Helen Borgers, the legendary DJ on KKJZ (K-Jazz) for 38 years, died Sunday after complications from surgery. She was 60.
Friends said Borgers will be remembered for her infectious laugh. In a 2012 K-Jazz YouTube video, Borgers broke through the soft jazz music as she showed a contest winner the audio board she worked with every day.
In the video, Borgers talked about the old turn tables they used back in the day and remarked that the newer digital components of the audio board are harder to use. But that didn’t matter to her.
“As long as the music’s good, who cares? That’s the deal,” she said in the video.
Borgers worked at the Long Beach station for nearly four decades. She was laid off in late June. Shortly after, she underwent surgery and was hospitalized at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
Born on Aug. 9, 1957, in Kansas City, Missouri, Borgers spent almost her entire life in Long Beach.
Her best friend since junior high, Brooke Wharton, said that when they were almost teenagers, Borgers would describe herself as “too cool for school”—and she really was. As a 12-year-old, Borgers had a “meditation room” that her parents built her in their garage where she would listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Mose Allison and Oscar Peterson, among other jazz names.
Her older brother Ken Borgers, who is another longtime jazz-radio DJ with KSDS-Jazz 88 in San Diego, said in an interview that she also listened to The Beatles and other popular music, but it was jazz that was really her passion.
Her love of Shakespeare, which permeated her life, was also prevalent in her teens. Ken Borgers said that by junior high, his sister had memorized all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and most of his plays.
Wharton said in an email: “You would go to her house and she would have her latest edition of King Lear… which you would read with her for the 10th time, but this would be her latest iteration of Shakespeare.”
That love led Borgers to the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, where she had been the artistic director since 1997.
Borgers was also an activist and a bit of a rebel. At Hill Junior High in East Long Beach, Borgers and Wharton both got suspended for circulating a monthly underground newspaper, called “The Metamorphosis,” where they advocated for free speech and First Amendment rights for students in the Long Beach Unified School District. Their free speech rights were successfully defended by Long Beach attorney Arthur Gottlieb, Wharton said.
When she saw her freshman class schedule at Poly High School, Borgers thought it wasn’t challenging enough, so she, with Wharton and other students, presented their own program to the Board of Education. They became the founding students School of Educational Alternatives at Poly.
“We actually went to all of the high schools and junior highs giving speeches and recruiting students to come to SEA school,” Wharton said. “We also campaigned and canvassed many neighborhoods on behalf of a few political candidates (Democrats), long before we would be able to vote.”
Once the program got started, Wharton said Borgers “pretty much ran the school,” occasionally went to class and even led a class on Shakespeare.
Borgers graduated high school early to attend Cal State Long Beach. A child of teachers, Borgers told the Press-Telegram in 2010 that education is the most important thing in society.
“And it seems to me that the wisdom of the ages is in the classics in any art form, whether it be literature or music or drama,” Borgers said. “The great classical pieces all hold the real truth about being human. That’s why they call them humanities.”
Once at CSULB, Borgers began interning at K-Jazz, then called KLON, with her brother Ken.
Wharton said that Borgers was supportive and inspiring to musicians and actors. She played the flute, sang and played the piano. Her and Wharton would play music together on the flute and violin.
“As a struggling violinist, I often bemoaned that I would never sound like Heifetz or the great Russian violinist, David Oistrakh,” Wharton said in the email. “I remember her responding, ‘You don’t need to sound like Heifetz. What’s wrong with sounding like Wharton?’”
Helen is survived by her siblings, Carol Roland, Dave and Ken Borgers and partner, Cannon Coccellato.
Services are pending.