www.INSIDERADIO.com Thursday, Ju
ly 5, 2007
McDreamys Numbing Nightmare
Dramatic life-altering paradox was the hook for a spate of low-budget, poorly-acted black &
white films that became (very) late night insomniac
-geared television filler.
Familiar plotlines included a sultry self
-centered starlet awkwardly learning how to cope after
becoming brutally disfigured; a pianist or violinist losing the use of his or her hands; or a
brilliant scholar developing amnesia.
Authenticity elevated the genre of several early-1970s sports films, including Brians Song,
starring James Caan as Bears running back Brian Piccolo who died of cancer at 26 and Its
Great To Be Alive with Paul Winfield portraying great Dodg
ers catcher Roy Campanella,
paralyzed after a car accident.
Arguably the granddaddy of them all though is 11-time Oscar nominated 1942 classic Pride of
the Yankees, featuring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, responsible for uttering one of movie
historys most quoted lines, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Disregard sometimes laughable baseball portrayals in a film boasting Babe Ruths self-portrayal
and focus on the real-life tragedy.
Many hardball historians concurred Gehrigs
2130 consecutive game string would never be
broken and for 56 years they were right; then Baltimores Cal Ripken shattered it in 1995.
Fans of the national pastime will remember Gehrig for The Streak; the #4 on the back of his
pinstripe uniform; flashy
defense; beautiful left-handed swing; and the fact he was the day
in/day out heart and soul of the Bronx Bombers, highly worthy of his Iron Horse dubbing.
By stark clinical contrast, the medical community only knows Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig as a man
who in 1941 died 17 days shy of his 38
birthday of a disease marked by gradual degeneration
of the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
(ALS) is the technical name for the insidious condition known by
many as Lou Gehrigs Disease.
Especially if youre an on
-air radio talent, pray you never get afflicted with ALS.
At virtually this time last year (
2006) Charles McPhee, a legion of loyal radio listeners as
The Dream Doctor, was diagnosed with ALS.
It was four months earlier when McPhee first began noticing his voice would easily become
hoarse and tired.
Soon thereafter, he began slurring some of his words.
Conditions worsened in May, leading him to seek medical help.
One can only imagine the surreal nature of receiving the diagnosis and McPhee acknowledges,
Its one of those moments where you have a private conver
sation with yourself. You cant
believe it is really happening. I knew I was in for quite a ride physically and emotionally. Theres
a lot of shock. I still hold out hope ALS can be beaten and havent really accepted the popularly
portrayed death sentence.
Naively optimistic he was experiencing something as simple perhaps as stress, McPhee
proclaims if he knew then what he knows now he wouldve sped as quickly as possible to a
neurologist. Many doctors lent credence to the possibility of an emotional cause but thats a
bunch of nonsense, he remarks. You work in the radio business and theres a lot of pressure
to perform. Looking back, it is obvious [I was] suddenly losing control of my vocal ability and
there was a neurological cause.
wo-dozen affiliates carried nightly and weekend Dream Doctor long-form
programs and/or a short
Exactly two months after McPhee received the dreadful ALS diagnosis (8-
23-2006), the plug was
pulled on all three versions. Listener response was truly amazing and very heartwarming, he
emotionally states. To this day, I receive many emails and handwritten notes. People offer their
support, prayers and include pictures of their family. That is the magic of radio. You actually do
achieve the level of intimacy with your listeners.
Several Cox-owned ACs and Hot ACs enjoyed success with what was originally a Santa Barbara
based program, so in 2003 Cox Radio Syndication introduced The Dream Doctor Show for
teful to the shows most recent distributor McPhee states, Through George [Oliva], I
was able to have this big platform and communicate to so many people. In a certain way, it
allowed me to achieve [many] of my professional goals. We had a very good show and people
really enjoyed it. This unfortunate event came along but, at least, I was able to have that
connection with the audience.
It is typical that one of every four ALS cases is Bulbar Onset, which happens to be the type
Therein is the cruel irony for a radio talent though since Bulbar Onset impacts the neck and
shoulders prior to attacking the voice.
Considerable diaphragmatic support must be utilized but McPhee doesnt experience physical
pain in his conve
rsation. Im just glad I can talk, he assuredly states.
Chatting with a hearing
-impaired individual can be one of the most heart-tugging and downright
emotional experiences one can have.
Theres audible frustration and overcompensation in the persons voice with the end result often
sounding like someone awakening after extensive oral surgery.
