Steven Cantara: Friendly Mornings and FM Eye-Openers
Written by Liam Sweeny on April 29, 2021
When we pull out of our driveways, or peel out from the curbs, we might turn on the radio to guide us through our commutes. And if we’re lucky, we can keep the radio on at work. And we’re not just listening for music; we’re listening for the latest exploits of our friends on the morning show, whatever it is. That’s why so many stations have morning shows. That’s why PYX 106 has Quinn and Cantara.
Quinn and Cantara have been guiding our morning rushes since 2012, and may very well have averted the Mayan apocalypse, which they have graciously declined credit for… mostly because the years since have been sort of crummy.
We sit down with Steven Cantara and discuss gourmet breakfast sandwiches.
RRX: PYX 106.5 is a classic rock station. I can ensure when I listen throughout the day, I can expect to hear the hits, which is curated by the station and change is slow. People like what they like. Let’s pretend they hand you the library for a redo. What classics would have to be added, in your opinion, and why?
SC: Here’s the thing. You realize that there are people who just study music rotation. We got people that study formats and how they work.
Q: Some of you out there listening may have been brought into a giant room of people to hear some songs and tell them what you think.
SC: I’ve learned over years that there are ways of doing this. If you want to hear songs and you work in radio, go home and listen to them.
Q: If you want to be successful in radio, play the hits. People want to hear the hits.
SC: My only advice to a classic rock station is, and I get it; I get what they’re doing, their playlist is 300 songs, 301 when you add “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. Which sometimes we do add in, sometimes we do take out.
Q: Occasional Merle Haggard.
SC: I would like to see the playlist expand so that, like, everyone likes Springsteen, tickets for Springsteen sell out in like ten minutes – we play very little Springsteen.
Q: Yeah, but when we do, it’s two-for-Tuesday.
SC: Two-for-Tuesday we seem to go a little deeper.
Q: A little bit deeper on one of the songs, at least.
SC: I won’t sit here and pretend to tell you I know what to do musically when we’ve got people that do that. Quinn and I handle the stuff in between the songs. If I was the king, I’d probably widen that playlist from 300 to 500, maybe a 1000 songs.
Q: If you own your own radio station out there, like that guy we interviewed.
SC: Too much work.
Q: That is a lot of work.
RRX: Quinn and Cantara is a morning show, which almost goes without saying, but there may be someone living under a rock. You’ve been on the air when, especially the past year or so, big things have happened. And people sometimes hear you before anyone else. How does it hit you when you have to break serious news?
SC: I, and I can speak for Quinn a little bit, we both really enjoy it. I think it’s when we shine.
Q: Anything to drive the passion, man.
SC: We’re not comedians; we don’t write bits. We don’t do joke du jours, but when breaking news hits, we cover it through the eyes of real people.
Q: You said it right there, it’s a big world out there, a lot of crazy stuff going on.
SC: We were off the air, I was off the air on 9/11, that was a huge radio day that I missed.
Q: But you were in the woods listening to it,
SC: I was on vacation. But I missed that opportunity, I was off the air the day the Red Sox won the World Series, and I wanted to be on the air.
Q: That’s really strange what you’ve missed. Have you missed anything else?
C: I missed the giant tsunami.
Q: I missed your wedding, by the way, why did I miss that?
C: You weren’t invited. Quinn wasn’t invited to my wedding; we weren’t talking at that point. We were working together in Rhode Island, and Quinn was a drunk, and I didn’t know he was a drunk because I didn’t know what alcoholism looked like.
Q: Yeah you did.
SC: I didn’t know you were drunk on the show.
Q: Okay, but I’m not sure what time frame we’re looking at here. After I got fired? After I went to rehab?
SC: When we lost our job in Rhode Island, we stopped talking to each other.
Q: That’s right, and for about three years.
SC: And in that three years, I got married and you were not on the invite list. In my defense, I only invited ten people. You probably wouldn’t have made the cut if we were on good terms.
Q: C’mon, who would you put in there if we were on good terms?
SC: Good terms, and you were-,
Q: You know, I didn’t want to go anyways. But who would you have kicked to the curb?
SC: To make room for you? Probably Sarah’s brother.
Q: Is that the guy with the thing in his belly that sits in Northampton?
SC: That’s a tumor and he wasn’t invited.
Q: You got married right next to him though, didn’t you?
SC: Yeah, I couldn’t stop him from sitting on the park bench. But I didn’t ask his tumor to come to the buffet.
Q: Had I walked up to the public spot where your wedding was and stood there, would you have kicked me out?
C: No! I wouldn’t have kicked you out at this point. So, the question is, how do we break serious news, it’s what we do this for.
Q: It’s not easy. I see Cantara over there having to a story over there, I can see the pain in his face sometimes.
SC: I think the hardest stories to do are local stories about, like, the kid who got shot a few weeks ago.
Q: The horrible crash, you know?
SC: But to anchor coverage of a national event, until I Heart replaces us with a bigger market, I mean they do that with national events. But to anchor coverage of something is pretty cool.
Q: What are you talking about?
SC: When 9/11 happened, we weren’t on the air, we would’ve taken the first hour or two and then I Heart had their New York City feed come on.
Q: And that is what you do this business for. You live for it, and for the breaking stuff.
RRX: You and Quinn have a great chemistry on air. I love hearing you two go back and forth, and the best stuff is just you two talking about your day-to-day lives. But that lends itself to the question of how much to share with the public. Do you have any general rules about the parts of your life you keep, and the parts it’s okay to share?
SC: Everything. There are no rules. There are certain circumstances were like, for example, when my parents were alive, I didn’t want them to hear that, and they’d stream us from California.
