Long Islander K.C. Armstrong got his start with Howard Stern — first as an intern then as a cast member and producer. Now he is now a radio personality in his own right as the host and founder at WMAP (World’s Most Amazing People), a station based in Port Jefferson.
His first book, Simply Amazing (Englightened Financial Press, 358 pp., $24.99), is a collection of 15 radio interviews with guests as wide-ranging as a Holocaust survivor, a mother of special needs children and a veterinarian in Alaska. All “amazing” in their own way, Armstrong highlights the struggles they’ve overcome while celebrating their humility.
Armstrong, 44, spoke by phone from the radio station in between interviews for his forthcoming collections "Simply Amazing Women" and "Simply Amazing Children."
You got your start in radio working for Howard Stern. How did that come about?
I started as a summer intern. My first college internship was at Comedy Central. I lived at home on the island and commuted to midtown on the LIRR. Then I got an internship with Howard. He invited me into the writing meetings and started using my stuff all the time. That was so surreal. I thought, "this is really cool and I’m scared as hell."
How long were you with "The Howard Stern Show"?
I worked there for about seven years until I was fired by management for depression, though it is easier to label as substance abuse. Howard was always amazing and supportive, but depression is something that will take the dream of being a professional baseball player away from a kid. By the end, I didn’t care even about being on the biggest show in the history or radio.
How did you go from being fired from "The Howard Stern Show" to founding WMAP, a radio station based on positivity?
WMAP started in a back room in East Moriches about four years ago with two listeners: my mom and some guy in Sweden. Before WMAP, I had pretty much lived life like a Charles Bukowski book. I lived hard. I was hospitalized 53 times. I was in solitary for 10 days in Alaska, and when I finally came back I just wanted to be around people who care about me. I found a place in Moriches near my family and started working for a radio station interviewing successful women. After a while I thought, why can’t I do this? Take the positivity in my life now and put that on air? I have to think that there are people like me who are screwed up, trying to do the right thing and looking to be inspired.
WMAP stands for World’s Most Amazing People. What is your definition of amazing?
I would say at this time in my life, amazing means something very different than it did 20 years ago. Right now it means someone who gets through life with dignity and some sort of integrity and also helps other people. At 20, I didn’t know that. After the psych wards and jails and living hard, I understand that it comes down to being around good people.
One of my favorite interviews in the book is with Virginia Armstrong, your mother. Can you talk a little about why she fits the “amazing” criteria?
My mom has and always will be the most important person in my life. If I am a tenth of the person that she is, I should be celebrated. They should have a parade! That’s how amazing she is. She worked a full-time job, taught AP English and the clubs after school, made dinner, helped with homework. She also goes headfirst into life. She’s going to take Brazilian jujitsu at 65 years old and instead of taking a cruise to celebrate her retirement, she is going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. She is the definition of perseverance, dedication and toughness.
In your mother’s interview, after she recovers from her near-death experience on Mount Kilimanjaro and realizes she isn’t going to make the summit, she says, “It is not about the mountain, it was never about the mountain.” Is this book your own Mount Kilimanjaro in some ways?
My mom and I like to joke that this is a book that wouldn’t quit. We knew nothing about putting a book together, but she was an English teacher, so we took 1,200 pages of interviews and passed it back and forth, editing and turning them into stories. Every week people write me letters that say they were low, but they read this book and weren’t alone, they weren’t by themselves anymore, and now they can make it through.
We’re all going to screw up and make bad decisions. But even the biggest dirtbag like me can turn around and change some lives, so anybody reading this can do the same thing. I’m nothing special. Well, my Mom would tell you I was.