How is Public Radio Different from Commercial Radio?
AMPPR Board Members Talk About Radio
Interview Excerpt #1
LOIS REITZES (WABE-FM, Atlanta GA): I got into radio by way of being an insomniac. This is for real! I grew up in Chicago, and I was a very serious, young piano student, and always had a lot of difficulty sleeping. And I used to turn on my little General Electric clock radio and listen to WFMT, or what in those days was WEFM, and I would feel sufficiently soothed, and eventually relaxed, but more often stimulated by hearing the repertoire, and I don’t know how much sleep I gained, but I sure enriched my perspective and my listening.
FRANK J. OTERI: How long have you been on the air at this point?
LOIS REITZES: Two years in graduate school, and 20 years in Atlanta. Half my life…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA (WGBH-FM, Boston MA): I was in the Navy, about 18 years old, doing a job I really didn’t like at all in French Morocco. And passed an open Quonset hut, there was some beautiful music coming out of the door and poked my head in to see what it was. And the guy inside said, “Are you applying for the announcer’s job?” and I said, “Yes.” [Everyone laughs.] And he said, “There’s some news copy in the other room. Want to read it over?” and I went in and read it over and he said, “Okay, you’re on the air in 5 minutes.” And I read the news cast, he said “What outfit are you with? I’ll get you transferred.” The next day I was in the radio station, a month later, he got word that his mother was dying back in Texas so they sent him back. And I then, having the most experience at that time, became the station manager. [Everyone laughs.] When I got out of the Navy, some 3 _ years later, with the G.I. Bill of Rights, I went to college, and decided to study journalism and communication arts, which included theater and radio. And when I couldn’t get a job as an actor or director, and I still needed money to buy paints and canvas and clay and stuff, I’d go down to the local radio station, apply, work 3 or 4 months, as an announcer, and then I’d go back to my studio or to a play. Tht’s how I got into Morning Pro Musica. I’d planned on being there about 2 or 3 months, weekends. And they asked me to take weekdays, but I didn’t want to give up the weekends, so I started doing it 7 days a week. And that was almost 29 years ago. I forgot to leave.
FRANK J. OTERI: [Laughs.] Have you always been in Boston?
CHRIS KOHTZ (WGUC-FM, Cincinnati OH): I was an undergraduate music student at university and was looking for a job. I saw a 3×5 card hanging on the bulletin board at the music school. It said, “Announcer wanted weekends.” And I thought, what the heck. My mom said it would get me in trouble. So I applied and got the job, and did a variety of things there. Mostly I was interested in it because as a musician I had a lot of listening lessons, and this was an access to a great classical library. And I kept doing various positions and things while I was trying to be a professional musician and a few years ago, they were just tugging each other to be full time, so I opted for radio. So, I’ve just been climbing the ladder and trying different suits on, so to speak, over the last 13 years.
BOYCE LANCASTER (WOSU-FM, Columbus OH): Music might be one of the few things in which it’s more difficult to make a living than radio. My story’s not nearly as romantic as those. My dad was in television my entire life. I grew up climbing around the prop room, and playing with the cameras and punching buttons. All I ever wanted to do was be a broadcaster. My parents were both very active in music, they were both church musicians, they were majors in broadcasting and music in college. So I had an exposure to both fields and a love for music of many different kinds. So I just got into speech classes and doing little radio things in high school, and took broadcasting courses and said, “I’m going to be a radio announcer” and now I are one! [FJO laughs.] About as straightforward as you can get… It’s all I ever wanted to do, and I was lucky enough to be able to do it.
FRANK J. OTERI: How long have you been doing it?
BOYCE LANCASTER: About 25 years, including a couple of years in college.
BEVERLEY ERVINE (also WOSU-FM): Well, I’m in a position that I never had dreamed or aspired to, initially. I thought that I would end up teaching music at a college someday. While I was working on my doctorate in music history and literature at Ohio State University, I was a graduate teaching associate, which I thrived on, but it paid very poorly. And so, to compensate that, I was hired by a public library in one of the suburbs of Columbus as the audio-visual cataloger. And my duties increased. I was typing the 3×5 cards and all that kind of stuff. And it got to the point where I was doing all the purchasing of the recordings. And eventually it worked into a full-time gig, because once I left Ohio State, they just said “We’d like to keep you full time,” and I kept just learning more and more and moving up through the ranks. Well, I began to realize that unless I went back to school to get an MLA I was at a dead end course, and at that time I didn’t want to go back to school. So I thought, what can I do? And I found out about a job opening at WOSU, they were looking for an announcer, and I said, what the heck, I’ll go give it a try. Well, I was pitiful. [laughs] I blew every word that I could imagine. So I did not get that job. But it just so happened that Mary Hoffman, the program director was quite taken by me and my skills that I had acquired as a librarian, and my knowledge of the music, and she decided that she wanted to create a position for that, and hire someone to come in, because we were moving into the CD age, and she knew I had all the contacts. So, eventually, I got a phone call out of the blue one day: “We’re creating this position of a music librarian at WOSU. And I want you to apply for the job.” So I did, I got it, and next thing you know, she wanted me to upgrade and get us into the computer age, so with my expertise, we wrote the program. And one thing led to another through the years. I’ve evolved now to be the music director. But I have never been on the air.
