Honoring Our Elders

Forgive me, but every time I hear the name “Seymour,” I am reminded of a crude joke I heard as an 8-year old about a mother taking a bath. She calls and calls for her son Seymour to bring her a towel. Worried sick when he doesn’t respond, she jumps out the tub and takes to the streets completely naked calling “Seymour! Seymour!”  Some guy along the way says to her “See more, lady? I’ve seen enough!” Terrible how the stupidest punch lines stay lodged in the brain forever while important names and facts and memories seem elusive as we get older.

The visionary Ruth Seymour has seen enough. Sharp as ever at 75, she is retiring as General Manager of KCRW next month after five decades of legendary service to public radio, including 32 years at one of the country’s coolest stations. She “tells all” in a just-published interview in Los Angeles Magazine.

Like many in the pubradio system, myself included, she too can proudly wear her “I Survived Pacifica Radio” t-shirt (she worked at KPFK), although, since she lives in L.A., I’m certain her t-shirt is far more fashionable and way hipper than mine, just as her station is more mavericky and original than the public radio in my town. Lately, I’ve been appreciating my iPhone public radio tuner app which allows me to listen to Eclectic 24, a KCRW original.

In her parting interview, Ruth asserts, “Over the years… stations have become more like each other, they have become boring…There was a time when the system was young and full of piss and vinegar.” Ah, I remember the days of piss and vinegar well. Thanks to Ruth, KCRW still has that secret sauce. In her farewell letter, she describes the station as “idiosyncratic, daring, independent smart, compelling.” Indeed, these are words others have used over the years to describe her. Of course there have been other words, typically tossed at confident women in positions of power. Ruth’s interview sheds some wisdom on that, too.

Finally, let me share this gem of a quote that deserves repeating and re-tweeting:

Q: What advice would you give your successor about that [referring to webcasting, etc.]?

Ruth:  “It’s all radio. I guess that the first advice, because there is an enormous shifting away, a lack of investment in programming and increased investment in the new bells and whistles of digital technology. But the reason people listen is that they’re intrigued or fascinated or interested in the content. That’s the most important thing to remember, and it is the thing that increasingly concerns me – that independent producers, the people who are the creative types, are marginalized today in favor of the technology people. It’s a real failure not to understand that the business your in is programming.”

As a woman in what still surprisingly feels like a very male-dominated world of public radio management, I want to thank you, Ruth Seymour, for leading out loud, for listening to the voice within, taking bold risks and dedicating your life to the art of public radio.