Wisconsin Public Radio’s morning host ready to hang up his mic

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Posted by M.Pat on November 27, 2009 at 11:39:57:

77 Square published this nice writeup:

41 years later, Wisconsin Public Radio’s morning host ready to hang up his mic


Thousands of people all over the state wake up every morning with Jim Fleming.

Fleming chooses the soundtrack as they start their day: Mozart, Haydn, Boccherini, Gershwin. His voice, cadenced and comforting, introduces each symphony and concerto.

But after Thursday, Dec. 3, Wisconsinites will have a new morning companion. Fleming, after nearly 41 consecutive years at Wisconsin Public Radio, is retiring.

“It’s very common for people to form a relationship” with announcers, Fleming said. “It is a very intimate medium. Television is controlled in a box, radio is all around you.

“You ride with people in their cars. You sit in their kitchens with them. Radio is very personal.”

Fleming hosts Morning Classics, broadcast statewide and heard locally (WERN/FM 88.7) from 9 to 11 a.m. and is a reader for Chapter A Day (12:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on WHA/AM 970) during the week. On the weekend, he hosts To the Best of Our Knowledge (broadcast on both stations).

(Chapter A Day is pre-recorded; from Dec. 10-Jan. 1, WPR will broadcast Fleming reading a set of three Christmas stories by Charles Dickens).

Radio hosts become celebrities by voice alone — Phil Corriveau, director of radio at WPR, estimated that nearly 440,000 people tune in to WPR at least once a week, and Fleming broadcasts in the morning, the equivalent of “evening prime time.” But while Fleming can go out in public without worrying he’ll be recognized, that only lasts until he opens his mouth.

“I’ll walk up to the counter at Walgreens, and after talking with the woman for a moment, she’ll say, ‘Do you work for Wisconsin Public Radio?’” Fleming said.

Listeners may feel like they know their favorite radio announcers, which can complicate things when Fleming appears to fans in real life. Fleming remembers a woman indignantly insisting he wasn’t who he claimed to be.

“She said, ‘I know what Jim Fleming looks like, and he doesn’t look like you!’” Fleming said, laughing. “I learned early on that you open the mic and you talk to one person. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of people there are.”

Fleming started at WHA-FM in October 1968, when he was a 19-year-old college student at the UW-Madison. He was an English major, and he worked for the first few months at the station as a volunteer.

“Christmastime came, and nobody on the full time staff wanted to work weekends or evenings,” Fleming said. “So they paid me $1.65 an hour.”

He did written intros and outros to taped programs, playing tracks chosen by the UW-Madison School of Music. He took one brief break: as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, he worked for two and a half years as a psychiatric aide in Connecticut. He returned to the radio station in 1973.

In those early years, Fleming said, hosts weren’t allowed to play any music that had received air time within the past six months.

Now, things are a bit more flexible. Fleming has his favorites — he loves Bach, and speaks fondly of Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata — but he also knows he has an obligation to play music that should be heard, audience favorites that he’s grown tired of.

“I’ve now heard thousands of hours of music,” Fleming said. “There is music that after hearing it once or twice, you decide you don’t ever need to hear that again. Certainly in radio … there is music that is appropriate for a time of day. You don’t play a full Mahler symphony at 7 in the morning.”

Though Dec. 3 is Fleming’s official last day as an employee on the seventh floor of Vilas Hall, listeners will still hear his voice on pre-recorded episodes of Chapter and To the Best of Our Knowledge on weekends. Cheryl Dring, who recently joined WPR as music director, will take Fleming’s place on Morning Classics.

While he’s relieved to have some time to study photography and take a cruise with his wife, Fleming expects to remain involved with WPR in some capacity.

“I can’t imagine we wouldn’t want him to be with us, whether it’s volunteer work or reading,” Corriveau said. “We simply don’t know at this point.”

“I have come here nearly every day for 37 of the last 41 years,” Fleming said. “Radio is one person talking to another person. I used to joke with people ... I have been in more people’s bedrooms and bathrooms than anybody else I know. I’ve taken showers with people, slept with people. I’ve been in their kitchens, I’ve been in their living rooms, their shops, their cars, their basements. I’ve been for long walks with people. You do feel as though you’re forming a relationship.”


Hear Jim Fleming's final broadcast on Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. on WERN/FM 88.7, which will include a live performance before a studio audience starting at 10.

Morning Classics airs weekdays from 9 to 11 a.m. on WERN.

To the Best of Our Knowledge is broadcast Saturdays and Sundays from 9 to 10 a.m. on WERN, and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m. on WHA 970 AM.

Chapter A Day is broadcast weekdays at 12:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on WHA.

For more information, go to wpr.org.

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