While not completely analogous, that roughly represents McPhees current voice pattern.
Its a far cry from when he was on-air yet the highly personable McPhee is humble rather than
bitter. Im fortunate to be able to communicate with my family and friends. If you lose your
voice, you enter into a whole new realm of disability. It is perhaps much harder than a physical
disability. Voice communication is ever
ything. Youre quick-thinking and active [so] mentally,
youre still 100%.
Usually unintentional and owing to nothing more than ignorance, people can be cruel when
encountering those with voice imperfections, a fact known all too well by the often victim
impaired. People think you are mentally slow [but] Im pretty confident in my
intelligence, notes McPhee who holds a Princeton undergraduate degree and a Masters from
USC. Believe it or not I [worked with an] ALS patient when I was treatin
g sleep disorders in
Santa Barbara. I didnt know too much about it but did have some familiarity and [was aware] it
is an awful, awful disease.
Powerless to help that particular individual, McPhee,
who began studying dreams when he was
19, explains, The only thing you can do is attempt to make the deterioration more
Still capable to live an independent lifestyle McPhee drives; goes to the store; and indeed does
virtually everything else he previously did.
Loss of fine motor coordination in his left hand and a little bit in his right is the only noticeable
or acute physical change. Im able to lift weights and exercise, he points out. Ive always
been a very healthy, active person and Im able to do [about four miles]
on my elliptical trainer.
This is my best offense. ALS is progressive so Im hoping it progresses slowly.
-intensive days call for him to thrice infuse antibiotics via an I.V. through
his right arm. The theory is ALS may be caused by lime disease [so] thats the treatment Im
pursuing, McPhee notes. I dont have the genetic form of ALS; theres none in my family. Only
2% of ALS is genetic and they dont know the cause of the other 98%. U
nfortunately, my days
are just not `normal. It makes you appreciate the simplicity of a hot cup of coffee and sitting at
desk to begin a productive workday.
Those between 40 50 years old are the most frequent ALS targets. Some younger people
however are also stricken. Id say 98% of the medi
cal community has given up on an ALS
treatment [so] it can be depressing, admits the handsome, mid-40s McPhee. Most medical
people think there is no cure and they dont even try.
Patients such as McPhee who desperately want to conquer ALS encounter doctors skepticism.
Even 66 years after it felled no less of an iron
-man than Lou Gehrig, ALS is an illness of which
very little is known. Im a student of medicine and have been my [whole life], McPhee proudly
states. The dream field was full of very sloppy and poorly executed work in research. I think I
did a tremendous amount to clean it up and make it more accurate. I find the ALS field to be
similarly in disarray. All the research is dedicated to understanding the genetic model. They can
recreate the illness in mice but less than 2% of ALS is genetic.
Debilitating illnesses create hardships on the patient as well as the rest of the family and
McPhee acknowledges hes been fortunate to receive marvelous support. Its funny beca
a radio talent, youre used to having people talk about you behind your back, he remarks. Part
of our training is that, when theres a crisis in the building, youre not supposed to upset the
talent when they do their show. Its a little bit like that with this.
-scenes domestic crises exist but his family doesnt want to burden him. I do know it
is difficult for them, McPhee tearfully notes. This is hard for my wife [Petra as well as for] my
two-year-old baby girl [Celia], who only knows I have an `owee on my arm.
Exploring with Petra a new house under construction, apparently the home in which the couple
would live, was a dream theme the well
-known Dream Doctor had several months ago. There
were some cobwebs and mayb
e a spider [in it], McPhee comments. The house needed dusting
but both of us were excited. I was carrying Petra in my arms like a groom carrying his bride
over a [threshold].
Suddenly an intruder moved down the hall toward McPhee and Petra at superhuman speed. As
he approached, outlined in black, I understood that he was death, McPhee comments. I picked
up my left foot and gave him a very strong kick just as he impacted on us and he disappeared.
Thats how the dream ended and McPhee believes theres a simple, albeit dark, analysis.
represented the threat of death coming upon us quickly [but] I was pleased I gave [it] a good
kick. It let me know I intend to fight.
Im not superstitious about dreams and didn't believe the
dream was a sign Id prevail in my battle. Instead, I took it as an important reflection that my
will and spirit were strong.
Disability dreams come when McPhee feels frustrated with his health and mirror those of others
with disabilities. People confined to wheelchairs often dream they can walk, he points out.
