Lisa Barry: You may have noticed a new voice on the air weekday mornings here on WEMU. I'm Lisa Barry. Our local host--long-time local host--of Morning Edition David Fair will be off for several weeks on medical leave. And those are some pretty big shoes to fill. And while our Mat Hopson typically does a great job stepping in, we thought since this is going to take some time, we'd allow Mat to keep doing his job. And we've asked veteran Michigan public radio host Scott Pohl to help us out in the morning. Many of us are familiar with Scott, but if you're not sure or you want to know more, I've asked him to join me here in a conversation, so we can get to know him a bit better. Thanks, Scott.
Scott Pohl: Sure. Hi, Lisa.
Lisa Barry: Why don't you begin by telling us about your radio history?
Scott Pohl: Oh my gosh. My first job in radio was when I was in high school. I grew up in the Albion Concord area near Jackson, and there was a little radio station in Albion. And I got a job there when I was in high school, and, from there, I worked in Jackson for a while, moved to East Lansing to attend Michigan State University in 1977 and worked at a commercial station there while I was in college, and I worked at WKAR starting in 1984 in East Lansing, and kind of went into semi-retirement last year, working fewer hours as a reporter for WKAR. So when I heard about David's need to have some time away and the good people at WEMU asked me to step in, I was happy to say yes,
Lisa Barry: I don't have my calculator nearby. How many years was that that you've been at WKAR in East Lansing?
Scott Pohl: 1984 to 2021. That's 37 years.
Lisa Barry: Thirty seven years.
Scott Pohl: Yup.
Lisa Barry: You consider yourself a public radio nerd?
Scott Pohl: Yes, I do. I listen to public radio all the time, and when I'm away from a radio, I have a lot of the public radio podcasts on my phone. I'm listening all the time.
Lisa Barry: So you, like I, have been in this business for, let's just say, several decades. It makes us sound younger. And we've seen a lot of changes. What can you tell us about what you've experienced in your history working for public radio in Michigan?
Scott Pohl: Well, my early days at WKAR, I worked at a typewriter that I referred to as a boat anchor. It was so big and heavy. And we were splicing tape and doing a lot of telephone interviews, and the computer age has made all the difference in the world. I think radio sounds a lot better now, and it's easier to do things like editing, so I'm able to do my work faster and more efficiently. It's really been huge to watch the transition that technology has brought to producing radio.
Lisa Barry: I mentioned "public radio nerd" with the greatest respect because we have a tote bag here on WEMU that has that on one side and music geek on the other, and you also have some experience in the music world. Can you tell us about that?
Scott Pohl: Yeah. As a young man, I wrote record reviews and concert reviews, so I used to get stacks of albums in the mail every week and free concert tickets. So, I saw--it's easier for me to tell you who I didn't see than who I did see back in the 70s and 80s. And those didn't always include interviews with the artists. But I did get to meet or talk on the phone with a lot of musicians over the years. I'm a big music buff.
Lisa Barry: And you hosted a jazz show at some point, did you not?
Scott Pohl: Yeah, that was at a commercial station in East Lansing. I did a jazz show that aired on Sunday nights, and it was a countdown show we used to have. Prior to that show, we carried a syndicated program that was called the Jazz Album Countdown, and it was a three-hour show that counted down the top 15 albums on the Billboard jazz album chart every week. And that show went out of production. I got permission to continue using the title, and so, I did my own local version of a jazz album countdown. That was a three-hour Sunday night show. And on a few occasions, I got to talk with jazz musicians when they came through the area, like Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. I've kind of gotten away from jazz as a listener since those days. I enjoy it when I hear it, but those were my salad days when it came to jazz music.
Lisa Barry: I'm thinking if Michael Jewett needs a day off, maybe we have another potential fill-in.
Scott Pohl: If I could play archival stuff rather than more recent stuff I'm less familiar with, then maybe I could do that.
Lisa Barry: Sure, he does that. He plays all sorts of stuff. Of all the interviews and features and projects you've worked on, can you share some of those with us and perhaps lead up to your favorite one or two of your favorites?
