Six Years in Radio

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

For me, February 22nd, will mark six years of my public radio career on WIOX in Roxbury, Upstate New York. Our “wildly diverse, live and local”, progressive little radio station in the heart of picturesque Catskills is a hive of activity, broadcasting locally on 91.3FM and streaming online on WIOX is now an NPR affiliate, having partnered with WSKG in Binghamton.

The whole endeavor has been an education and the setting couldn’t be more gorgeous: a converted barn in one of the most picturesque villages in the area. I believe my commute is one of the most documented in the region. A brief history: In late 2011, after spending more than ten years traveling back and forth between the US, Europe, and sometimes the rest of the world, I returned to my house in the Catskills and decided to make a life here. I felt lucky.*

So where to start this life in the Catskills? I didn’t know anybody. I had been a lifelong introvert. So I attended a Writers’ Pot Luck Dinner and Fiction Reading at The Pine Hill Community Center, in Pine Hill run by Writers in the Mountains. It was a dry event, so I chugged a beer outside and threw the bottle in the back of my car. Public speaking without at least a beer seemed barbaric. My skinny jeans were copping a hard stare from a severe-looking woman in a precise bob and twinset. I didn’t know a soul, but got up on the stage in front of the microphone and read a black comedy I had written about suicide, which I decided was hideously politically incorrect half way through and bombed like a champ, muttering: “I can’t read this….” and skipping paragraphs so the whole thing made no sense. There’s a reason I’ve never had any fiction published.

I was slinking out of the event with my tail between my legs when I was approached by Geoff Rogers, formerly of The Writer’s Voice on WIOX. He asked me if I wanted to read my stories on the radio. “Sure,” I replied. Why not crash and burn on the radio, too? I’m just hurtling down my bucket list! So months later on January 3rd, 2012, I read my politically incorrect stories: the one about suicide and one about a woman in a frilly yellow dress who fends off a bear attack with a frying pan. During this radio interview with Geoff, I mentioned that I had a business consulting company for artists and we talked about this for a few minutes. After that show, I was approached by Chris Gaddis, the host of Money Train and invited to be on that show to talk about my business and the finance world in general. Chris had an ulterior motive: he was moving to North Carolina and wanted to leave his show and needed to find someone to replace him. I didn’t know this at the time, but that replacement would be me. While on the show, I said that I was not a fan of expensive 401Ks or stocks and bonds. If I had had savings, I would have put it all into real estate, I said. In 2008, I’d lost most of my pension, so I had completely lost confidence. On the show, I complained about the financial industry and Chris gamely defended it. After this spirited exchange, I was offered my own show.

So on February 22nd, 2012, I hosted my first radio show, still called Money Train, but later changed to “The Economy Of…” (not my idea) and moved to Monday. It quickly transpired that I was no Maria Bartiromo and my show digressed into all sorts of other topics when I (very quickly) ran out of finance ideas. Every week I decided that I would just pick a subject and examine it with one or two guests; now it’s every other week. It takes about half a work day every week to research and write. More time is needed to read books, articles or papers. Sometimes guests don’t show up or cancel at the last minute and I have to scramble to either, use an “emergency” show that I have prepped beforehand, try to find another guest or find music to play.

The radio has introduced me to hundreds of people, propelling me into a life in the Catskills. I’ve interviewed hundreds of remarkable guests on a wide range of subjects. I met someone at a party who told me that they had stopped their car on the hard shoulder to listen to the rest of my show on philosophy because they didn’t want to drive out of range, which was a proud moment. One time, a few years into my radio life, I was in the grocery store and the owner told me: “you’re on the TV”. No, I said, definitely not. He was so insistent that I double checked and found out that my face was, in fact, on local cable Channel 20 for an hour while my show was on. I had previously thought people who smiled and said hello were just being friendly, but perhaps it was because my mug was staring out from television sets at 9am on Monday mornings.

In the last six years, I’ve learnt more about myself and my fellow man than I did in the previous twenty. Public speaking, widely accepted as something people fear more than death, is now manageable for me. I now fear death more than anything, which may be becoming a problem. Speaking on the fly, in complete sentences, is one of my finest accomplishments. More important is the fact that I have learned that engaging in community service isn’t giving, it’s receiving.

But the biggest accomplishment of my career so far has been the attempt to get to the heart of matters rather than engage in divisive politics. Today, politics is a spectacle, like it has been for hundreds of years, like a reality show and laymen on Facebook think they are part of it, which they are not. You’re only part of it if you run for office or lobby your representatives and in the last year, I have interviewed many people who have decided to make a difference in this way. It takes guts – and a low salary – to run for office or serve the public, in rural areas especially. Many local public servants, like townspeople, clerks or mayors, have full-time jobs.

Join me tomorrow, Monday 19th February for some anniversary music and an interview with a local restaurant owner about food and the food business.To stream online, click here.  In the coming weeks throughout spring, I’ll be replaying some of the most interesting interviews from past shows on alternate Mondays from 9am to 10am.

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

*Ten years earlier, in September 2001, I had attended a promotional event the week before 9/11. I had flown from Newark to San Fran at 7am on the correct day. Turns out I missed my 7am flight and was rebooked at 11am. It’s as if Fate had thought to herself: “wait a minute, let’s just make sure”. Even now, I only have a memory of the memory backed up by bank statements and only realized some time later after the shock of the event had worn off. I wasn’t thinking about myself at that time. I had another British friend who had been stranded on the West Cost on 9/11, who came back and packed her bags and left for England shortly thereafter. About 20 close friends left New York in the following years.

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