Joey Spehar, host of WYEP-FM’s Morning Mix, has lived in Pittsburgh’s Northside his entire life. He’s seen many changes take place over the years and says he can’t help but feel connected to the buildings of yesteryear.
By Matthew Benusa
Photo: Joey Spehar, host of WYEP-FM’s Morning Mix, has lived in Pittsburgh’s Northside his entire life. He’s seen many changes take place over the years and says he can’t help but feel connected to the buildings of yesteryear. Courtesy of Spehar
Pay no attention to the man behind the microphone. Rather, it’s OK to pay no attention, the man says.
Joey Spehar, 37, is best known around Pittsburgh for his voice—the one you hear every weekday morning from 6 to 10 a.m. on WYEP-FM—but in the Northside, he’s better known for his family. The Spehars own Marshall’s, Ltd., a gas station on Spring Garden Avenue, and they’ve been Northside residents for at least four generations.
In the family
Marshall’s, which is really more of a general store, has been in the family since 1993 when Spehar says his father purchased it from the former owners for $32,000. Open 364 days a year—“… Even on Christmas, we’d make a trip down there to check the newspaper,” Spehar says—the gas station has been a constant in Spehar’s life.
“The line between work and home has always been a bit blurred,” Spehar says. Many of his memories come from Marshall’s. Whether it was traveling with his dad in a dump truck to pick up Christmas trees to sell, the high school years he spent working there, the wacky characters he’s met there over the years, or the store’s recent expedition into selling cigars, Spehar’s life is colored by the gas station in every way.
“The cigars have been a nice way for the three of us to bond,” Spehar says, referring to his brother, Bob, his father, and himself. He sits next to one of his three cats, Maebe, smoking. His go-to: Natural American Spirit Lights.
“I waited until my 20s to get a tattoo. The Debunk Records logo was my first tattoo. My Mr. Peanut Tattoo got me yelled at the least,” Spehar says. Spehar’s dad loves Mr. Peanut, the former Planters snack food mascot. The last tattoo he shares is a mandolin and a rose, a tribute to his daughter. “When I’m down, I find this picture in particular to remind myself how great life could be.” Just like the gas station is there year round, for Spehar, so is family.
In his time in the Northside, Spehar has seen a lot of changes. First, his elementary school, St. Leo’s, closed in second grade. Soon after, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh started closing a few of its churches. They were “parishes that didn’t make sense on paper,” according to Spehar, such as a Slavic Catholic church a few blocks from an Irish Catholic church. The churches combined, and “… the Irish church wouldn’t go to the Slavic masses and the Slavic church wouldn’t go to the Irish masses.”
“Rightly or wrongly, I feel connected to the buildings,” Spehar says about his family’s church, the former St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Troy Hill, now lost to a mostly empty lot near I-279. “When you’re religious, it’s supposed to be about what’s in the ether, but sometimes, it’s about the bricks too.”
Spehar’s mother, a church organist, remained in her role throughout the changes.
At the turn of the millenium, Spehar entered high school at North Catholic, where his brother had recently graduated and his father had graduated years ago. It was 1998, and Spehar’s brother, Bob, folded him into his circle of friends. When Bob graduated, though, Spehar realized, “Ah, s—, I really need to make friends.”
A few years spent at Robert Morris University, some time volunteering nights with WYEP-FM while working days at Marshall’s, and before you know it, Spehar is a paid DJ with a young child begging for another cat—their third, Normally. “I’m too focused on the day to day,” Spehar says. “I don’t have too much time to dream.”
Waking up at 4:15 a.m., snoozing his alarm, getting out the door by 5:30 a.m., starting his show at 6 a.m., finishing at 10 a.m., researching and doing paperwork until 2 p.m., and picking up his child from school at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon means there isn’t much time for, well, anything.
Spehar drives a Jeep Cherokee with a vanity license plate that reads “WYEP” for his job. “It just feels so good to make a living this way,” he says. A month or so ago, he came across another license plate that read “913 YEP.” Getting a vanity plate is very cool, Spehar says, and can lead to serendipitous moments like this, but he sometimes regrets it: “Let’s say a guy cuts me off and I call [him] a jagoff. Next thing you know, he’s calling the station to complain.”
Even though WYEP-FM is a local station, Spehar says that he’s heard about people across the world who have listened to it. “My uncle was at a bar in San Diego, and he’s talking to this guy who says that he’s from Pittsburgh and listens to WYEP… There have been member drives at the station where people have called in from all over the world, like, Tahiti.”
Spehar says while it’s nice to have some national renown, that’s not really how he sees himself.
“People get remembered for being either a really amazing person or a really terrible person, but I don’t think I’ll be either. I just want to be someone who did what they could for their community.”
Spehar would like to see people move back to the city because after all, he thinks it’s a great place, especially the Northside.
“Sure, I’d like to have better air in Pittsburgh, make sure my pipes aren’t spewing lead,” he adds, a bit sardonically. But there’s one thing he’s holding out hope for; a way he, an amateur gardener, can better his community in a small way: “I’d like to see my flowers grow again.”