It all started with quintuple open-heart bypass surgery. Eighth-grade teacher Steven Ludwig underwent the operation in 2006, prompting him to create a “bucket list” of things he'd always wanted to do or achieve.
Ultimately, that led to Ludwig becoming a DJ specializing in pop culture and nostalgia, appearing weekly on internet radio with many of his favorite music idols from the past.
Available online, with new shows added every Tuesday night at 6 p.m., “Steve Ludwig’s Classic Pop Culture” is a mix of classic and obscure songs, vintage commercials, and interviews with guests ranging from 1960s pop idol Bobby Vinton to disco queen Linda Clifford to musical madman Arthur Brown to wrestler Lanny Poffo.
“We pretape all the interviews for the month on the first two Mondays and then spread them out over the month,” Ludwig explained. “Most of the guests are so great, so enthusiastic.”
It helps that Ludwig has voluminous pop culture knowledge and a genuine appreciation for his guests. “I don’t think of myself really as a radio host,” he said. “More like a fan who’s just talking to these people. I have two brothers who say I fawn over my guests too much but I can’t help it, I’m a fan.”
History and classics
The first step on Ludwig's road to media glory started with the written word. “I remember when I was a student at Horace Mann School in North Bergen, I always told my mother I’m going to write a book someday,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig kept a journal about his heart operation and eventually turned the entries into a book, the humorous See You in CCU—A Lighthearted Tale of My Open-heart Surgery. Through a former student who had become an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and pro wrestling aficionado, Ludwig was introduced to the man he considers his mentor, Evan Ginzburg.
A wrestling enthusiast, film producer, and longtime New York variety/talk show host with his Legends Radio and TV, Ginzburg booked Ludwig to read portions of his book at a local club, then suggested the fledgling writer bring his love of pop culture to radio.
With Ginzburg’s connections, Ludwig arranged to record his debut program. “Bob Cowsill was my very first guest,” Ludwig said, referring to the singer-guitarist from the 1960s pop-star clan that was reportedly the inspiration for The Partridge Family. “I’ve always been a Cowsills fan so I googled Bob and sent him an e-mail. The Cowsills actually played at dances in North Bergen High School before they hit it big. We share a mutual friend in Ira Wolfe, a recently retired phys ed teacher at North Bergen High, so that was our connection. Bob immediately said he’d love to be a guest.”
“I don’t think of myself really as a radio host. More like a fan who’s just talking to these people.” –Steven Ludwig
With his burgeoning reputation, Ludwig is now being contacted by guests seeking to be interviewed on his show. “I’m not going to make any money from it,” he said, “but it’ll give me a chance to speak with people I liked all my life in music and pop culture.”
Then and now
A North Bergen native, Ludwig moved to Fort Lee in 1995 but has continued teaching in North Bergen. Although he keeps his DJ career low-profile at work, he did once mention to his students during a class on the novel The Outsiders that he had interviewed the author, S.E. Hinton, generating a flurry of interest from them in his show.
Currently in his 38th year as a teacher, Ludwig said he’ll “probably” retire next year. His post-retirement plans include a tour of Liverpool to walk in the footsteps of his favorites, the Beatles, along with his wife, Sue, a nurse at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck and, in Ludwig’s words, “my biggest supporter.”
Also on his bucket list is writing a novel, “A Good Man in a Bad World,” which Ludwig called “semi-autobiographical.” In addition there’s talk of turning his first book into a movie. Until then Ludwig will continue to produce his weekly radio show and appear as co-host on Ginzburg’s Legends TV broadcasts two or three times a month.
“My health is great,” Ludwig said. “I’m going to be 60 in April.” To celebrate, there will be a 60th birthday concert arranged by Ginzburg, to be filmed as part of a documentary entitled “The Stage is an Altar.”
“He’s big on ageism,” Ludwig said of Ginzburg. “He’s a big indie artist supporter and a lot of the indie artists are getting up in age, so he’s doing a documentary on that. My part of the film shows how I’ve become host of a radio show late in life, that a guy who’s 60 can do what he always wanted.”
Steve Ludwig’s Classic Pop Culture can be heard at www.planetludwig.com.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.