Q: I don’t think the listener would notice that, though.
C: We try to just go full on everything honestly; our real lives…
Q: It’s easier that way.
SC: Right. I mean, there are times I’ll have a real heart-to-heart with Quinn, and he’ll say ‘don’t bring that up on the show.’ I’ll put that away and then four years later we’ll get into a fight, I bring that up on the show. One time, Quinn threw hot coffee at me.
Q: I thought you threw hot coffee on me?
SC: I threw hot coffee at him. In the middle of the show, I threw it, and you moved.
Q: It was Dunkin coffee, by the way.
SC: Remember when the Great Ones were the thing?
Q: I do.
SC: I threw a Great One
Q: That is a waste.
SC: I tossed it and he side-stepped it like a bullfighter and it hit the door of the radio station.
Q: What about the time that I showed up at your house and was banging on the glass door?
SC: Was that the time you snuck into my roommate’s room and your girlfriend fed him dog biscuits while he was sleeping? He didn’t know, she put dog biscuits in his mouth and he ate them?
Q: Was that Damon?
SC: Was that Jen who did that?
Q: That was a long time ago.
SC: Twenty years ago.
Q: That’s a happy memory for me.
SC: Not for Damon.
SC: So, there’s no general rule to what we keep private and what we use on the air. Anything’s game to use on the show, unless one of us pulls the other one aside and says it’s too sensitive.
Q: I mean there are some things you don’t necessarily like to talk about. I mean, you’re not a big death guy, obviously, we know that about Cantara.
SC: No, but I’ve been forced to discuss it. I remember before we came to PYX 106, we were doing a show in Rhode Island, and then in Massachusetts, and I never mentioned smoking weed on the air.
Q: I remember that.
SC: Because my parents were listening, and I just didn’t want them to worry about that. Only until my mother started smoking weed so she didn’t have to take four pain pills a day. Then I started talking about it with her. So, then it was fine.
Q: She didn’t say ‘I knew the whole time,’ or anything?
SC: I’m sure she did. I mean, I really don’t know. I’m a good boy. Now, Quinn, you’re not against withholding anything on air.
Q: No, I mean, I’ve talked about having sex with hookers over in the red-light districts around the world.
SC: There is that one thing.
Q: Which thing?
SC: Took a long drive in the rain; you had lied to me.
Q: What did I do, have surgery?
SC: (laughs) You didn’t have surgery.
Q: I don’t care. What is it?”
SC: I’m not gonna tell.”
Q: Is it bad?
SC: No, it’s not bad, I just think you’re protecting someone else.
Q: Oh. Well, you probably know better than I do, of who to protect in my world. Cause I certainly don’t.
SC: Clearly it was before TCO. It was a long drive in the rain…
Q: Oh! That story!
Q: That was here in Capitaland.
SC: It was in New York City, but-,
Q: No, it was in Jersey, quite frankly. To be so specific. The Jersey shore on a rainy day.
SC: That’s one story, he’ll probably tell that, well no, he’ll never tell that.
Q: Maybe ten years from now.
SC: He’ll tell it at some point. Or I’ll get so pissed off at him, I’ll tell it.
Q: Never tell that out loud!
SC: Fair enough.
RRX: Things are starting to shape up, or maybe the tunnel’s light is a little brighter. At some point, venues are going to open up and the shows are going to come back. I’m sure there’s a band you can’t wait to go see after this year, and when they come, you won’t be able to shut up about it on the show. Who would it be, if you had your choice?
SC: I think if Todd Snyder came around, if Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt came around, if my buddy Tom Russell came around, I’ve been into Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, so if that show came anywhere near us and was outdoors.
Q: You sent me a Nathaniel Rateliff song.
SC: From Farm Aid in 2016. And he screams like ‘Farm Aid’, with the hat, but then the white jean jacket screams non-Farm Aid. I just love everything about him, I mean, I gotta be honest with you; even the Miley Cyrus concert at the Final Four got me jacked up for shows.
Q: A fist in the air.
SC: I was watching the YouTube video with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats doing ‘Hey Mama’ at Farm Aid.
Q: That’s hot.
SC: That’s the vibe I had years ago when I saw the Brothers Osborne at the Outlaw Festival, a daytime band not everyone knows, but I love is, amongst the crowd that’s not really paying attention, but I am.
Q: All those bands that have had any news, you won’t shut up about them.
SC: Perhaps someone gets some mushrooms and we microdose at the concert. Good times. So that’s who I wouldn’t shut up about, Todd Snyder, Nathaniel Rateliff.
RRX: This is where you answer the question we didn’t ask. Best pop filter on a budget? A favorite hour of the morning? Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
SC: 3:30 AM to 4:30 AM. It’s my drive in, the news, I’m getting the music that I want…
Q: Your time.
SC: Four o’clock, ten of four, no one’s here. It’s quiet and I make my way to the studio and spend the first 20 minutes reading and listening to audio and stuff.
Q: I love it, I love it.
SC: Quinn rolls in around four-twenty, four-thirty.
Q: Usually around four-fifteen, thank you very much.
SC: I don’t see you until you come down here.
Q: I usually ruin his wah, I wander in there stumbling, “Hey what’s goin’ on?”
SC: Nah, you’re pretty good like that.
Q: Sometimes we don’t even see each other for an hour.
SC: Yup, it all depends on what we got going on.
Q: What would compare the feeling of that time of day to in the rest of your life?
SC: It’s extremely peaceful. What’s that quote, ‘The first cigarette is as good as it gets, I think I should know by now. It’s like that first suck off the morning lighter.