With this being the second week of November, it seems like a great time to reflect on the phenomenon that has come to be known as “Movember.” It’s a tradition that can seem silly at times, but it is rooted in very serious and critically important origins.
As the “mo” in its name suggests, Movember is all about growing mustaches in an effort to raise awareness about men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and suicide. The Movember Foundation says their goal is to change the face of men’s health. Their website states that, “By 2030, we aim to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%.” Quite a lofty and admirable goal.
Originally the brainchild of Australians Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, Movember was created in a bar in Melbourne in 2004. They noticed that mustaches had all but disappeared, even in Australia, and wondered if they could bring back this look. They found 30 people who were willing to participate, charging $10 a head for each person who wanted try and grow a mustache for the month, using proceeds to donate to men’s health and prostate cancer research.
The global phenomenon would eventually explode into more than six million members participating worldwide. The Movember Foundation has raised $837 million and funded over 1,200 projects in dozens of countries. They help promote early cancer diagnoses and encourage going in for wellness examinations, as well as removing the stigma behind mental health, all in an effort to reduce the number of preventable deaths. Seeking mental health treatment has historically been difficult, particularly for men in society who are often burdened with “machismo” that prevents men from seeking help.
November is also a time to reflect on those who have lost their battles with those very diseases Movember hopes to gain awareness for. One longtime advocate for Movember and cancer awareness was the legendary radio disc jockey, Steve West. Although West was born in England in 1951, his home and where he would make his mark would eventually be San Diego, California. West landed at the iconic 91X in its early days as they were making their mark on the world of radio.
The station had previously focused on classic rock, but in 1983 91X switched formats to alternative rock and specifically, rock of the ‘80s. West saw this as a perfect opportunity to bring along all of the Brit bands he had fallen in love with, such as The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths.
Like Rodney Bingenheimer before him on his KROQ “Rodney on the Roq” show, West did for new wave and ‘80s alternative what Bingenheimer had done for punk music and UK bands in California. West helped create the large fanbase of San Diego listeners and through his personality, voice, and music selection, gained enough popularity in 91X’s early days that helped cement the future and is a big reason why the station is still up and running today.
West was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. Rather than retreating or giving in to the disease, he began passionately championing to raise awareness and urging males to get screened for early detection. According to the San Diego Union-Tribute, “West hosted a marathon ‘Movember’ broadcast to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and to raise awareness about men’s health issues” for several years.
West would later move to fellow San Diego station, ALT 94/9, where he began the highly-successful “Legends of Alternative” weekend show in 2014. “Legends of Alternative” is a celebration of everything West would play when his career first started and the music was new, from ‘70s punk rock to new wave and alternative of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The show still runs on ALT 94/9, weekends from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m., but is now hosted by longtime friend of West, Bryan Schock, and serves as a tribute, as unfortunately Steve West passed away last year.
Twelve years after his initial diagnosis, West was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2016, which would reoccur just a few years later. A man who remained passionate about music and his job, West would schedule his chemotherapy appointments around his on-air schedule so that he could continue spinning records for Southern California’s locals. West would finally succumb to the wretched disease on May 11, 2020, just two weeks shy of his 69th birthday.
As you see the photos or viral videos of people growing mustaches this month, let’s also take some time to remember the message and people behind that facial hair. The importance of focusing on men’s health, which for many men is often seen as unimportant or overlooked completely. Let’s honor the memory and legacy of those like Steve West, who were not only taken too soon, but lived their life stressing the importance of early detection and raising awareness. Let’s also remember Steve West, who became the very thing that he created: A Legend of Alternative.