By Judith Salkin
When Rich “Da Coach” Gilgallon signs off his self-named show today (July 18, 2013) at 6 p.m., he’ll head over to the Escena Lounge for a couple of cool drinks, some conversation and hugs from his listeners.
Lots of hugs. The good-bye kind, with an extra pat on the back and a good squeeze, too, for luck.
Since Dec. 26, 1997, Gilgallon has kept the valley on its toes on his on Newstalk 920 am KPSI talk shows, first on his sports show and more recently as the local conservative voice.
Now he’s heading back to his beloved Boston. “I feel a little like that (Nik) Wallenda guy,” the 58-year-old Gilgallon said over the weekend. “I have nothing secured, no job to go to. If I have to I can always go back to being a bartender.”
After a lot of soul searching, it was Gilgallon’s choice to go out on top here in the valley. “It’s time,” Gilgallon said. “My dad’s getting older and I miss my family.”
When he arrived in the Coachella Valley in 1997, he didn’t know anyone or, amazingly, which side of the Continental Divide Palm Springs was on.
“When I got the call to come out to talk to the station, I asked if it was on the East or West Coast,” he said. “It was early December and I’d just finished shoveling my driveway; as long as it was out of the snow, I didn’t care.”
Gilgallon had been to California once before, “when I was around 9, and we went to Disneyland,” he recalled, but had no idea what I was getting into.
Pretty much the same way he got into radio in the late 1980s in Washington, D.C.
Gilgallon, who had been the youngest elected parks commissioner in Framingham, Mass., at 18, had moved to the nation’s capital in 1980 to work in politics. Eventually dealing with the day-to-day life of a low level politician got to Gilgallon and he opted out work as “A sober bartender,” at Chadwick’s restaurant in the Friendship Heights neighborhood.
“It was a media hang-out,” he said of the popular restaurant. “We had guys from TV and radio there all the time.” Including the GM of WMZQ, a DC country station. Never a shy guy and a longtime sports fan, Gilgallon pitched himself as a replacement when he heard the station was looking for a new sports guy.
“I’d never worked in radio,” he said. “But I knew sports and I loved the Redskins.”
In 45 minutes, he’d talked himself into an on-air gig. Gilgallon was hired for two 15 minute shows, Friday and Monday at 6:45 a.m., doing a pre- and post-game wrap-up for the Redskins and other sports news. For the next seven years, Gilgallon would close Chadwick’s at 3 a.m., grab a nap, do the show and be on his way home by 7 a.m.
In 1992, he was one of the first hires when WTEM, an ESPN-style sports station, hit the airwaves as the afternoon drive time host. “Two guys changed my life,” he said, getting just a bit sentimental about the WNZQ GM who gave him his first shot on-air and the GM for WTEM, who gave him his first full-time gig. “They’re the two angels in my life and I have no idea where either of them are today. I’d love to find them and say thanks.”
And then there’s Newstalk 920 and why his ties to the valley are so strong.
“This is a very cosmopolitan place,” he said. “We have people from all over here, and they’re very sophisticated. I’ve been here 15 years and that says something about the listeners more than me. This is a very intelligent market to work in, which makes it fun.”
The talk radio format is great for local stations. “It’s magic,” he said. “People like to feel that they have a way to connect with their community and I strive to connect with the listeners; they’re amazing people.”
But with three heart attacks under his belt, Gilgallon knows it’s time to reconnect with his hometown and family.
“God put a wall of pain on me,” he said. “It’s the kind of pain that’s hard to explain. The most I ever missed was a week, because I never wanted anyone else in my seat. I didn’t want them to sound better than me. It was all about protecting my seat! Now, it’s time for Boston to get the rest of my heart.”
So, if you want to say goodbye to Da Coach, and give him a hug to make the journey easier, make it over to the Escena Lounge at Escena Golf Club at 1100 Clubhouse View in Palm Springs at 6:30 p.m.