfect situation for kibitzing.

Tom Burton

originally published in the Orlando Sentinel in April, 1999.

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