College DJ with post-polio syndrome signs off

Save Story

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — Sandra Rodrigues may not see much of the world these days, but that hasn't kept her from listening to it.

For 21 years, Rodrigues volunteered at Flagler College's WFCF 88.5 FM, where she hosted the world music program. Saturday was her final show.

Struggling with post-polio syndrome, she's decided to hang up her headphones.

"You have to be able to smile and make jokes, otherwise you would jump off a bridge," she said. "You have to maintain whatever positive things you can in your life."

When she was about 17 months old, Rodrigues broke her left elbow jumping on the sofa. Her parents brought her to the emergency room.

"I guess in those days things were different," she said. "They didn't just fix you up and send you home. They admitted me and they put me in a polio ward."

Her parents didn't know until seven days later, when a nurse told them, but it was seven days too late.

Rodrigues ended up in an iron lung, paralyzed on her left side.

"I don't remember too much about it, but I remember mean nurses," she said. "All that sticks out is your head through a rubber gasket. You will never see me wearing a turtleneck."

She remembers the pain of learning to walk again. Her diaphragm is still partially paralyzed, making it difficult to breathe.

"My lungs are healthy, I just can't push the air in and out very well," she said.

What began as a gradual decline became noticeably worse around the year 2000. She has required a walker for the past seven years and the tendons in her foot are torn and her bones are crumbling.

"I can't take the risk of being here on a Saturday when there's no one here," she said. "If I were to fall, no one would know. There would be dead air on the radio, I guess, but it's just too difficult. The disability begins to grow and grow."

Nancy Burkhalter, a teacher at Seattle University in Washington, met Rodrigues at Ohio State University, where they studied linguistics. Although they have not seen each other since Burkhalter's wedding in 1983, they've kept in touch.

She described Rodrigues as a worldly shut-in who does not suffer fools easily, but who is also a loyal friend.

"There have been so many obstacles that the world has put in front of her, but she keeps going," Burkhalter said.

Rodrigues' pursuits have been as varied as they are incomplete.

She's sang a cappella for the Byzantine-Russian Liturgical Choir at Harvard. At the International Institute of Boston, she helped refugees from behind the Bamboo and Iron curtains adjust to life in America.

She has wanted to travel to Egypt all her life and will likely never have the chance. But Rodrigues doesn't let it get her down.

"Do I want to go up and beat up the fools who put me in a polio ward?" she asked. "I don't know, because sometimes you disrupt the flow of something in your life and other things change."

Rodrigues and her husband moved to St. Augustine about 30 years ago.

She was interviewed on WFCF about two weeks after the station's launch in 1993, and had been producing a series of plays based on old fairy tales.

Dan McCook, the station manager, asked her if she would be interested in doing the world music program.

"I thought maybe someone told him or he knew I liked world music," she said. "He didn't. He just needed a warm body."

But Rodrigues had a background in languages and history, and many of the things in her life she was involved in had to do with music from around the world.

While world music can be anything and everything, it's hardly mainstream.

"It's under-appreciated," she said. "Unfortunately, because we are surrounded by two oceans, we don't have that kind of connection with other countries."

Rodrigues grew up in a bilingual Portuguese-American family living in an Italian neighborhood in Boston. Their best friends were Greek.

"The Irish ran the town, but the language was the same by then. They weren't speaking Gaelic," she said. "But you get exposed to all these things and I think that's the beauty of living in a cosmopolitan city."

For Rodrigues, the collective displacement the city had to offer was a chance to branch out and experience other cultures, music and languages.

"If you're open to it, then these things become a part of you and who you become," she said.

It would typically take her about eight hours to prepare for each show. Her theory is that good music is always good music.

The most requested artist on her program was Édith Piaf, specifically "La Vie en Rose." It's hard to find something Rodrigues hasn't heard, but there is still a great unknown out there.

"There's a lot of music we don't get," she said. "I don't know if anyone sings in North Korea."

She said her objective as a DJ was to give people a taste of music they had been unacquainted with and show them what else is out there. Her responsibilities went beyond playing the songs.

"I just feel like this is something I was made for," she said. "I don't care what the politics are of a country. It's just a handful of people who make the rules and make everyone suffer."

While she hardly finds refuge from the world's upheavals in music, she has used the music to illuminate what people have in common.

"The thing for me is: How much can you do with where you are and who you are and what your power base is," she said. "You don't like Iran? Tough. They have beautiful music."

Rodrigues added that she has played music from Israel and Arab countries before to show how similar the music of the embattled nations really are.

"Music is the one thing that allows you to make a connection all the time," she said. "It doesn't matter what your history is. Everyone has a song that's just like somebody else's song in another place."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Most recent U.S. stories

Related topics

JAKE MARTIN. Augustine Record


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast