Tuning in a new life
- Stephen Alexander
- Portland Tribune - Features
DJ Tara Dublin finds herself at a crossroads when KNRK drops her show
When Tara Dublin turned 40 in April 2009, she had the world on a string.
She was in her fifth year as the popular, midday DJ at KNRK 94.7 FM. Her sons, Jack and Ben, were ages 10 and 5, healthy and happy. After a failed marriage, she and her boyfriend, Kelly, were madly in love after four years together.
That day, more than 100 friends gathered to celebrate the milestone. One friend loaned her house for the party. Local band Derby jammed in the living room. Of course, for Dublin, the band played for free. Dublin walked around the party, glowing in a white, silver encrusted dress another friend had loaned her.
During a break in Derby's set, Dublin made a speech. She smiled and choked back a sob. 'I feel so lucky,' Dublin said.
Luck is like gravity, though. You cannot negotiate with gravity. Just one month later, Dublin walked into her boss' office after her radio show. She was told that because of corporate cutbacks she no longer worked at KNRK. 'I didn't just lose my job,' Dublin says. 'I gave my heart to that station. It was devastating. It was like death.'
The present economy has been especially difficult for people in the media like Dublin. However, we live in an age of technology where even after getting laid off, people who were once in the public eye can still reach their fans.That is exactly what Dublin, now 41 and still a well-known figure in the Portland music scene, has done with her website, blog.taradublinonline.com, a spot for many things music and other topics that is starting to pick up a huge following.
Dublin has also spent the past year writing a young adult book she is trying to publish. She is starting an acting career, with bit parts in movies and TV shows. She will be a volunteer DJ on the Internet radio station KZME.FM, which is trying to raise the money to get on Portland airwaves.
Her children are older, and the relationship with Kelly is still going strong. And, 2010 appears to be a year where Dublin's luck will return.
'I'm not going anywhere,' Dublin says. 'I have so much to offer. I want a venue to do that. Whether it's a writing venue, a performing venue. I hope to have that so I can continue to grow as a person.'
'Music was my escape'
Dublin grew up in Hazlet, N.J., a blue-collar town near New York City. Some of her first memories were driving in a car with her parents and listening to a radio station that played tunes from the '50s and '60s, which planted the seeds for a life devoted to music.
Growing up in Hazlet, she says being smart was not cool. Dublin and her friends were the 'weirdos' who wore black and listened to The Smiths and The Cure. Dublin spent a lot of time in her room, listening to music. She fantasized about what her life was going to be like when she left Jersey. Days when she would be an MTV VJ, or, if that did not work out, a radio DJ.
'Music was my escape, always,' Dublin says.
After high school Dublin spent two years at Emerson College in Boston before transferring to the University of Georgia. There, she met her future ex-husband who was a pre-med student. When Dublin finished her degree she moved to Augusta, Ga., while her husband finished his last year in medical school.
While in Augusta, Dublin got her first job as a DJ for Channel Z - 1993 was an exciting time to be in music. Kurt Cobain was still alive. Pearl Jam was new. For a year, Dublin thrived.
Then Dublin left the radio station when her ex-husband got a residency in New York City. In Manhattan, Dublin worked as a waitress at All Star Café, which was owned by sports stars like Shaquille O'Neal. After Dublin broke her arm and could not wait tables, the restaurant moved her into the DJ booth. Again, she thrived.
The job ended when her ex-husband's residency was over and the couple moved to Georgia. Dublin spent the next few years being a stay-at-home mom. She constantly felt sad and alone. 'It wasn't intellectually stimulating, to say the least,' Dublin says.
Lots of enthusiasm
In 2004, while living in Portland, a year after Ben was born, an opportunity came to work for NRK. Dublin grabbed it. Suddenly, a girl who says she felt invisible for the first 36 years of her life was in people's cars. Her opinions mattered.
'Tara has something in her DNA that puts music in a front and center position in everything she does,' says Ryan Wines, label manager for the Dandy Warhols.
Dublin's voice has been described as deep and soothing. But what made her so popular was listeners quickly discovering that she is smart and funny.
She developed a following. Donald Hobbs, a Tigard mailman, listened to her 'every day, every hour.' He adds: 'Her caring and thoughtful approach to music and radio would always leave me wanting more. I just enjoyed what she said, she was funny.'
Dublin's ability to take the personality listeners loved so much and put it into writing is the main reason her website has become so successful. Her writing has all the quality of a page-turning book. 'She seems to speak to a generation of lost moms,' says Byron Beck, who runs his own blog, www.byronbeck.com.
Dublin's personality, according to rock star/stage performer/friend Storm Large, is dynamic.
'She's like an M-80 of enthusiasm,' Large says. 'She's like a pint-sized pack of sparklers. Even though she's a mom, she somehow has the energy of a toddler.'
Dublin's website is rich with material from her colorful past. There is a heartbreakingly sweet story of being 16 and convincing a yet-to-be famous 19-year-old John Cusack to go out on a blind date with her after a prank phone call (she swears the story is true). Parents might relate to a story of an afternoon with her sons involving begging, mental name calling and finally a bribe of cupcakes for good behavior. And, of course, Dublin talks about music in entries like the laugh-inducing 'The Ten Songs I Hate the Most.'
Dublin also spent the summer after being laid off writing a young adult murder mystery set in a New Jersey high school in 1985. She dashed off the first draft of the 232-page book over a five-week stretch.
Things still are not perfect for Dublin. Being an unemployed single mother, she has called herself a statistic. But statistics are numbers. Anyone who has listened to Dublin on the radio, or read through her website, knows she could never be summed up by a number.
'No one really expected much from me,' Dublin says. 'No one ever expected me to do something great. And, I was like, 'OK, maybe I'm not meant for greatness.' But, inside, I was like, 'There's more.' '