Scott Pohl: Sure. As a child, I attended a one-room schoolhouse through the third grade, so I've always had an affection for one-room schoolhouses. And many years ago, I visited a few one-room school houses that were still in operation at the time, and they were in places like Grand Ledge outside Lansing, Cross Village in the northern Lower Peninsula, and on a small island that's near Mackinac Island. And what I remember about that day is, coincidentally, the day I was there happened to be the very first day that the teacher of that school, which only had four students. That day, she was exposing a first grader, I want to say, to the concept of subtraction for the very first time. It was the sort of moment that you just know the moment it happened. This is radio gold. Then, I was here the first time this child was learning about subtraction, so that one-room schoolhouse project was one of my favorites over the years.
Lisa Barry: Other interviews that come to mind?
Scott Pohl: Well, my very favorite, number one interview, if you ask me, which was the t0ps, would be author John Irving. "A Prayer for Owen Meany" is my favorite novel. When I got married, it was the book I chose to take on my honeymoon to reread, as opposed to taking a stack of other books. I just reread "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on my honeymoon. So talking with John Irving and meeting with him was a real pleasure. I got a little fanboy tongue-tied around him.
Lisa Barry: So here you are. You worked in East Lansing. Tell us about that sense of community and what you're bringing from that to the Washtenaw County community, as you are fill in on Morning Edition here.
Scott Pohl: Well, in East Lansing, you cover a lot of local politics, and as a Morning Edition host over the years, reading a lot of stories about local and state politics. But, you know, they say all politics is local. And so, I've talked with, met with, mayors of Lansing and East Lansing over the years, local state reps and senators, members of Congress. I think of East Lansing as a small big town, if that makes sense.
Lisa Barry: Totally Totally. Yeah.
Scott Pohl: You know, it's a college town with a huge campus student population, and they, over the years of course, have the typical town and gown issues that confront the residents of the city and the student body. And Lansing has its own different kind of political climate that's always been interesting to follow over the years. So, finding myself in a city like East Lansing, to me, it became home right away when I moved there. I've never moved more than 10 or 15 miles from East Lansing since then. I love to visit big cities, but I've always been glad that I don't live and work in a huge city. I love to visit Detroit. I'm just glad I don't live in a big city that has big city traffic and other issues that I have found myself insulated from here in the Lansing area.
Lisa Barry: And I'm assuming you did a fair amount of reporting on the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case at WKAR?
Scott Pohl: Yes. That was after my days as a Morning Edition host, so I was doing more beat level, day-to-day reporting. And so, sadly, of course, I was in the courtroom many, many times around Larry Nassar and his survivors, both in local courts and Ingham County and Eaton County and in the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids. An awful story as you can imagine. There were days where it was very tense in those courtrooms and exciting too. You have to, you know, honestly say it was exciting to be there. But, you know, I have daughters in the same age range that we were hearing about in the courtroom on those days. So, it was also difficult to separate personal feelings from the day-to-day news reporting duties of being there. So, that was quite an experience to be there on on days like that.
Lisa Barry: Because you've been in this business for so long, I wonder if you could articulate for us your love of radio and connecting to a community like Washtenaw County.
Scott Pohl: Well, I'm learning about Washtenaw County. Let's start there. But I love radio because, well, first of all, I don't get recognized in the checkout line at the grocery store very often.
LIsa Barry: I know that voice. That might be a giveaway.
Scott Pohl: My voice does get picked up once in a while, but it offers a little bit of anonymity out there in the community, but I also love the challenge of storytelling without pictures.
Lisa Barry: Right.
Scott Pohl: Now, of course, we do stuff online now and can provide pictures. But to tell a story about a dance troupe without video or covering an art exhibition without a TV camera showing you the portraits that we're discussing, I love the challenge of telling stories like that in an audio-only medium. I've always loved it. I turned onto radio as a kid by listening to Ernie Harwell on a little radio under my pillow like everybody my age did in Michigan. So, it's just been part of my life forever.
Lisa Barry: Well, Scott Pohl, you're part of our lives right now here on WEMU, and we're grateful that you were available and helping us out, filling in for David Fair during Morning Edition. And we look forward to hearing more from you over the coming weeks. Thanks for talking to me here in 89-1 WEMU.
Scott Pohl: Sure, that's very kind of you, and I hope David has a speedy recovery. Get well.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.