It is almost impossibly difficult to explain Robin Byrd to anyone who was not an adult living in NYC toward the end of the last century, though everyone who recognizes the name immediately responds with unbridled enthusiasm. This comes up in conversation for me from time to time because I used to share a cubicle with her for a brief while about 20 years ago. Perhaps I should explain.
In Robin's own words: "I am the producer,director and host of 'The Robin Byrd Show' in N.Y.C.. I pioneered cable T.V. on leased access in the 70's. in New York. The show is currently on in NYC every night." Every word there is the truth, but if anything it undersells the cultural impact of her unbashedly sex-positive and groundbreaking media footprint. Very, very few figures who were largely known as regional stars could merit something like an entire SNL skit about their work.
My own personal connection is incredibly tenuous and I doubt that she'd even remember it. Early in this century, I worked at the Village Voice, and they were doing an "online radio station", which had individual shows that different personalities would host; nowadays these would just be podcasts. (You can hear many of the interviews from the show on Robin's site.) I was sort of volunteered as a production tech for helping get shows on air, and Robin had one of the flagship shows. I was relatively new in the job, and incredibly green in the media industry, and so a lot of my recollections of that moment are vague. But I do have a distinct memory of sitting in my apartment full of packed boxes as I was getting ready to move to a new place a few weeks after 9/11, and trying to wrestle with WinAmp to test streams of interviews we'd recorded with folks like Niki Harris and Margaret Cho.
While I did a tiny bit of messing around in the studio, mostly I was just a lackey in the background at the office while the grownups were doing cool things. When she would come into the Voice's office, the most convenient space for Robin to work was at an empty desk in the 2-person cubicle where I sat. I was, of course, far too shy to really say much of anything, but every person in the office knew who she was (as evidenced by the fact that anyone who was a New Yorker in that era still lights up at the sound of her name), and she was never anything but extremely kind to me. I also remember that she smelled great.
The show, of course, didn't last very long. Streaming "radio stations" in that era, long before Spotify or even podcasting existed, were almost impossibly hard to sustain. I was gone from the Voice about a year after the show ended, and about a year after that, the Voice changed owners and was never really the same again.
But Robin Byrd is unstoppable. Her website is still chugging along, her show is still airing every night, even in a world of YouTube and Netflix. And my merely briefly mentioning her name brought people out of the woodwork, whether New Yorkers past or present, to talk about how much she's entertained and titillated and amused them.
Indeed, until I offhandedly tweeted about Ms. Byrd, I had completely forgotten her signature refrain of "Lie back , get comfortable..." that kicked off every episode of her show, until I was reminded by so many people who could recite the catch phrase from memory. What greater legacy could one hope for than to be associated with that feeling? Robin, I doubt you remember me as some kid you worked around many years ago, but thank you for giving me a story to tell that always brings a smile to people's faces.