Jana Banana   Biography
WTKS

Radio Personality Seeks Uncommon Adventures - From A Wheelchair
By Kathy Aber The West Orange Times Winter Garden
Blue Rapids Free Press - Thursday, August 27, 2009


Jana is the daughter of Jerry and Kathleen Stump. How does a young woman from Belleville, Kan., (Pop. 2,239) end up a featured character on talk-radio in Orlando? It’s a long, complicated story that involves a car accident, wheelchair basketball, an Olympic gold medal, a walking banana and a tremendous I-can-do-anything spirit. This unusual and circuitous route led Jana Shelfer - a.k.a. Jana Banana to her friends, family and fans on the "Philips Phile" - to Central Florida and a successful broadcasting career. Deborah Norville, Emmy Award-winning journalist and the anchor of television’s Inside Edition, profiled Jana’s ability to recover from a devastating twist of fate in her book "Back on Track: How to Straighten Out Your Life When It Throws You a Curve". It took awhile for Jana’s self confidence and charismatic demeanor to re-emerge following an accident that put her in a wheelchair nearly 20 years ago, but now in her 30s, she says her life is even better than she ever dreamed. Jana has been called Jana Banana since kindergarten. Her mother, the school’s music teacher, called her by her pet name on the first day of school; everyone laughed, and it stuck. “I was embarrassed, but on the second day my name was the only one everyone remembered,” said Jana in a recent interview with The West Orange Times. So, seven years ago, when she applied for an internship on the "Philips Phile" Real Radio 104.1, Jana Banana was the obvious name for her radio character. Jana studied to be a print journalist at the University of Illinois but decided to branch out into broadcasting. As a Philips Phile listener, she learned the program was looking for an intern. “It sounded a little serious and a little like fun, so I applied,” said Jana. She was disappointed when she didn’t get an interview. Jana continued to follow the radio show and knew the position hadn’t been filled. Host Jim Philips kept emphasizing the producers were searching for a really unique candidate for the internship. “As I was driving past a Planet Smoothie I saw a person dressed up as a banana, and I had an idea,” said Jana. “I bought a bunch of bananas and dressed each as a character on the show, including myself as a banana in a wheelchair. I put them in a bucket, delivered it to the station [in Maitland] and got an interview immediately.” Most of the Philips Phile listening audience is unaware that Jana is a paraplegic and is confined to a wheelchair. Jana said her disability never seemed important and hasn’t ever been mentioned on the show. At 15, Jana was an active, able bodied baton twirler and cheerleader, but then a minor automobile accident changed her life forever. After school one day in May 1990, she and a friend were driving home along a dirt road. Her friend was behind the wheel; Jana was in the front passenger seat. Going across railroad tracks, her friend lost control of the automobile in sand. “It was a minor accident,” said Jana, but the seat back broke, and her twisted spine hit her spinal cord. “I felt like I had a big rubber band around my chest. I couldn’t feel anything from my chest down. “At the time, I felt like this was the most devastating thing that could happen to anybody. I was struggling with adolescence and being handicapped at the same time.” In medical terms, she is a paraplegic T-4 (thoracic disk four). She spent most of that summer flat on her back adjusting rods inserted in her spine, followed by two months in a rehab facility in Colorado, learning to operate a wheelchair, use hand controls and transfer to a toilet. “The first time I got into a wheelchair, when I pushed out into the commons area, this guy named Craig asked if I could itch his nose.” Jana refers to this experience as her “aha” moment. It made her realize she should focus on what she had left - her mind, personality, hands, a way to be independent - she had something to give. One of the first things her parents did after the rehab stay was to sign Jana up for a wheelchair basketball camp. This would lead to world travel and eventually to her move to Orlando. Through it all she focused on retaining a sense of humor and being positive. “Outwardly, I was a pretty good actress,” said Jana. “But at night in my room, it wasn’t good.” This dark phase went on for about two years. “Eventually I started coming out of it - the cloud started lifting,” Jana said. 


