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Awesome Exclusive Interview: Robin Quivers of the Howard Stern Show

Radio legend and philanthropist visits Napa on May 6 to host a benefit for Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard program

A few weeks ago, I finally signed up for Sirius satellite radio in my car, and have spent most of my commute time since engrossed in the Howard Stern Show. I was a fan of the program in its terrestrial days, but lost touch when Stern and Co. made the switch to satellite. My recent reunion with the no-holds-barred radio host has been a happy one: Stern's 24-hour programming on satellite, though certainly not for everyone, makes for some of the most riveting radio I've ever heard. And I'm a huge fan of the medium.

So when I read that Robin Quivers, longtime news anchor of the innovative and controversial show, was coming to Napa for a fundraiser to benefit the East Bay's own Edible Schoolyard, I jumped at a chance for an interview. Quivers' 15 Foundation, a not-for-profit organization  dedicating to aiding worthy endeavors such as the United Nations Girl Fund, Boys and Girls Club of Miami Beach, New Jersey Seeds, FamilyCook Productions, and the Sylvia Center. On May 6 in Napa, Quivers will host a dinner at V Marketplace and concert by Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame legend Leon Russell at the Lincoln Theater. The event will benefit Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard program, as well as Connolly Ranch and the Mima Music Foundation.

Quivers, a former Air Force captain who has teamed with Stern since 1981, called me just after she went off the air following Monday morning's Howard Stern Show in New York.

PC: Hi Robin, it's a thrill to talk to you as I've been a fan of the show for a long time. Why don't we start with some information about the 15 Foundation, and how you had this idea to get it started?
RQ: The 15 Foundation came about from me becoming sort of cynical about the state of our country, and why it did not turn out to be the country I thought it was going to be when I was growing up.

I found that I was spending a lot of time complaining that things weren't being done to help the people who needed it most, and I was complaining about our leaders not stepping up to do the things that are most important. And then, I realized that I was being very cynical.

It's not about putting the responsibility on someone else to do what needs to be done, it's about you participating and making a difference. In an effective democracy, you have to participate and you have to get involved.

So, this was a call to me to get involved, and help the people I would hear about in stories only to briefly, people who are making wonderful efforts to help others. We tend to only talk about the people who do nothing, like Paris Hilton, or people who do very bad things. We don't talk enough about the heroes who are out there working tirelessly to help others.

PC: Since this upcoming event in Napa will benefit a children's nutrition program like the Edible Schoolyard, can you talk about what kind of information you were getting about food and nutrition as a child?
RQ: I think we have forgotten some of the stuff that we used to know. We ate certain things for a reason, not necessarily because they tasted good or that they were easy to prepare. We ate them because they were good for us. Our parents made us sit there and eat our vegetables.

Today, everything is about taste and flavor and convenience. People have forgotten to cook in urban centers, and kids don't necessarily realize that those chicken nuggets come from a chicken, an animal that clucks. Or that the hamburger comes from a cow. We have gotten very far from the land and the kind of knowledge it takes to get your vegetables in season, from farms that are close by.

PC: We're so lucky to live here in the East Bay. Right in our backyard we have the Gourmet Ghetto, with Chez Panisse and all the culinary offspring that has come from it. Have you visited the Gourmet Ghetto?
RQ: Of course! I love Chez Panisse! And I've visited the Edible Garden. I've been to the school, and seen the garden. What I find so impressive about that program is that not only have they proven that it can be done in one school, but they are making healthy lunches from scratch to serve the entire county.

The Alice Waters and students from the Edible SchoolyardEdible Schoolyard is an incredible resource, and its something that more people should know about. Because, across the country, everyone wants to do the right thing, but they also want convenience. And they too often go with what's convenient; the frozen foods, french fries and onion rings.

PC: Since recently signing up for Sirius, I've been reminded of the innovation in broadcasting that you guys have come up with over the years, particularly in the way satellite affords more flexibility for content and programming. How has working on such a groundbreaking program influenced your vision for the 15 Foundation?
RQ: (Laughs) On the show, we were just too stupid to know we were doing something we should not have been doing. We just pressed on in the face of adversity, and we’re still here doing it. It has always been our job to make people chuckle while they are stuck in traffic. The show has survived and grown, and technology has come on to assist us. So I don't know if the innovations of the show have helped create a vision for the foundation, other than the show has given me a platform to promote the foundation and help reach an audience.

PC: Something the show does that has always impressed me, is give attention to the "Wack Pack." You've managed to make celebrities of people whose speech impediments or physical appearances often make them outcast by society in general, let alone by radio and television programs. The other day I was listening to [Howard 100 news reporter} Lisa G's special "A Royal Waste of Time," in which she had five Wack Packers on to comment live about the Royal Wedding; their coverage was funny and sweet, and the perfect antidote to the drooling media coverage of that event.

RQ: Yes, that's interesting about the Wack Pack. It still surprises me that people don’t consider Jeff the DrunkJeff the Drunk with Howard Stern or Ass Napkin Ed or High Pitch Eric as part of society. We like to pretend that the Wack Pack doesn’t exist. I remember being at a Wack Pack event years ago, when George Bush Sr. was president, and thinking, George Bush does not even know that he's the president of Jeff the Drunk or High Pitch Eric.

You can’t change society unless you are really aware of what is in it. Too often, we act as if those people don’t even exist. And then, you can talk about removing their safety net in this almost clinical matter, without really recognizing what that will do to people.

PC: Since I have lately been listening the show so much, I've found that I need to turn it off from time to time, just to escape that microcosmic world, as fascinating as it is. I sometimes feel the same way about my work on Diablo magazine, which strives to cover the East Bay region as expertly as possible—but its important to see the bigger picture sometimes. Of all the people on the Stern Show, you seem to make the most effort to get out of town and go see the world, and then talk about it.

RQ: Well, most of the guys on the show are like the rest of the country—they don’t travel. I think its a big problem [Americans] have with the rest of the world—we just have not had that interface. We don’t do enough as world leaders, because we have not made the effort to go see the rest of the world

PC: How did you come to find such a fondness for the Napa Valley?
RQ: One of my dreams growing up, was to one day live in California. That was my dream when I got out of the Air Force. But, California is Los Angeles to people who grew up on the East Coast. And, a friend of the air force was talking about San Francisco and telling me, "Forget about Los Angeles! San Francisco is where you want to go."

So, when I finally got out of the airforce and headed west, I headed to San Francisco. I lived there for a year, and it was once of my most enjoyable years of my life. I heard about something called Wine Country and always wondered what that was.

About ten years ago, a lifelong friend of mine and I decided to take a vacation, and we picked the Napa Valley. And we had such a wonderful time, that we decided to go there every year. I love going, and look forward to it.

I love Redd, the French Laundry, and Bouchon. And, I've been lucky enough to make some friends up in Napa who make appointments with wineries that are not on the beaten path. Some of my favorite times in Napa have been sitting at the kitchen table with friends and winemakers.

PC: Your event this Friday features a concert by the great Leon Russell. I got to see him at Napa's Uptown Theatre last year, just before his album with Elton John was released. How did you hook up this musical legend for your benefit?

RQ: We were just lucky. We were looking for a musician who would generate some excitement, and Leon Russell is having an incredible year. I knew some friends of his management and we were able to book the date. I can't tell you how excited I am, I've always been a fan, and I've never been able to see Leon Russell in concert. I can't wait.

Robin Quivers and the 15 Foundation will host a benefit dinner at V Restaurant in Yountville on Friday, May 6, followed by Leon Russell's concert at the nearby Lincoln Theater. For tickets and more information, go to 15foundation.org/napa.