Mar 302014

North Shore Weekend, March 29, 2014

At 9:50 a.m. Lisa Flynn, midday voice of classical music station WFMT, enters the studio, adjusts the microphone and eases into her preferred chair, different from the one vacated by departing host Carl Grapentine. “We’ve all got our favorites,” she laughs. She unloads the collection of CDs she’ll be playing on today’s program and lines them up where she can feed them easily into the CD player.

At the top of the hour, she launches into her broadcast. “We’ll travel to the streets of Madrid in just a moment,” she says in her dulcet tones. “This is Lisa Flynn with you Wednesday morning, and here’s the weather for today.”

This is her 23rd year at WFMT, one of the nation’s leading classical music stations with an average weekly listenership of 300,000, of which a significant portion is in the North Shore.

Flynn has “the perfect voice for classical music,” says WFMT General Manager Steve Robinson. “It’s the voice of an angel, calm and soothing. She also has a tremendous knowledge of music. And in her quiet way, she’s very passionate about what she plays. “Put it all together,” he concludes, “and she’s the perfect classical music announcer.”

She’s actually much more than an announcer. There are no writers, producers or engineers in the studio with her. She combines all those roles, cueing up selections in advance, preparing and announcing the weather and news stories, reading commercials (all station commercials are read by the announcers) and giving listeners some information on each piece she plays. It keeps her solidly busy the four-hour length of her show.

Part of her job includes picking the pieces she plans to play. Selections are made six weeks in advance, so they can be included in the station’s monthly Program Guide. But there’s enough flexibility in the schedule to allow her to broadcast other works, such as when conductor Claudio Abbado died. “That gives us room to play tributes,” she notes.

“We have guidelines, of course, but within them the announcers have a lot of freedom to pick the pieces we play,” she says. “There’s the core repertoire. We also will program works by artists coming to town [she’s interviewed dozens on the air, from soprano Renee Fleming to composer John Adams]. And I like to feature new releases. It’s really about making sure the selections are judicious, that they flow, and that we keep things interesting for the listener.”

After the “Musical Nocturne on the Streets of Madrid,” she continues the “warm weather” theme with more Spanish music, including works by Manuel de Falla and Joaquin Rodrigo.

Then it’s time for a commercial. “Did your knives and cleavers help you party hearty last year?” she announces jauntily. Later she asks, with a note of concern, “Are you fed up with your tired, rundown bathroom?”

The commercial spots may seem incongruous, but they don’t bother her. “I like to read them. It helps maintain the sound of the station. It’s more personal than playing pre-recorded jingles. But we do have to change gears in a way. One moment I’m talking about music, the next I’m promoting some product. There’s a little bit of acting to it.”

She’s been at it a long time. Her dad worked in the computer industry and moved frequently, so she lived in different places – Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and even Munich for several years. She grew up playing violin, “which fired my love for classical music.” When her folks relocated to Florida she attended Brevard County Community College and University of Central Florida in Orlando, where she worked at the college radio station. After college she worked at the local PBS station and “learned on the job.” In 1989 she moved to Columbus, Ohio, and worked two years there before being encouraged to audition for an opening at WFMT. She started in 1991.

Since then she’s seen a world of changes, from LPs and reel-to-reel tapes to CDs and now, more and more, digital.

But despite the new technologies, one thing remains constant: she loves her job. “I’m very happy here. We’re given such freedom to program and play what we want. Hopefully we’re providing a breadth of music with intelligent commentary that listeners can enjoy.”

 This was the originally submitted version; a slightly edited version appeared in the newspaper under the headline, “WFMT Program Host Offers Classical Touch.”