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In The Arena

Marty McGuane loved Greenfield, his hometown

I think we all knew this day would come ­— as it will for us all — but I never really believed it would ever happen.

How many times had the man cheated death in the 25-plus years I’d known him? A half-dozen at least, not to mention a couple of highly publicized falls from grace triggered largely by his own self-admitted human frailties.

That may be the best word one could use to describe the late Marty McGuane. He was the most human person I ever met, and one of the few who never felt the need to apologize for it. He loved life and people, especially the ones in our shared hometown of Greenfield.

The first time I met Marty, in 1984, he was shoehorned behind the mixer at the After Hours Teen Center. It was a hot spring night, and the big man was spinning the wax with ferocity. I had never been introduced before that night, but he already knew all about me, my family, and especially my sister Carol, who was close to his same age.

We instantly hit it off, in part, because Marty was doing two things I badly wanted to do, working on the radio and spinning music in front of a live crowd. I eventually would go on to do both, following the trail he blazed, along with a lot of other people.

Before Rick Archer, Amy Valinski and, eventually Jeff Tirrell and Nick Danjer ever graced the airwaves of WHAI, there was Marty’s sometimes barely audible dulcet baritone. And before Bobby C, Tom Mayo, and a score of other live DJ’s ever cracked a microphone, there was “Marty’s Music.”

By the time I had donned the fabled GHS green cap and gown in 1986, Marty had already worked at most of the local stations in the area. He would remind me of that often over the years, as well as how he invented the color-coded music selection format that WHAI used for many years before the advent of computers.

Marty and I would touch base now and then as the years went on, talking mostly about music and the radio business. But it wasn’t until he took over as executive director of Greenfield Community Television that I really got to know the man. By then, my interest had shifted from music to news, specifically political reporting, which was right in Marty’s wheelhouse. He kept bugging me to do a TV show, and, despite my protestations that I had the perfect face for radio, I eventually agreed and “Political Potpourri” was born.

I would spend the next eight years working on that show and many others with Marty, who, along with Doug Finn and a slew of dedicated volunteers, turned GCTV from a relatively slipshod, anything-goes setup to a quality-controlled, professional operation that still maintained the mission of allowing any community member who wished to exercise their First Amendment rights through the medium of television to do so.

So we would find time to do some TV in between arguing politics, minus the blood-and-guts ferocity that accompanies today’s partisan debates. Marty was clearly from the Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neil school of political discourse — where you could actually disagree with someone and still be able to go out for a beer afterward.

We agreed on very little, but had a shared appreciation for the circus-like absurdity of what passes as today’s politics. How I’d wished we had the cameras rolling for some of those back-office conversations, because that would have made for some great television.

Marty and I were more alike than either of us wanted to admit and that was one of the reasons we got along so well. Maybe it was our shared Irish, calorically challenged pedigree, that also included a healthy dose of family pride, that we jealously defended whenever it was challenged. But we were kindred spirits, for sure, and every time Marty encountered a health challenge, a lot of us who cared went through it with him. But no matter how close the call was, Marty always seemed to come out stronger on the other side, which is exactly how he looked the last time I saw him two weeks ago, when I stopped into Brad’s Place for a quick bite before a TV editing session.

We talked about my recent illness, the election, of course, and about his new house in Erving. He spoke of his ex-wife Jan, whom, despite their split, was still his “best friend,” and about his continued efforts toward maintaining a clean and sober life. But, more importantly, Marty looked happier and more focused than I’d seen him in years, which makes Tuesday’s news that much harder to swallow.

“I just try to make every day better than the one before,” he said. “I still like helping people, and despite everything that has happened, I feel really blessed.”

But not nearly as blessed as we were to have known you, my friend.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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