A Conversation with Diego Mulligan of KSFR’s The Journey Home

Santafe.com - May 21, 2008

With more than 5,000 interviews beamed from his KSFR microphone in the last 11 years, radio host Diego Mulligan is Santa Fe's King of Conversations. His drive time program from five to six pm five days a week is called The Journey Home. Anyone who thinks the show's title is just Mulligan's handle for helping harried commuters navigate their gas guzzlers from point A to point B misses a central truth about the man. For Mulligan, every subject has layer upon layer of meaning, even his own fascinating name.

SantaFe.com: Your name does sound like something from the casting department of a film studio. What's the story?

Diego Mulligan: I was adopted at birth and named David Mulligan. About 15 years ago, long after my adoptive father died, I discovered that my biological father's name was Diego. He came from an area of northern Spain called Galica, the oldest Gaelic kingdom on the planet. So I took his name as my first name.

SF: Have you had any contact with your father's family?

DM: No, I know nothing about him and haven't tried to find out. Some adoptive people pursue their biological families for different reasons but I haven't chosen to do that.

SF: On the subject of names, what's the broader meaning of your radio show, The Journey Home?

DM: It has to do with people finding their way to their own positive future. As an adopted man, I have always felt that one of my personal challenges has been to create my own home because as a young man it was a very difficult time for me growing up without the sort of normal family life one has. So there has been a consistent quest throughout my life in which I try to create home wherever I am. I have lived in many places around the world and the thread of my life is creating community and home wherever I am.

SF: What kind of people do you choose as interview subjects?

DM: People who know a whole lot more than I do about their particular subject. So it is a very easy task. As I have interviewed more and more people and learned more about them, I have discovered how little I really know.

SF: That's refreshingly modest for anyone in the field of communications. Are there any parameters for the subject matter you will discuss?

DM: In general I like to speak with people who either understand problems from a different perspective or who can present potential solutions to problems. Ordinarily, I like to talk to people about what is working in the world, and why. And if it's not working, then why not?

SF: Ever had any great surprises thrown at you on the air?

DM: I like being surprised and I don't try to control the direction of an interview as rigidly as most mainstream reporters do because I really like to find out what is at the core of people's passions.

SF: Ever been thrown for such a loop by someone on air that you were left speechless?

DM: Not speechless, but it almost happened yesterday when I was talking to a young Chinese girl whose father was among 3,000 Chinese who were tortured and murdered because of their religious practice of Falun Gong. This young girl sang a song in dedication to these people, including her father. I'm a fairly emotional person and that just about got me.

SF: Have you ever had to cut anyone off for bad language or subject matter?

DM: Not so much cut off but I have had to made amends when a musician or two came into the studio a little tipsy.

SF: So you've never lost control of an interview and wondered, "How did I get into this mess?"

DM: Losing control is not the end of the world. Sometimes university professors forget that they are not lecturing and when they get into that mode, I feel like, "I've got to interrupt this guy" and it can be a difficult thing to do.

SF: One of the recurring themes of your programs----as it is of your life---is a keen awareness of the environment and the need to live responsibly in communities as a way to respect the earth. Where did that all come from in your own development?

DM: When my mother and I moved from Florida to the Bahamas after she was widowed, I was thrown into global consciousness by many of the people there---explorers, mariners, others involved with the manned space flight program. But what really taught me an appreciation of ecology was joining the Underwater Explorers Society. The president at that time was Jacques Cousteau who came to the island frequently to do underwater filming. I basically got to schlep tanks and clean the pool but I developed a real love for the diversity of life in the ocean.

SF: Your bio refers to a defining moment concerning the environment. What was it?

DM: While serving as an air traffic controller in the military in Germany, I developed a very rare heart condition and underwent a long series of medical tests. I almost died from one of those tests. I survived the test, only just, but decided on that day to focus my attention on a whole new way of looking at the world through trying to understand how people are really supposed to live on this plant. That led to studies in community development and appropriate technology for sustainable living.

SF: How do you see that playing our in your life now, and particularly here in New Mexico?

DM: Our back to the land roots in this part of the country go back to the Pueblo Indians, or even further to the Anasazi. But Europeans got ahead us for a long time through their strong tradition of living in villages. The thing that got America off track was the big push for the suburban lifestyle as the pinnacle of American culture. That really did us a great disservice and separated all the components of life.

SF: Is that changing now?

DM: Oh yes. I think there is a much greater desire for living in community now. A lot of people don't even know what they have missed because for a several generations they were in this suburban lifestyle that was not a healthy living pattern. But many people are finding their way back now. Developers are starting to embrace the idea of mixed-used communities and that, along with the sustainability movement and green building options, are becoming more and more available and leading us back on track.

SF: Is this part of The Journey Home?

DM: Absolutely. Totally. This is the more physical journey home we are taking together. And it is important for people to recognize that within whatever neighborhood they live, they can create greater sense of community and sustainability right where they are.

SF: How does Santa Fe stack up in this effort?

DM: One of the reasons I moved to Santa Fe was because this city has been known as a center of artistic endeavor and healing, and when people go through a healing process and combine that with art, the next level is focusing on the common good in the community---looking outside one's self to the broader interest of community.

SF: Well, there's a plug for the arts in Santa Fe that the Chamber of Commerce probably never even thought of. Are there other cities in the United States tuned into this ideal as much as or more than Santa Fe?

DM: It's tough to say who is ahead and who is behind, but Santa Fe is actually positioned to be the place that integrates all of these ideas more holistically because we have a deeper culture of respecting the land that has been around for thousands of years. We have the opportunity to be the greatest model if we can focus our energy on it.

SF: You have two children, ages 23 and 16. Do they share your interest in saving the environment, or do they ever consider you just a little wacky?

DM: I think they secretly appreciate it while sometimes thinking of me as still a hippie, which I haven't been for many years. But you know the hippies got it right: They figured out sustainability, healthy foods and a kind of work ethic that balances life's purpose.

SF: What was your first job in Santa Fe after you moved here in 1984?

DM: I didn't have a job when I arrived but soon went to work for Unisun, a solar energy company. The company folded a few years later when the tax credits for solar energy were eliminated by Ronald Reagan. One of his first moves as president was to cut the solar tax credit. That was a major step backwards. Ronald Reagan was actually the first person I ever interviewed, as a college student in Virginia. I hate to say it, but I think he was one of our worst presidents.

SF: You were a self-confessed Republican in your youth until, in your own words, you "composted my rose-colored conservative credentials." Do you have any political biases now?

DM: I'm very independent in my thinking now and I won't support any candidate because of political affiliation. My bias is heavily, unabashedly weighted toward policies and people who are looking at the long-term consequences of our actions, not just the short-term bottom line.

SF: What turns you on most about Santa Fe?

DM: The unusual capacity for community service here. I am constantly astounded to meet so many people so seriously committed to various forms of community involvement.

SF: What turns you off most about Santa Fe?

DM: The unskilled, aggressive drivers. It's like driving in Cairo here, but worse.

SF: If the gods frowned on you and said you couldn't live here, where would you go?

DM: Galica, in northern Spain. My biological roots are there. It's a beautiful European backwater, largely unknown.

SF: Ah, but if the gods smiled and granted you any wish for Santa Fe, what would it be?

DM: For more of us to get involved in solving our collective problems, with more focus on the common good rather than on individual egos and agendas.

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