Radio Days

Radio Days, 1985–1988

I put my paint­brush­es away in 1983, when my baby was born. My Stu­dio became the Nurs­ery. I con­tin­ued to write sto­ries about art, typ­ing them on my elec­tric Her­mes on the fam­i­ly din­ing table and mail­ing them in.

When my son was two years old, I went to a gar­den par­ty and met Car­ol Riss­man, the news direc­tor for WBUR, Boston’s local NPR sta­tion. She told me that she was look­ing for some­body to do “Art Spot­s” for the Morn­ing Edi­tion show, and invit­ed me to come in to the sta­tion with a sto­ry on the big Renoir show at the Muse­um of Fine Arts.

I wrote my sto­ry and brought it into the sta­tion, think­ing it was for Car­ol to read in her deep, author­i­ta­tive voice, but she insist­ed that I read it myself. I was led into a sound­proofed room with huge micro­phones hang­ing down from the ceil­ing, with a glass win­dow look­ing out all kinds of com­pli­cat­ed-look­ing equip­ment, and a group of tall, long-haired young men who looked like rock stars – they were the “sound guys” and were all indeed musi­cians by night.

Very ner­vous­ly, I read my sto­ry into the micro­phone. They asked me to do anoth­er take, and then anoth­er. By the sev­enth time I had almost mem­o­rized the sto­ry and even cut it down a lit­tle so I could read it more slow­ly. After­wards, Car­ol said, “You’re a natural!” She invit­ed me to do an Art Spot once a week. I said “Yes!” and my Radio Days began.

I record­ed about a hun­dred two minute “commentaries” and three-minute “two-ways” and occa­sion­al “three-ways” — inter­views with artists or cura­tors. I would record our ses­sions, and then hand-tran­scribe them and cut them down to a lit­tle three-minute play. The “sound guys” would then phys­i­cal­ly cut and paste the tape to match the text.  Some­times we would add music or sound effects. I met many fas­ci­nat­ing artists and oth­er art world per­son­al­i­ties, and many of them became my friends.

Being on the radio trans­formed my writ­ing – and my life. Some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pened when the micro­phone was turned on; all my doubts disappeared.  I devel­oped the habit of read­ing every­thing out loud, so my writ­ing became more nat­ur­al and tuned into my voice. I learned how to lis­ten, and to find the per­fect lit­tle quotes to give the sto­ries a more dynam­ic feel.

I had a huge audi­ence. For the first time in my life, peo­ple were lis­ten­ing to what I had to say, and I loved it.

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