Saturday, August 08, 2015

Conversation Radio at WABE-FM, Atlanta

Until I plugged in my ear buds and started riding my bike this summer, I was among those mourning the loss of classical music programming at WABE, Atlanta's premiere public radio station.  But I gave a try to the talk shows City Lights and A Closer Look.

Nine weeks and nearly 2000 miles later, on the stormy evening before I return to school for faculty work days, I know I'll remember this summer for conversation, the way I remember other summers for "Sweet Caroline" or "Call Me Maybe."

[Photos, Lois Reitzes;   Denis O'Hayer and Rose Scott]

Topics for "City Lights," hosted by long-time announcer Lois Reitzes, range widely under the general category of "creative expression."  Ms. Reitzes speaks in a low, excited whisper that verges on a gasp.  But she puts her subjects at ease and draws them out with follow-up questions.  The show airs interviews from other sources such as NEH and other cities' NPR stations.

"A Closer Look," hosted by Denis O'Hayer and Rose Scott, focuses more on Atlanta's metropolitan area, economic trends, policy choices, and controversies. Mayor Kasim Reed paused to comment on how they were giving him a hard time, and another official later thanked them for not letting Reed off easy.  No matter what, Denis and Rose, no less than Lois, presume that their interlocutors are decent, intelligent, and well-prepared to answer critical questions.  

So, pedaling through a tunnel of greenery, dodging squirrels and the occasional rabbit, I was always thinking.  For awhile, I tried to keep a list of striking bits until the quantity overwhelmed me.  Here are a few:
  • Chuck Palahniuk's violent Fight Club belies a soft-spoken, thoughtful, earnest writer who admires my guy, John Updike.  "Everyone listening should read or re-read Updike's story about the A&P."  His own short story about a boy parroting grown-ups' offensive jokes suggested a lot about us. Palahniuk worries about an insidious feedback loop between MFA teachers, their graduates, and the next generation of MFA teachers.
  • Cellist Lynn Harrell learned from his father, the singer, to let the cello "breathe"
  • Is 6000 pages too long for a memoir?  A panel of thoughtful critics and writers didn't settle for the one obvious answer considering My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard.  Maybe we do have too much fiction in our lives, dozens of stories flashing at us in image and sound every hour. The author admitted, "The first ten pages are the best; the rest isn't up to my usual standards."  Why did the panelists wait an hour to mention that the title was Hitler's?
  • Local musician Scott Stewart kept up a summer-long dialogue with Lois about film music with numerous sound clips.  I know to look for more by Giachino; Korngold's noble, melancholy music made me cry; the tribute to Horner brought out variety I hadn't heard before; and even the segment on video games illustrated the orchestrator's craft.  I want to remember Korngold's response when Max Steiner said, "During your ten years in Hollywood, my music has been getting better and better, while yours has been getting worse and worse."  Korngold said, "That's because you've been stealing from me, and I've been stealing from you."
  • The late Elmore Leonard said, "If it sounds like writing, I re-write it."
  • B.B.King was scared in 1967 when a roomful of white hippies gave him a standing ovation before he played a note; his delight and gratitude for that evidently carried over to his dying day four decades later.
  • I had my eyes opened to artists I've not appreciated before through tributes to Buddy Guy, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, some by WABE's jazz deejay affectionately known for decades as H. Johnson.
  • Louis Armstrong's music, his home, his home-recordings, his dismay at being called an "Uncle Tom" all came across in an audio tour of the home his wife Lil made with him.
  • What's most important about a brand of bourbon, says the author of a book on America's beverage, is not in the bottle.  The legends that go with the labels began largely as marketing ploys, but are now so old that they're legend enough.
  • Conversation with the writer who moved in next to Harper Lee's family home gave us insight before the controversy over Go Set a Watchman.  She returned after, for follow-up.
  • Zombie maven Max Brooks wrote World War Z on the models of real-life oral histories, to emphasize how heroes don't win a war; it's a community effort.  His zombies are slow and stupid (not like the super-powered ones in the movie, which he disowns) because we are to blame for repeated plagues and scourges, through denial, inertia, gullibility.  Brooks gives the example of AIDS-HIV, but I can think of others.  Even Hitler gave ten years' warning.  Brooks' latest work about vampires during a zombie apocalypse is his version of what he sees on college campuses today: children of privilege who've never been allowed to experience failure.
Musicians, actors, rappers, writers -- all come across in conversation as grateful for the attention, courteous, and unsure as the rest of us how they'll move forward from past successes.

So, with school looming, I know this summer is over.  I'll miss my long dog walks with Mia, old Luis, and my friend Susan;  I'll miss the bike rides and feeling fit as I fill up with school lunches and sit reading papers.  And I'll miss "City Lights" and "A Closer Look."  They were the soundtrack of my summer!

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