Community Spotlight - Barry Martin
By Kathleen Reynolds
Was Barry Martin just a simple boy with a dream from Joplin, Missouri, who wanted to become a radio personality and act on stage?
“I went to college to be a teacher,” says Martin. “I majored in Education when I started at University of Missouri in Columbia. Quickly I found the curriculum wasn’t for me and became a theater major.”
His senior year this new direction took him to southern California, where he got a job as a part-time announcer at a radio station. It led to full-time work in programing.
At 21, he married and decided to locate somewhere with a good theater scene. That brought him to Minneapolis, and he landed a job at KSTP writing and producing commercials. He was offered an opportunity to work at a new station opening in Bettendorf, Iowa. Bettendorf is part of what’s known as the Quad Cities, which is a thriving cultural mecca in Iowa and Illinois.
“However, it was the ‘80’s and that was farm country,” says Barry. “The farm economy was floundering. Not a good time to start a new job in a new market.” He could see the handwriting on the wall. Relatives had moved from Joplin to San Francisco by then, so he sent out demo tapes. Before long, Barry learned that a radio station in Napa was interested.
“Tom Young owned KVON and recognized the name of one of my Midwest references. That was May 1986. I knew nothing about Napa; I’d never been to northern California.”
That was the start of Barry’s career in the Napa spotlight.
“I was a DJ for KVON-AM and KVYN-FM and worked with Mike Savage and George Carl,” recalls Martin. “I became program director and, despite some resistance from existing employees, reformatted programming and built-up live shows.”
As happens often in radio, the station was sold to someone who had new ideas. Owner Charlie Moss planned to build a network of radio stations in resort markets.
“In 1996-97, I transferred to Moss’s station in Taos, New
Mexico. Six months later, I was back at KVON.”
Martin took on a new role in 2001, working as the Public Information Officer for the Napa River Flood Project, but continued as the morning show host on KVON until 2003.
“The station sold again, and I asked to be let go. I had other work lined up and spent 15 years doing public information, including nine years of Community Outreach for the City of Napa and consulting.”
2009 brought more changes when he co-founded Lucky Penny Productions with Taylor Bartolucci.
He has written several successful short plays. Currently, he’s back on KVON with his morning show and is writing the upcoming holiday show for Lucky Penny.
“It’s called “A Napa Valley Christmas Carol,” and is a modern day take on the Dickens classic with a local twist. Rob Broadhurst, of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has written original music, but it’s a different type of musical. We think people will enjoy it.”
“Lucky Penny weathered the pandemic by turning off all unnecessary expenses. We don’t have payroll. We got an Economic Injury Disaster Loan as a cushion. Our video theater was “pay what you can” in donations. This summer we are once again able to hold the Napa Academy of Performing Arts sessions for kids.”
“I love teaching; after all, I started out as a teacher. Our intention was always to have an education portion of Lucky Penny and we have that with the Napa Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).”
They’re gearing up for their first full production back in their theater since COVID; a production of “The Little Mermaid” September 10 through 26.
“We thank our season ticket holders for being so patient and will have seats for them.”
With such a varied resume and work history, what is his proudest professional achievement?
“Co-founding Lucky Penny,” he says. “Even before we had our own place, we made something out of nothing. Now we have a physical location including 7200 square feet of rehearsal, storage and performance space. Most theater company must truck stuff around in and out of storage.”
“We had a BHAG—Big, Hairy Ambitious Goal. There were many renovations needed, we salvaged stuff through donations. Dreamweavers and the Opera House gave us equipment and drapes. Now our equipment is getting better. We feel if we do good work, the money will come. We don’t do a lot of fundraisers; we earn our way.”
“Brian Watson does all the scenic work that I used to do and it’s an enormous help. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do administration, teaching and directing.”
“I’m happiest when I’m not in a show, but in the office listening to the audience. To see people as they leave and knowing we made them happy.”
“I’d like to write more and travel more. My daughter and her four-year-old live in Brooklyn and I haven’t been able to see them. My son has two children and lives in Sacramento.”
What don’t we know about Barry?
“I spent 15 years as a national level soccer coach. It started getting harder as I aged,” he says and laughs. “I phased soccer out and got back into theater. There’s a line in a play I did 10 years ago, “The Lion in Winter.” Henry says there’s a stage in life where there’s a burst of vigor before inevitable decline. Well, I might be in a slow decline.”
We doubt that, but will he ever retire?
“I can’t imagine doing nothing all day. I feel blessed to have been able to live for 35 years in Napa and grateful to those who gave me work in radio and for the city. People are surprised that I’m not the most social person. But I’m grateful that my family is thriving and that I get to wake up to this place and lifestyle.”