Celebrity is a good thing. Using fame to bring good people together to do good things is better. If you can do that while pursuing your passion, then life is good.
Helen Bertrand’s life is good.
“I think it’s funny when someone calls me a celebrity,” she said. “I’m just a person.”
Bertrand had dropped out of college to pursue a career with a savings and loan. She was living a comfortable life with a promising future.
“I was an assistant branch manager for a savings and loan that was owned by a husband and wife team,” she said. “She was very big on promoting women. My wallet felt great, my brand new car looked good. The shoes on my feet were leather. My soul was dying.”
Call it fate or call it luck — whatever it was, a friend helped turn her life upside down.
“A friend of mine was a commercial producer,” she said. “Because I talk very fast, he called me and asked if I could come down and read a script. His normal voice actress was out. I said sure I’d come and help out. I did it in one take.”
The friend continued to record Bertrand. He pushed her to explore this talent she had discovered.
“He asked me if I’d thought about radio,” she said. “I said I listened to it but never thought about working in it. Then I found a little radio school. I was paying this company to talk for 15 minutes in air-space that was 1-mile square. After a year of that, the producer asked me what I was still doing there.
“She told me it was time to go work in radio. I’m not a risk taker, and she was talking about me giving up my very cushy bank job and to go work in radio. She put an audition tape together and showed me how to read the want ads for the work.”
Bertrand got her feet wet at a small privately owned station in Palm Springs. She left her bank job. She got fired, a common issue in the radio industry. She moved to an even smaller station where she remained for six months until the owner’s son needed a job. Then she spread her wings.
“I was in my early 30s,” she said. “I had no children. I didn’t even have a dog. I thought ‘What am I staying here for? Why don’t I go wherever the wind takes me — and my U-Haul?’ The next thing I knew I was in Albany, New York.”
It was there that she got her first real taste of fame.
“It was the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” she said. “I was on a float. People were screaming my name. I am the new morning host and I’d been there a month and people were screaming my name. That was the part when I felt like a celebrity.”
It was a classic rock station and she didn’t know much about classic rock. The way she compensated gave her a unique reputation.
“I was touted as the most intelligent voice in capital district radio,” she said. “It became my style to give information about the artists. I had to do research with books. This was before the internet. I had this big almanac of music history.”
That job lasted until a morning zoo program replaced her one-woman show. She decided to go someplace that didn’t have snow.
“I ended up in Baxley, Georgia — 4,000 people and one stop light,” she said. “It was just me and the guy on his tractor. I gave myself two years.”
With no future in Baxley, Bertrand set her sights on returning home to California. But Roswell got in the way.
“I wasn’t getting any love from California stations,” she said. “Roswell had an ad that said ‘if you like small-town living, come try Roswell,’ and I thought to myself, ‘Why do I know Roswell?’ Then I realized it was the aliens. So by then, I could Google and I saw Roswell had 50,000 people and they had Walmart, K-Mart, and Target on one street. I thought, ‘I’ll show them small town.’”
Bertrand moved to Roswell in 2002. She seems to like it.
“I’ve been trapped in the vortex ever since,” she said. “I’ve moved my mother here. I have a child. I can’t leave. Roswell is my home now.”
Bertrand doesn’t work in radio at the moment. But she still exercises her passion for promotion and bringing good people together.
“Right now,” she said, “I’m working with the Roswell Homeless Coalition. They’re doing a huge fundraiser in November, and I’m on the committee. My soapbox has always been — it’s children, it’s animals, it’s the environment, it’s women. I’ve always been on the side of the underdog.”
Bertrand has tasted fame, and let the wind blow her where it would. Now she’s raising her daughter in a town she never expected to live in. She seems to be genuinely happy with her life and able to fulfill herself right where she is.
“There are very few people who can say that they have found their passion and lived it,” she said. “I’m very grateful that my 15 minutes of fame lasted a full half-hour.”