The art beat in town: The Wacqueline Stern Show

Jackie Helvey and Valarie Schwartz in the radio station. (Staff photo ....
Jackie Helvey and Valarie Schwartz in the radio station. (Staff photo by Zhai Yun Tan)

Jackie Helvey was enjoying her breakfast at Weaver Street Market when a sweet melody drifted into her ears.

There was a young violinist serenading the morning crowd with his playing.

Helvey was interested. She walked up to him, handed him a card, and introduced herself.

She was Jackie Helvey, host of The Wacqueline Stern Show at WCOM (103.5FM) in Carrboro, an entirely volunteer-run community radio station that celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.

“I said I’d like for him to come to my show and play violin,” she said.

He was shy and gave excuses. But Helvey wouldn’t let it go.

“I said, ‘Look, if you can play in front of Weaver Street and impress me, you can come play on my show,’” Helvey said. “He came, and it was so great.”

The Wacqueline Show is almost as old as the radio station. Created by Helvey in 2007, the show focuses on introducing musicians, writers, painters, poets, and other artists to the Carrboro community.

Helvey and her co-host, Valarie Schwartz, entertain their listeners with good humor and art.

“The two of us, we just have so much fun,” Helvey said. “Usually one of us knows the guest, so it’s just like sitting down with somebody you know, asking them what they’re up to.”

Every week, the duo invites an artist to come to the show. But there are two requirements.

First: A musician will have to perform live; an painter will have to showcase his/her work; a poet will have to recite his/her writing. Bands like Holy Ghost Tent Revival have had to run to retrieve their instruments at Helvey’s demand.

“Don’t tell me your guitar is broken,” Helvey said. “If you want to appear on my show, you have to sit in that seat and play your music.”

Second: Humor is a requisite—the guest must be entertaining.

“The thing I hate is when somebody really serious comes on,” Helvey said. “It doesn’t make for good entertainment. So I try to right away say something funny and make them laugh because I don’t want it to be dry.”

She once had three poets in the show, whom in her description, made the room “somber.”

“I said ‘You have to loosen up a little bit! Say something funny! You poets are too dry,’” she said. “They played along with me, so it became an entertaining show.”

The show is popular. Visiting musicians at Cat’s Cradle email Helvey to appear in her show before their performances; the show is recorded and broadcast on The Peoples Channel and Durham Community Media in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham.

Helvey and Schwartz still emphasize on the flexibility and simplicity of the show.

“The freedom of it is that if I decided that tomorrow night I want to do something different, I can,” Helvey said. “There are no restrictions.”

For example, Helvey invited a wrestler from The Station to appear on the show last week.

Schwartz asked Helvey: “What does that have to do with the arts?”

“I said: ‘I can interview anyone I want,’” Helvey said. “It’s about entertainment, although I do lean towards more actual art.”

Mistakes are also a common occurrence. Sometimes they forget to turn on the mic, sometimes they forget to record the sound.

“Neither of us take it too seriously; we screw up all the time,” Helvey said. “All you can do is just laugh it off.”

The duo met 17 years ago in an event, when Valarie was a writer for Chapel Hill News, and Helvey was a website designer.

Schwartz had just published a book and was looking for a website designer, so she met Helvey for a beer. When she found out how much it cost to host a website, she gave up on the idea. But the friendship remained.

“We kept drinking together,” Schwartz said.

Then Helvey asked Schwartz to host the show with her four years ago.

“I was thinking, every Friday I’ve got to go do a show,” Schwartz said, to which Helvey laughed.

“Like she’s got a social life!” Helvey replied. “If anything, this show guarantees that we get to go out and get a beer once a week.”

That has remained a habit of theirs.

Every Friday evening at 5 p.m., an hour before the show starts, Helvey and Schwartz will meet for a beer at downtown Carrboro, most often at Armadillo Grill.

At ten minutes to six, they begin heading toward the radio station in front of The ArtsCenter. They’ll start by playing songs performed by musicians they’ve featured in the past, then they’ll move on to the weather report and an update of arts-related events in town. The last 14 minutes or so will be spent interviewing the guest.

Getting guests has never been a problem for Helvey. She was part of the Carrboro arts committee for 13 years. She is also one of the founders of the Carrboro Music Festival and Film Festival.

“I have no problems getting musicians to appear on my show, because for the last 20 years, they’ve been seeing my name associated with the festival, so everybody knows who I am,” she said.

Helvey is a popular figure in town.

Named Hometown Hero twice, Helvey also has the first week of May 2011 named after her. Her involvement in the local community is also why Jay Miller of Shared Visions Foundation financially supports her show.

“I’ve heard her being called the ‘Queen of Carrboro,’” Miller said. “She’s just a really community-minded person who is involved in a lot of good things we appreciate, so why not help her out a little bit? Valarie used to be our neighbor too.”

Underwriting the program only costs $10 per month. Despite of the low cost, Miller said its impact is bigger.

“It just gets people more aware of what’s going on and what they can do to support the community,” he said. “It motivates people to be more active and community minded.”

So how did Helvey come up with the show’s name?

From online dating.

“I was on a dating website and I named myself Wackie Jackie,” Helvey said. “One of the guys in there started calling me Wacqueline. I thought it was so funny! Since Howard Stern does Radio One TV, I’ll become Wacqueline Stern.”

Jackie Helvey and Valarie Schwartz on air at WCOM in Carrboro.
Jackie Helvey and Valarie Schwartz on air. (Staff photo by Zhai Yun Tan)

Author of the article

"Nat" is a staff writer for the Carrboro Commons. She is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.