Radio Hosting in the time of COVID-19

Mar 25, 2020

I started working as a fill-in host at WCRB in the fall of 2019. In recent weeks, this work has taken on a new meaning.

When I began working as a fill-in host, it was, first and foremost, a way to reacquaint myself with the classical music I cherished so much as a kid: WQXR in New York was the soundtrack to my childhood, and every time the William Tell Overture came on the radio, my dad would drop everything and lead my sister and me in galloping around the living room while banging wooden spoons on overturned soup pots (a distinction I share with fellow WCRB host Tyler Alderson).

The new job was also a means of dipping a toe back into radio, a world that had fascinated me since an internship at NPR several years prior. Over the past six months, I’ve pressed buttons, tweaked knobs, and slid faders on a broadcast console that rivals the bridge on the USS Enterprise; I’ve lived out my dream of being Audie Cornish for a day; and I’ve listened to some of the greatest music ever written in spectacular surround sound for hours on end. (It would not be hyperbole to say that every time the we air the final movement of Beethoven’s 5th, I host my own private dance party in the booth).

In recent weeks, I’ve spent a great deal more time in the studio, due to the disruption of my daily routine as a high school science teacher and graduate student as well as WCRB’s laudable efforts to limit the number of on-air personnel during the outbreak. We’ve been adhering strictly to CDC recommendations: only one person is permitted at a time in our studio, and the end of each shift is punctuated by a vigorous scrubbing with Clorox wipes. Somehow, in the midst of all this diligent Purell-ing and social distancing, what was once a mere “side gig” has taken on new meaning for me.

Radio hosts such as myself are by no means on the front-lines of this protracted fight against COVID-19 – medical professionals and other essential staff reserve that honor, and they have my utmost respect – but I am increasingly cognizant of our small yet important role in counteracting the psychological toll of the world’s strange new reality. I’ve had a number of people tell me that they listen to WCRB to relax, something that is more imperative than ever in this era of apocalyptic headlines.

Although I’ve always been something of a Luddite, I’ve been using Twitter to connect with the WCRB audience, and I have been bowled over by the outpouring of kindness and gratitude from listeners. When I’m not bungling a Czech pronunciation (sorry Mysliveček!) or reporting the weather, I spend the vast majority of my time at work scouring the internet for any “good news” I can find (and there's precious little to be had out there) so that I can relay it to the public. Walking to work each day, past lines of shoppers shivering at 6-foot intervals outside Trader Joes, I feel charged with purpose. It’s not life-saving work that I do, but perhaps it is – dare I say, to some degree – sanity-saving? That responsibility is gratifying and humbling in equal measure.

I’d like to think that I’m not just a disembodied voice emanating from your car radio or Echo Dot, but a comforting human presence at a time when we could all use a little more humanity. I am deeply grateful to be part of the WCRB community and your daily routines. So, with apologies for my sense of humor (think “dad-jokes-meet-chemistry-puns”) and obsession with my guinea pigs (whom you’ll probably hear a lot about in the coming weeks), I thank you for letting us into your lives and living rooms. We’ll get through this together, one Brandenburg Concerto at a time.

Thank you for listening.