Junior Miss Finalist 
By her senior year in high school, Jana was getting back to her old self - the performer who loved the spotlight. She became involved in America’s Junior Miss Program in Kansas. “I grew up performing. I loved being on stage,” said Jana. “I just kept winning at the various levels in the program and made the state finals. At the finals, there was a physical fitness competition that featured jump rope exhibition.” Her performance using only her hands and arms didn’t lead to a title, but she was awarded the Spirit Award and a college scholarship. “[The contest] was a big step. I realized I could still be smart, beautiful and charismatic,” said Jana. With the scholarship, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of studying journalism and graduated from the University of Illinois. “I had always wanted to be a journalist,” she said. By the time she completed college, Jana had concluded wheelchairs and snow don’t mix and started looking at a new home with a more temperate climate. In college she had participated in the Disney College Program and was familiar with Central Florida. She was also looking for a city that had a women’s wheelchair basketball team - and Orlando did. 


Wheelchair b-ball team wins gold 
She relocated, joined Orlando’s USA wheelchair basketball team and in 1995 qualified for the U.S. Paralympics Team. As part of the U.S. team, she traveled to Europe, Australia, Brazil and Japan. In its first Paralympics Games in Atlanta in 1996, the team won a bronze medal. In 2000 in Sydney, it placed fifth. Then, in Athens in 2004, the team won the gold medal. At this point, Jana retired from full-time wheelchair basketball to concentrate on journalism and broadcasting. 


Her radio career
After completing three internships with the Philips Phile, Jana evolved into a permanent member of the cast and her radio personality, Jana Banana, or sometimes just “Banana.” Before she went on air for the first time, Jana said Phillips recommended, “Let’s don’t mention your wheels yet.” “It didn’t seem to shape who I was on the air. In a strange way, it was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time,” Jana said. “My disability is part of who I am. But radio is theater of the mind. When I’m on the air, people are getting to know me first.” Sometimes first encounters can be awkward, she said. “When people meet me for the first time, they ask, ‘What happened to you?’ “On the air, we’re kind of a family. We tease like family members do, but my wheelchair just never came up. “I’m not trying to hide it in any way. I’ve spoken at schools and for disability groups.” A typical radio day “I don’t go into work until 1 p.m. From 1:30-3 the cast catches up on current events happening in the last 24 hours - national and local politics and whatever’s in the news media,” said Jana. “Jim [Philips] decides what we’ll talk about. We give him ideas and follow his lead.” The talk-radio show is broadcast live from 3-7 p.m. each weekday in Central Florida from the Clear Channel (studios) in Maitland, nationwide on XM Radio and Webcasted worldwide. The team takes about 10 calls on air each hour from the hundred or so call-ins. “The fun part is being on the air,” said Jana. The five o’clock segment of the show features a variety of games, including rewind spoiler. In this, a couple of listeners e-mail questions based on the dialogue earlier in the show. Each cast member gives an answer, and the audience is challenged to determine who’s telling the truth. “It’s often difficult to remember what we’ve said, since we cover so many topics,” said Jana. In addition to the on-air broadcast, Jana screens phone callers, does a lot of production work and is in charge of on-air commercial checks. There is a lot of work behind the scenes, she said. “I thought it was so much fun,” said Jana. “I grew to love the cast; they’re like family to me.” 


A typical radio day
“I don’t go into work until 1 p.m. From 1:30-3 the cast catches up on current events happening in the last 24 hours - national and local politics and whatever’s in the news media,” said Jana. “Jim [Philips] decides what we’ll talk about. We give him ideas and follow his lead.” The talk-radio show is broadcast live from 3-7 p.m. each weekday in Central Florida from the Clear Channel in Maitland, nationwide on XM Radio and Webcasted worldwide. The team takes about 10 calls on air each hour from the hundred or so call-ins. “The fun part is being on the air,” said Jana. The five o’clock segment of the show features a variety of games, including rewind spoiler. In this, a couple of listeners e-mail questions based on the dialogue earlier in the show. Each cast member gives an answer, and the audience is challenged to determine who’s telling the truth. “It’s often difficult to remember what we’ve said, since we cover so many topics,” said Jana. In addition to the on-air broadcast, Jana screens phone callers, does a lot of production work and is in charge of on-air commercial checks. There is a lot of work behind the scenes, she said. “I thought it was so much fun,” said Jana. “I grew to love the cast; they’re like family to me.” 


