By Lisa Morgan
There are few voices, in radio or otherwise, as iconic or energetic as Rich Gilgallon’s. Dubbed “Da’ Coach” by his first station manager in 1987, Gilgallon has tickled desert ears and hearts with his sports and political musings, along with his ecstatic love for music for the better part of the last 17 years. This Friday, August 14th, Da’ Coach will walk into the studio of KPSI 920 AM, and like all weekday mornings prior, dawn his trusty headphones, start up the desert’s local political engines at 9 AM sharp, and with hand over heart, begin his daily broadcast with a riveting version of our Nation’s Anthem. The next few hours will be filled with passionate, political commentary, spawned from a deep love for his country, with musical interludes thrown in at the breaks, as the big voiced radio veteran sings right along with them. Sponsors will get the Gilgallon plug, a priceless thing in this market as no one can do it better. Then, as he has done for almost 2 decades, he will sign off at high noon, and turn the airwaves over to the national news service. This Friday, however, as he pushes himself away from the board, he will take off his headphones and set them down for the very last time at KPSI AM. Changes at the radio group’s programing have all their local AM radio hosts saying goodbye. But don’t you cry for Coach. This Scranton, PA born piece of work is more than just a huge, familiar voice here in the desert; he also happens to have one of the biggest, most tenacious hearts. Gilgallon knows how to take his knocks and still find a way to come up grinning.
How it all started:
“I was hired from behind the bar,” Coach laughs. “I was bartending and had only been sober for one year. Before sobriety, well – that’s a whole other story. Frank Burn, the general manager of the local country station was at my bar there in DC. Jeff Bostic, his sportscaster, was moving, and Burn needed a replacement. I leaned over the bar and said, ‘I can do that job.’ ‘This is not Scranton,’ he says to me. ‘This is Washington!’ I knew he was looking for another former Redskins player for the job, so I told him, ‘Everybody in this town has a former Redskin doing their sports. Why not be the first station to bring it from a fans perspective?’ Frank Burn called me a couple days later. ‘I haven’t slept in two nights since we talked,’ he says. ‘Why don’t you make a tape, and we’ll see what you got.’ As it turns out, they liked the tape, but Frank still had to sell it to the Viacom brass. So he asked me again, ‘If I gave you this job, are you SURE you could do it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’ Days later, he calls me from New York, ‘Are you SURE you can do this job?’ I said, ‘YES! I can do this job!’ This time, Frank says, ‘Good, ’cause you got the job.’ First thing I thought to myself was, ‘What did I just get myself into? I can’t do this job!’ Funny thing though – to NO FAULT OF MY OWN, Frank burn was fired days after I signed the contract. I have not seen or heard from him since. He was the one that named me ‘Da’ Coach’! For several years, I would close the bar in the wee hours of the morning, nap in the studio, wake up and get on the radio, get some sleep, pull my shift at the bar, and repeat.”
“In ’92, I got a call from a guy named Scott Meyer. He said, ‘I heard you on the air this morning. Can you come to my hotel?’ I spoke to him for about 40 minutes. He was set to be the new station manager at the first ever, all sports radio station in DC, and was putting his staff together. He wanted me for the afternoon drive and it was going to add a couple of extra zeros to my paycheck. Funny thing though, TO NO FAULT OF MY OWN, Meyer had a falling out with the station manager just after I signed the contract, and I have not seen or heard from him since. It’s funny how those two guys, Frank and Scott, with whom I spoke to for maybe a total of 80 minutes, changed the course of my life forever.”
“In ’97, I was shoveling snow in 10 below zero weather, when a call came in from one of the radio stations (KXPS) that ran my syndicated show, asking me if I wanted to come out here to the desert. I was on a plane December 26th, and ultimately made my home at RR Broadcasting’s 920 AM. I did sports for years adding my own personal flavor…you know, throwing in a few political spins on things, but during the presidential campaign, I was no longer content to talk about batting averages – not when I felt our country was sliding down the drain.” Somehow over the years, Coach has managed to maintain love and respect in our community, even across political lines, and his presence on KPSI 920 AM will be deeply missed by many.
How Coach Almost Lost Heart, Literally:
“I was on the 16th tee at PGA West. It was pouring down rain, and I started feeling pain in my chest, but played through it. As it turns out, I birdied on 17 and made par on 18, apparently, in the middle of thrombosis. I had never experienced anything like it; I figured I was coming down with a chest cold. I drove myself home, and was sitting on my bed when out of nowhere, I heard a voice say, ‘If you want to die, roll over.’ The light bulb went off! I tried to dial 911, and of course my phone wouldn’t work. So I got in my car, and I drove to Eisenhower in torrential rain, going about 12 miles an hour. A guy behind me was laying on his horn trying to get around me. I remember sitting there holding my chest thinking, ‘If I have to get out of this car in the middle of a heart attack to kick your ass, I’m just the guy who will do it!’ It was right then that I realized that the one thing that stands between us and eternity is a wall of pain. When you hit that wall, you KNOW it’s not a chest cold. It was a kind of pain like no other, and I truly thought that John L. Sinn Road was the last street sign I was ever gonna see. I was in intense pain waiting for help in the lobby, when a little 5 year old girl with a Raggedy Anne doll came over to me and asked, ‘Are you alright mister?’ I said, ‘Yes, honey. I’m alright. Thanks for asking.’ That little interaction got me to calm down. I was never more grateful for my relationship with Jesus Christ than I was right then. I felt an amazing sense of peace, realizing that if the ceiling I was looking at was the last thing I saw, then I would simply be absent from the body, but present with the Lord.”
“Two heart attacks and 8 stints later, I’m still here, so don’t think for a minute I’m out for the count now.”
What’s Next for Coach Gilgallon?
“I don’t know what the future holds,” says Coach, “but I know Who holds my future.” As for those who know and love Coach, a tribute concert is being held for him at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert this Sunday. Many of the artists whom he has supported by plugging their shows or by putting them and their music on air, will be playing for him this Sunday out of gratitude. The show will run from 4pm to 9pm at a “We Love Da’Coach” event at Schmidy’s Tavern. The list of guest performers includes the world renowned British rocker, Terry Reid, who toured with the Rolling Stones during the “British Invasion” and continues to etch his indelible mark in rock and roll. The “Pied Piper of Piano”, Andy Cahan, who has collaborated with The Turtles, Jimi Hendrix, Gram Parsons, Little Richard and Harry Nilsson (to name a few) will be performing, as well as the multi-award winning John Stanley King. Other performers include Coach favorites from the Doug Phillips Band, R Buckle Road and The Brosquitos. The Coach himself may even get up there and sing along. He has also hinted that he will be making a very important announcement regarding his future plans at the event as well. One thing is for sure, the Coach is not going down any time soon. When he does, rest assured he’ll be going down singin’, swingin’ and smilin’.
For more on Rich Gilgallon’s story, go to his YouTube link, Rich Gilgallon Choose Life.