Jobless, Helen Borgers Faces Critical Illness

Steve Propes
Helen Borgers

As if things couldn’t get worse. Six weeks after being let go by radio KKJZ, longtime jazz disc jockey Helen Borgers faces a life threatening medical condition that has motivated one-time listeners, fans, friends and relatives to rally around providing financial help while medical professionals are seeking life-saving solutions.

This crushing bad period began on June 30, when Borgers found out she was being let go for financial reasons from her afternoon disc jockey slot at the station.

At the time, as indicated on her Facebook page, Helen hoped to take her love of jazz to KSDS-FM in San Diego. Sadly, she never got the chance. Shortly after that posting, she was admitted to Long Beach Memorial Hospital to deal with a medical issue, soon transferred to the ICU as her condition became more concerning.

As stated at the page, informally known as the Help Helen site, “Legendary jazz D.J. Helen Borgers became critically ill, desperately needing a life-saving operation just as she lost her medical insurance and ran through her savings after being laid off by KJAZZ radio station in June of 2017 after 38 1/2 years. Helen is currently in critical condition in the ICU of Memorial Hospital Long Beach’s Cardiac Care Unit, and her doctors are planning on performing this life-saving and critically necessary surgery as soon as possible once her condition stabilizes.

“However, it is estimated that due to the severity of the operation, Helen will not be able to work for quite some time-- unfortunately, her bills from medical expenses and living expenses are mounting at the moment when she has run through her savings.”

More than a few fans and friends have already pitched in, but apparently the need is dire. Thus, a fundraiser at the Orange County Musicians’ Association will be held 1-8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Born in Kansas City sixty years ago, Borgers moved to Southern California in 1958. In 1979, her brother Ken asked her to fill in for the regular host of a KLON jazz show. Having no known radio experience, she was apparently taken by the new role and became a regular at the station when it was acquired by the Cal State Long Beach Foundation in 1981.

During the 1980s, Borgers advanced to music director of KLON as well as holding down several jazz shifts, during which she thrived and except for a short stint with Eurojazz in Holland in the mid 1990s, became the voice of the station.

When KKGO dropped jazz entirely in 1990, veteran jazz DJ Chuck Niles joined KLON and the two made a formidable team. She was also involved in national live jazz broadcasts, one memorable one being a New Year’s Eve celebration featuring Poncho Sanchez from Birdland West in downtown Long Beach.

Jazz isn’t the only aspect of Borgers’ activities. Shakespeare is another.

In 1997, Borgers became the artistic director of the non-profit Long Beach Shakespeare Company, which began in 1990. As the company’s website noted, “In 1997, under the artistic direction of Helen Borgers, the company became a full-time operation, performing all over southern and central California throughout the year in schools, churches, museums, as well as in the parks of Long Beach.”

The Shakespeare Company continues to actively hold productions at the Richard Goad Theatre at 4250 Atlantic Avenue in the Bixby Knolls area.

In 2007, the local jazz scene changed when the CSULB Foundation decided to put the newly-renamed KLON out to different management. Several potential operators competed, including one headed up by Borgers’ brother, one-time KLON program director Ken Borgers. However, the owners of one-time commercial jazz radio, KKGO, Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters assumed operation of KKJZ on a five year contract. KKJZ on-air personalities were interviewed by the new operator. Helen Borgers was one of several retained.

Now, after a total of almost 40 years at the same radio station and allowed to depart with nary a mention of her yeoman service by the station, Borgers finds herself unemployed and in the ICU at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. Several of her friends and fans have already contributed to the Help Helen webpage. Her family and close associates also hope that the musician’s union fundraiser will substantially add to the fund designed to help her with medical and living expenses.

According to a family friend, KKJZ has agreed to publicize the fundraiser during its broadcast day. Jazz performers tentatively scheduled at the fundraiser include the Gordon Goodwin Little Phat Band, the Tom Kubis Big Band, the Jennifer Leitham Trio, Sal Cracchiolo on trumpet with Melanie Jackson, vocalists Ernie Andrews, Barbara Morrison and Dewey Erney with either guitarist Ron Escheté or pianist Gerry Schroeder, pianist Christian Jacob, Richard Simon and Mongorama led by José Rizo, and Poncho Sanchez.

Orange County Musicians’ Association, Local 7, American Federation of Musicians is located at 2050 South Main Street in Santa Ana.

Note: Steve Propes was a KLON DJ from 1981 through 1989 and for a short period in 1993.


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