Life after the car accident 
“I can’t say it’s been easy. I look at it as an adventure. I’ve met people - strangers - I wouldn’t have met. I have some great memories. Like riding on my roommate’s back to get into our favorite bar in college,” Jana explained. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the year of her accident, things are more accessible. In Florida, even the houses are pretty accessible for wheelchairs, she said. Her parents had to add a ramp at their home in Kansas. But “I’ve crawled onto airplanes,” she said, “and been carried into the bathroom piggyback. I’ve had some difficult times. In Smoothie, I saw a person dressed up as a banana, and I had an idea,” said Jana. “I bought a bunch of bananas and dressed each as a character on the show, including myself as a banana in a wheelchair. I put them in a bucket, delivered it to the station [in Maitland] and got an interview immediately.” Most of the Philips Phile listening audience is unaware that Jana is a paraplegic and is confined to a wheelchair. Jana said her disability never seemed important and hasn’t ever been mentioned on the show. At 15, Jana was an active, able-bodied baton twirler and cheerleader, but then a minor automobile accident changed her life forever. After school one day in May 1990, she and a friend were driving home along a dirt road. Her friend was behind the wheel; Jana was in the front passenger seat. Going across railroad tracks, her friend lost control of the automobile in sand. “It was a minor accident,” said Jana, but the seat back broke, and her twisted spine hit her spinal cord. “I felt like I had a big rubber band around my chest. I couldn’t feel anything from my chest down. “At the time, I felt like this was the most devastating thing that could happen to anybody. I was struggling with adolescence and being handicapped at the same time.” In medical terms, she is a paraplegic T-4 (thoracic disk four). She spent most of that summer flat on her back adjusting rods inserted in her spine, followed by two months in a rehab facility in Colorado, learning to operate a wheelchair, use hand controls and transfer to a toilet. “The first time I got into a wheelchair, when I pushed out into the commons area, this guy named Craig asked if I could itch his nose.” Jana refers to this experience as her “aha” moment. It made her realize she should focus on what she had left - her mind, personality, hands, a way to be independent - she had something to give. One of the first things her parents did after the rehab stay was to sign Jana up for a wheelchair basketball camp. This would lead to world travel and eventually to her move to Orlando. Through it all she focused on retaining a sense of humor and being positive. “Outwardly, I was a pretty good actress,” said Jana. “But at night in my room, it wasn’t good.” This dark phase went on for about two years. “Eventually I started coming out of it - the cloud started lifting,” Jana said. 


Where would she like to go from here? 
“I have a lot of goals and dreams, and I don’t know where they’ll take me. Right now, I’m just living in the moment,” said Jana. “I’ve considered writing children’s books. Kids are curious about disabilities. Parents often tell them not to ask questions, but it needs to be talked about. “I live a pretty wonderful life. I don’t think I would change anything. I have an awesome husband. I love my job. The people I work with I consider family. I love where we live.” From time to time, Jana says the Philips Phile reads excerpts from her hometown newspaper, the Belleville Telescope. Examples of Belleville news might be: “Mrs. Ellie Smith made a fried chicken dinner to celebrate her cousin Sadie’s 50th birthday.” Or “Did ya know, our hometown girl, Jana ‘Banana,’ reads the Telescope to the world on Real Radio from Orlando, Fla.” That car accident reported in the Telescope in 1990 hardly slowed her down a bit. If anything, it hardened her resolve to follow her dreams with little thought about the limitations the accident caused. Clearly, she’s got the right approach.


From her broadcast desk at the Clear Channel studio in Maitland, Jana shares a laugh with her Philips Phile radio partner, Jack.


Jason and Jana (Stump) Shelfer


  Jim Philips announces Jana Banana is leaving and Jana says goodbye  "The Philips Phile" 9-8-14


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