These dreams represent feelings of
goal accomplishment, and productivity, despite
When they are frustrated by their health, the disability can appear in their
dreams as a symbol of difficulty
advancing toward goals. So far my `healthy dreams
outnumber my `disabled dreams, which is an accurate barometer of my generally confident
Attempting to fully figure out ALS has completely consumed McPhees attention. Weve
up with cures] for polio, whooping cough and diphtheria; it may take five or ten years, but
someone is going to solve ALS, he declares. Im learning a tremendous amount about
biochemistry and neurology. In a weird way, it dovetails with a love of my former research on
dreams, as psychology and neurology continue to merge together.
Another famous and popular McPhee lives in the same basic San Fernando Valley section of
Los Angeles as the Dream Doctor but American Idol runner
-up (to Taylor Hicks) Katherine and
Charles are not related. I actually received some fan letters from people who assumed she and
I [are relatives] and promptly read them on the air. Petra and I are big fans and we bought
Katherines first CD. We look forward to her handlers allowing her to cut an older-
demographically targeted compilation, a la Diana Krall, which will really allow her voice to
shine. You can't work in radio and not be awed and jealous of voices like Katherine's and
[season six American Idol finalist] Melinda Doolittles.
Some who contract diseases like ALS can easily become distraught and give up although it is
crystal clear McPhee isnt at that stage. I dont want to spend all my time futilely fighting a
disease but Im still hopeful, he comments. Thats what keeps me moving forward. I [also]
dont want to be in denial, which is a powerfully psychological defense. I obviously know
something is wrong. For me, the jury is still out whether this thing is going to kill me [but] Im
hanging in there.
The once incredibly-active McPhee is adapting to a markedly limited degree of productivity yet
the person who comes f
rom a clinical background and whose goal was to de-mystify dreams,
adamantly states hes working very hard at getting better. Maybe its unrealistic, but thats
where I am. I think it makes you confront your mortality and instructs you not to postpone any
goals you want [to achieve]. It makes me very hungry for my health.
Much remains for McPhee to accomplish but hes painfully aware everything hinges on his
health. The thing I love most about radio is [the reaction Ive been getting from my former
listeners] and how intimate this medium is. Id like my friends in the business to know Im doing
alright and am busy with the new challenge. Im definitely in the fight.
A Dream Doctor ratings review in this space would not be very meaningful since the shows
have been off the air for almost a year.
Several affiliates carried Charles McPhees daily one
-minute feature while others the three-hour
weekday show and/or weekend program. Moreover some are in Continuous Measurement
markets; some in Spring
-Fall only; and a handful are in unrated markets.
Noteworthy though are Dream Doctor syndicator George Olivas comments which indicate
McPhees last book was
his strongest. Several stations broke a 10
-share for the first time ever
in his time period and most others at least quadrupled their ratings in the target demos, Oliva
remarks. Had Charles been able to keep going, I have no doubt our affiliations would have
continued to grow. Charles is an amazing man. His absence from the airwaves is a serious loss
Arranged by market size the following 21 stations cleared at least one Dream Doctor offering.
WCBS-AM/New York City
KUTR-AM/Salt Lake City
WFTL-AM/West Palm Beach
KBOM-AM/Santa Fe, NM
Addendum: An Ardent Anti
Paramount among reasons why many people believe salaries paid to todays athletes are
obscene is that so few even know the meaning of the word philanthropic.
A lengthy list of specifics would prove why Curtis Montague Schilling (and his lovely wife Shonda
with her SHADE Foundation) is a refreshing oasis-like exception.
Sutures intended to keep a tendon in
-place came loose and as the Boston Red Sox RHP hurled
the game of his life in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, he did so literally in a bloody red
An idiot of that years World Series Champion Red Sox, Schilling is anything but that especially
since he was savvy to realize television cameras would be fixated on his crimson
Consequently he wrote K-ALS in magic marker on his sock. (K, of course, is baseball
shorthand for strikeout).
Other than Lou Gehrig himself, no other athlete has been as instrumental in heightening ALS
Although Schilling himself is currently on the disabled list, the six wins and 71 Ks hes racked up
so far this year for the AL East
-leading Red Sox translates into $47,500 for ALS.
In the past 14 years, Curt Schilling has been responsible for raising over $8 million for ALS
research and has written out personal checks for $250,000, thus embodying the true meaning
of being an All-
by Mike Kinosian
Read more about
Charles McPhee (10-23-2003) in
The Mike Kinosian Interview archived
ly 5, 2007