As a teen growing up in Philadelphia, Dr. Stephen Klasko played in a band that admittedly wasn't very good.
However, Klasko, the vice president of USF Health and the dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, sported wit and style when introducing the songs. He eventually landed the midnight to 5 a.m. shift at a Philadelphia radio station while studying journalism at Lehigh University.
Folks got to know him as "Little Stevie Kent," Kent being his middle name. The job not only fueled his lifelong passion for music, it actually played a role in helping him gain entry into the Hahnemann School of Medicine.
Today, Klasko's love of music lives on — he has 102,132 songs in his iTunes library — even though he's striving to create a state of the art academic medical center and establish the new Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), which will train health care professionals and surgical teams, making cutting-edge medical technologies (notably robotic surgery) safer for patients.
Klasko talked to the Times' Ernest Hooper about his experience as a DJ and how it influences his work at USF.
What was that midnight to 5 a.m. shift like?
It's like you're an intern. We had this thing on the station where we had instant requests that we recorded. They would save all the really bad songs for me (in a high-pitched voice): "I want to hear Ben by Michael Jackson," which was the song about the rat. I got every song that the other guys didn't want to play. So one day, I just felt like, "I can't take this, my brain is going to explode." So I disguised my voice about 2:30 in the morning and I said, "I want to hear the long version of Lucky Man by Emerson, Lake & Palmer," and I played the 17 minute, 12 second version of Lucky Man. As luck would have it, the station manager heard that and wanted to know what little kid wanted to hear the long version of Lucky Man by Emerson, Lake & Palmer at 2:30 in the morning. I didn't really have a good explanation, and I got fired.
Yeah, so I said now I have to get a real job. I went back to my guidance folks, and they said you have a 4.0 in your science-related courses, did you ever think of being a doctor?
So the end of your DJ career launched your medical career? We have Emerson, Lake & Palmer to thank.
Exactly. I should call Keith Emerson now. So I take the MCATs, did really well but the problem is now I'm applying . . . and everyone wanted to be a doctor since they were 3. I couldn't say that because three weeks ago I was a DJ.
How was your first interview (at Temple University)?
The neurosurgeon who interviewed me said, "Why should we take you? You had a 3.6 (cumulative grade point average) and we just had five kids from Penn State that had 3.8s." I said, "I think Lehigh's chemistry program is a lot harder than Penn State's. It's an engineering school." Then he said, "Just to get an interview at Penn Medical School you need a 3.7." I said, "Well comparing the Penn medical school to the Temple medical school is like comparing Lehigh to Penn State." I didn't realize how bad that sounded.
Did you get in trouble?
I was cocky enough that I thought I did well. I literally get called in the next morning by the head of the health professions advisory group at Lehigh and I honestly thought it was going to be, "Oh, you got into Temple." Well remember, this is the '70s, we didn't have FedEx. We had special delivery. Lehigh got a special delivery rejection on me. I remember the talk: "We don't care if you ever get in to medical school, but we would like someday for somebody from Lehigh to get into medical school so do you think on your next interview, you can be a little less truthful?"
What happened on the next interview?
So my next interview was where I actually ended up going, at Hahnemann. The really cool thing is the guy who interviewed me, a gastroenterologist, was a frustrated DJ and he thought it was incredibly cool that I had done that. He had heard me (on the radio). It was almost just the opposite (of the other interview). He was one of these guys who believed we needed different kinds of docs, docs that are more well-rounded and not just chemistry majors. I was his project.
I get the impression your musical tastes are pretty broad.
It's been my passion to find new music. I've always loved R&B so when somebody like Joss Stone comes along, or someone like Adele, it's always fun. I try to not be the guy who's totally stuck in the past. My tastes range from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Robert Johnson to Joss Stone to Jethro Tull. There's almost no type of music that I can't say I don't have someone as a favorite artist.
Growing up in Philadelphia, were you a fan of the Philly Soul groups like the O'Jays?
I actually got to deejay things they did where I was the emcee. That's really what honed a lot of my skills around getting people excited about things. There's a lot of synergy to what I'm doing now.
At the end of the day, when I open CAMLS, I'm going to have people from around the country coming here, and really, what you're doing is introducing a concept. It's no different than getting people excited about the O'Jays. They're a great group. The music is going to speak for itself, but what I always viewed as my challenge was to get people lathered up and in a tizzy so when they (the O'Jays) come in, people are already standing. To me, it's some of the same stuff I'm doing here. By the time CAMLS opens, the building and the people will sell themselves.