WKSU & All Things Considered: Five Decades and Counting
Public radio listeners tuning in 50 years ago this afternoon heard a news program which was more than just bulletins… more than trying to bring you the world in 22 minutes… it was -- and remains – two hours of analysis, interviews, balanced news and commentary. “All Things Considered” set a new standard for journalism, and that's apparent whether you’ve listened just once, or every day since May 3, 1971.
Back then, Northeast Ohio was preparing to mark one year since the deadly shootings of antiwar protesters by the National Guard at Kent State University. Capturing the events of every anniversary of May 4th is part of the DNA at WKSU. On that first anniversary in 1971, “All Things Considered” wasn't even on our schedule. WKSU programs were largely produced by students -- and would be for several more years. One of those students was Dick Russ. Before he became a household name in Cleveland TV news, he began his career as a student reporter -- the same year that “All Things Considered” hit the airwaves.
“What I remember clearly is then-General Manager John Perry calling a meeting. And part of that was that this program called ‘All Things Considered’ was potentially coming our way. And what did it mean for us? That was a really big step: it was a landmark for NPR. What I remember John saying -- and those of us who were at that meeting thinking – was, ‘this is very good for us because it allows us to have some kind of a vehicle to attach local news programming.’”
Another student in that era was Al Bartholet. He would be WKSU’s General Manager from 2000-2012. He remembers what finally brought “All Things Considered” to 89.7 in 1974.
“We were just coming off of the Watergate hearings. Sen. Sam Ervin was running that [and] we had John Seiberling -- who was a local congressman -- on the Watergate Committee, and so there was a lot of interest and it was the Watergate hearings that were being broadcast, gavel to gavel, on NPR. That really made an impact with the public. Not only did WKSU begin its first baby steps in to coming into prominence; the network did as well. People stuck with ‘All Things Considered,’ perhaps after the Watergate hearings were wrapping up.”
Weaving it all together
Since 2014, Jeff St. Clair has been WKSU’s local anchor for “All Things Considered” – a period in which live coverage of congressional hearings and press conferences has become commonplace. St. Clair explains how he weaves together world news, national news, and the stories coming from Northeast Ohio.
“Usually, the top story of the day -- we're going to start the hour with that -- that's out of Washington, D.C. So, I'm sitting in a studio here in Kent, listening to Ari Shapiro and Audie Cornish or Mary Louise Kelly or Ailsa Chang, and they will throw the outcue, ‘This Is All Things Considered,’ and I jump in and I say, ‘This is 89.7,’ and then we run our local news stories. We have four- or five-minute pieces that we put in there, or local newscasts that I'll do twice an hour. It's all integrated; it's all seamless.”
Professionals at college
At the close of the 1980s, WKSU began increasing its commitment to providing local content during “All Things Considered.” News director Roy Jones remembers that it was sometimes tough to be taken seriously.
“The guys who worked at the other radio stations in the area -- the other news departments – kind of tended to look down on us a bit. Some of them didn't really quite understand that we weren't just college kids; we were professionals [and] we've been in the business for years. Every once in a while, we would do something which would give us an opportunity to steal a march on one of them. And whenever we could do that, we just reveled in it. And the one that we really loved was in February, 1989.”
“In the meantime, I saw on the wire that one of our senators, Howard Metzenbaum, had been in the area, had come to Akron to tour the damage, and he'd had a private talk with Mayor [Don] Plusquellic. [Reporter] Mark Urycki had a mobile phone in his car and I called him up and said, ‘Mark, you're going to be at that press availability with Mayor Plusquellic. Make sure you talk to him about what passed between him and Metzenbaum when he was there.’ Mark asked that question and everybody looked up and said, ‘What?’ We got every one of them; nobody else knew about [Metzenbaum].”
A new anchor
In 1996, Vivian Goodman joined WKSU as a classical music announcer.
“When I think back on the people -- when I see faces [and] think of the interviews I did -- Pierre Boulez, the great conductor and composer, I did have four interviews with him. When he died, NPR asked for those and I was so privileged to have been able to meet him.”
In 2000, Goodman was appointed the local anchor of "All Things Considered." A year later came the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “Urycki and I -- when we found out about the connection with the tower in Cleveland -- we had to really jump on that because until that point, we were anchoring NPR's coverage of this amazing and horrible tragedy.”
Later in the decade, Cleveland writer Harvey Pekar saw his life transformed into a feature film. At the same time, he became an occasional WKSU commentator.
“I originally appeared on [Late Night with David Letterman] in 1986. After Doubleday published a collection of my comic book stories. I really went over well to the point where Letterman bumped the comedian to give me more time. He also asked me to appear on his show again. So, I went a couple more times and got a lot of laughs, but not much else. Sales of my comic didn't increase at all, which is the real reason I went on the show. I was doing fine for Letterman but not for myself. We parted company because his [later] CBS audience didn't get me, but I wasn't sorry. My appearances on Letterman sure had me more well known to magazine and newspaper editors, and I began to get a lot more writing gigs -- as well as this great slot on WKSU.”
The past decade
Some of the most popular stories from the WKSU newsroom of the past decade include an edition of Jeff St. Clair's "Exploradio" about non-toxic pigments from bird feathers, M.L. Schultze on the duck-shaped 4th congressional district, and Amanda Rabinowitz's "Shuffle" interview with Phong Nguyen, ahead of the then-impending 50th anniversary of the May 4, 1970 shootings.
Much of WKSU's history can be traced in this story from our 70th anniversary (2020), and the video below from 2000 — hosted by then-WEWS anchorman Ted Henry, a WKSU alum.