BOYCE LANCASTER: One time you’ve been on the air. You did one fundraising gig with me. And that’s the best I could get her in there… it was one time.
FRANK J. OTERI: Did you meet each other there?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Yes, we met at the station. And got married at the station!
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow! Was the wedding on the air?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: No.
BOYCE LANCASTER: We talked about it a lot on the air. Now, we didn’t honeymoon at the station, but a few people tried… They said, “Get ‘em to stay here.”
DEANNE POULOS (KBAQ-FM, Phoenix AZ): Well, I’m a neophyte in radio, compared to everybody. [Laughs.] I’m an insomniac also, but that had nothing to do with radio. I was living in Los Angeles, and a friend worked for BMG Classics/RCA Victor. They were trying to create a position of National Classical Radio Promoter, and he thought I was gregarious and just sort of brought me in to do it. In that capacity, I met the music director of a small station in a suburb of Los Angeles… He had a person doing a musical theater show just one hour a week, and I had a background in that, because I used to perform. So he enlisted me to do that, taught me how to run the board, and I made a lot of mistakes. [Laughs.] Well, I knew I wanted to return home to Phoenix, my hometown, so I went to the AMPPR Conference in 1994, and made it a point to meet the people from the local classical station. When I did move back to Phoenix, I just kept in communicado, was hired part time and then was just hired full time a year ago. So I’ve been doing this about 3 years.
LOIS REITZES: I just wanted to add that, as the fulfillment of my insomnia dreams, when I entered graduate school at Indiana University, I intended to go for a PhD in musicology and a minor in piano, and I knew they had a wonderful classical station there that also was an NPR affiliate. And I was feeling a rare surge of self confidence, knocked on the door and said, “Need any announcers?” thinking “Wouldn’t that be fun? They just get to play the music they love all day.” And the program director said he didn’t have any openings but they always take auditions. And I auditioned, and I was quite delighted that he told me that, well, actually, they probably could use one more employee. And I was hired, and in my years there, I came to realize that as privileged as I felt to be studying music there, I was a whole lot more comfortable and felt that I was making a greater impact on people’s lives in my small way at the radio station than I could have felt, I mean, at that time, than I would have felt coming up with some esoteric dissertation topic on why a mordent should be played a little bit differently during Rossini‘s time than it was in Bach‘s! [Everyone laughs.] And this is not in any way meant to be anti-intellectual. I think there’s a need and a reason for advanced academics. I’m married to one, and adore him, but in our little way, you know, we make people’s lives better, happier. How many other jobs do people have where those with whom you interact call and thank you for what you do? And so, 2 years there, and then 20 years in Atlanta where we moved because of my husband’s job. And this is it, this is the only place I’ll ever be.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Most of you have spent most of your radio life in public broadcasting. And the greatest percentage of mine has now been there. But I started out in a little town in South Carolina playing southern gospel music, and went someplace else and played jazz, and went someplace else and spun records in nightclubs and played rock and roll. And I went into radio to get into radio. But Mary Hoffman has really caused problems for us…[Everyone laughs.] She knew we were going to get married, I think, before we did. I was hired as a technician. I was hired by the operations department. I was running equipment and things of this nature, and one day… “Would you be willing to do a couple of newscasts?” “Sure.” She said, “Well, why don’t you make me a demo tape?” So I made a demo tape and she comes back and says, “Well, I think we can do this.” And just one thing led to another, “Would you sit in for this person for an hour? Would you…” And then the morning host was leaving for Oregon. “Would you like to do that for him for a while until we hire somebody?” And one thing led to another, and she, over the objection, I think, and the suggestion of the manager, decided to hire me full time anyway. As he said, I wouldn’t last 6 months. And I’ve been working on that now for about 15 years. He’s retired, so I don’t have to deal with that anymore.
DEANNE POULOS: It sounds as though nobody studied broadcasting.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I think I’m the only one.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: No, I did.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I went to school for broadcasting, but none of us, I don’t think, were looking to do what we’re doing.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: And, with regard to that, I’d say that, you know, I get a lot of people now who want to know how you get into radio. And I tell them my suggestion would be, go down to whatever radio station, get a job and start working. Four years of college preparing you for a career in broadcasting is really 4 years where you won’t get anywhere near as much experience as you get in 4 months working at a radio station.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Exactly.