Thanks to a lifetime of chronic restlessness, Brian Joyce’s resume reads like a skipping stone’s travelogue.
In April, Joyce, 35, took over as host of the early afternoon program at WGOW-FM 102.3. Long before that, however, he pursued a slew of interests that took him from North Carolina baseball diamonds and Boston comedy clubs to an investment banking firm in Dublin and a 40-acre farm near Prague.
Three years ago, after abandoning trial runs of truck driving, modeling and numerous other micro-career paths, the native Bay Stater discovered a love of radio. The journey to sitting behind the mike was a long one, but Joyce said he feels like he’s finally found his calling.
“I’ve never in my life wanted to be ‘Brian Joyce the Attorney,’ ‘Brian Joyce the Surgeon’ or ‘Brian Joyce the Cancer Researcher,’ “ he said. “I just wanted to be me.
“When I found [radio], it was like, ‘This is what Brian Joyce was supposed to be. This is what I was trying to be all along.’ ”
Joyce worked at WMFO-FM 91.5 in Boston before coming to WGOW. Now, he hosts “Live & Local,” an appropriately eclectic catch-all program covering topics ranging from local and national politics to pop culture and sports.
He also was selected to be one of several young talk-show hosts to speak on the New Faces panel at Talk Show Boot Camp, an industry conference to be held Nov. 16-17 in New Orleans.
Joyce took time last week to answer questions about what sets Chattanooga apart from other cities, the role comedy plays in his on-air work and why he once modeled for a Christian Halloween costume catalog.
Q: Who did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be a professional baseball player. That’s all I wanted to do. When that didn’t work out, it led to a million different other things because I really didn’t have a backup plan. [Laughs.]
Q: Do you think 10-year-old Brian would look at you now and go, “Yeah, I can’t wait to be him”?
A: I vividly remember — I forget what grade I was in, maybe second or third grade — we did one of those classroom exercises where they asked you who you want to be when you grow up. I said ‘talk-show host’ [because] growing up, I would watch Johnny Carson and Wil Shriner ... and it looked really cool and fun.
Q: What inspired you to follow so many career paths before settling on radio?
A: I thrive on being uncomfortable. I like being out of my element. I’ve been like that from a young age. Throughout my life, when I stay somewhere for too long and do something for too long, I start to get uncomfortable, and I want to go and move on and challenge myself with something else.
One nice thing about the media industry is that you never know where your career will take you. Twelve months ago I had no idea I’d be in Chattanooga, doing what I want to do. Twelve months from now or five years from now, I could still be here, or I could be somewhere else. I thrive on that instability.
Q: You were a comic before you got into radio. Why does radio seem like the right choice for now?
A: Stand-up comedy boils down to having six minutes in the attic of a Chinese restaurant to make people life. I quickly noticed that I like having a longer-form medium to express myself. [In Boston] I started doing radio spots to promote comedy gigs I was doing, and when I was on the radio, I’d say, “This is kind of cool.”
Really, the turning point was the 2008 elections. I was following them very closely. I was watching Fox News and CNN and MSNBC, and I saw all these talking heads talking and talking and expressing themselves about the issues of the day. That was where all my comedy came from. I literally said to myself, “I can do that. That’s what I should be doing.”
Q: Do you still do stand-up?
A: I haven’t performed live in probably a year and a half, [but] I still call myself a comedian because I feel like it’s the foundation of almost everything I do. I talk a lot of politics and pop culture and news items, but I’m always approaching those from the classically cynical, humorous prism that the comedian takes.
It’s like, “Let’s dissect this and try to sift through the double talk and absurdity and break it down.” I always assume, whatever I’m talking about, that there has to be some kind of hole in the theory or some kind of funny, ridiculous, ironic angle that people just aren’t thinking about.
Q: Where does Chattanooga fall on the spectrum of places you’ve lived? How does it measure up?
A: I love it here, but I’m the type of person who is open to any experience. The No. 1 question I’ve gotten since moving down here is, “Why would you come from a big, cosmopolitan city to such a small city?” I don’t look at things that way at all. Every adventure is as good as the next. Chattanooga is as good a city as any other. Why not move here?
Q: You once dabbled in modeling. Who did you model for?
A: Oh, man. When I was in college, I had an agent in Charlotte. I did a couple of commercials. I was a background model for a Coca-Cola model with [NASCAR racers] Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett, which was kind of cool.
I remember I did one where I was modeling for ... a Christian Halloween costume catalog, and I was modeling a Three Wise Men costume. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done, and I hope those pictures never surface at any time in my life.
Q: What do you get out of being on the air?
A: I like having absolutely no script. I like creating the script. That’s why I always loved comedy. I want three hours of airtime where I ... talk about what I want to talk about in the way I want to frame it. I love it.
Q: What is your philosophy for “Live & Local.” What are you obligated to cover by the station, and what do you choose to cover?
A: I have absolutely no obligations, for which I am very grateful to WGOW. [Program director] Kevin West listened to what I was doing in Boston, and he told me he wanted me to come down here and do the same thing. I started doing that in April, and ... six months later ... all he’s told me is that he loves what I’m doing, to keep doing what I want to do. That’s a huge credit to them because there are not a lot of people in media, especially radio, who take that risk, but it’s where radio needs to go.
Q: Your show has given you a ground-level view of Chattanooga. What has struck you the most about the city and its residents?
A: I don’t know if it’s true or not because I’ve been here such a short time, but I feel like people here are much more “civically engaged.” Any issue that personally affects them, whether it be a local issue like schooling or a national issue like taxes or even a new concert venue, everyone seems to have a thought and an opinion because they’ve taken the time to think about it.
When I tackle local issues, I think maybe it will be a popular topic people want to talk about, but I have no idea [because] I’m from Boston. I’ll pick a topic like that, like school vouchers, which we talked about two days ago and — bam — the phone lines light up. People have read up about it; they know exactly how it will affect their kids and grandkids, and they’ve thought about it. I find that great.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...