First Person: My Kojo Crush

I couldn’t get enough of Kojo Nnamdi’s wonderful voice—and then I went on his radio show.

By: Pietra Rivoli

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

In a world of vices, I chose a relatively harmless one. Mine was a crush on Kojo Nnamdi’s voice, which I could hear weekdays at noon on his WAMU-FM talk show. My Kojo voice crush wasn’t an affliction that kept me from getting through the day. It was more a background buzz that lightened my mood and made the drive to wherever I was going pass a little too quickly.

Kojo, how I loved your voice.

Just as when I was a smoker I’d adjust my schedule to sneak in a cigarette, in my Kojo days I might wait ten minutes before hopping into the car, knowing that his voice would ease the trip. On a bad day, I might even drive around the block to catch more of his aural essence.

Though harmless, this preoccupation wasn’t terribly compatible with my age (starts with 5) or marital status (starts with M).

My experience varied by day of the week. The low point was Friday, when he shared the Politics Hour with a cohost. That cut my Kojo fix in half. Be quiet, I’d think. Let him talk. Tech Tuesday was the next worse, because even Kojo’s voice lost something when it was speaking about bytes or RAM. But later in the day I wouldn’t remember what Kojo had been talking about anyway. This is because I didn’t know what he was talking about when he was talking. I was so smitten with his voice that I didn’t hear his words.

What was it about this man’s voice? “Melodic” is the first word that comes to mind, but it doesn’t capture the details. I loved, for example, the way he introduced himself. “I’m Kojo Nnamdi,” he’d say before each commercial break and at the end of the show.

Each part of his name had an appeal. My downfall was the way he said the J in Kojo. I’d never heard a J like it. This wasn’t a wimpy French J (as in “joie de vivre”) that might suggest a European affect and a superiority complex. Neither was it a hard American J (“You jerk!”). The J in Kojo was between these two, in a perfect place. I’ve tried to do that J myself, but I can’t.

His last name, too, had an aura. There wasn’t a second syllable in Nnamdi, but there was a second sound or half syllable, breathed but not breathy. You had to listen for it. I decided that Nnamdi had three half syllables but no whole ones. That was the trick. Anyone saying Kojo’s name except Kojo has no hope of getting it right.

But the most dangerous part of his voice for me was his accent. Or was it an accent? If not, what was it?

When I worked as a bartender in college, older guys would leer and order “a martini, sweetie—and just wave the vermouth over the glass.” Go to hell, I’d think—you go wave a bottle around. The idea, of course, was that the vermouth was supposed to impart only the faintest essence to the martini.

Well, someone has waved a jar of Caribbean spice over Kojo Nnamdi’s voice. The spice doesn’t touch down but leaves a cloud trailing like some sort of fairy dust.

My mental wanderings never went so far as to imagine Kojo and me on a Caribbean beach, walking along the turquoise water, sipping a pink umbrella drink under a full moon, soft calypso music in the background. But with that Caribbean fairy dust in the air, I could see a slippery slope.

It wouldn’t have been too hard to meet Kojo. I knew people at WAMU, and I’d been to the studio to do interviews about international trade and investing. I could have finagled an introduction or at least a sighting. One time I was on another show, and the notepad in front of me said THE KOJO NNAMDI SHOW. I slipped it into my briefcase.

But I didn’t want to get closer than the notepad because I didn’t want reality to intrude on my crush. I didn’t want to see Kojo—or know him. I just liked listening to his voice. Maybe he was nerdy-looking or just ugly. Maybe he was a jerk (with a hard J). What if he was from New Jersey? What if he was French and carried a little man-purse? Reality could ruin everything.

I had a close call once. I was channel surfing but had turned my back to the television for a minute. The voice came across the room: “With us today is radio-show host Kojo Nnamdi.” I froze and didn’t look—and then turned off the TV.

The end came in 2007. A media person at Georgetown University was on the phone. Had I heard of Kojo Nnamdi?

Who?

Was I free Wednesday at noon?

Kojo was doing a show on social investing, and they’d come across my name. Would I be on the show with Kojo?

You mean, like, on the phone?

No, like, in the studio.

All right, I know I’m not the only one with a Kojo voice crush, so let me give you the scoop on Kojo in person. He’s really nice. He’s a gentleman. He’s not, however, a hunk. At least not with a capital H. My vision had been of smooth caramel skin, silken to match his voice. His skin was fine. But it was just regular skin. And actually, on the day I met him, I didn’t think much of his clothes. His shirt was orange, and his suit was green. “Kojo!” I wanted to yell. “No—not a pumpkin! Please don’t be a pumpkin!”

Of course, the biggest challenge during the interview was that I had to listen to his words, which I couldn’t do very well while listening to his voice. He was asking me about investing. This meant the answer couldn’t be “pink sunset on Caribbean beach.”

But I made it through the interview. He shook my hand as I left (shook my hand!), acting like the nice, normal person he was. I got into my car and turned on WAMU.

I’d missed The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

This article first appeared in the November 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.