“HOME COOKIN’ JAZZ” ON WBRS By Sue Wurster
“It’s kind of like Groundhog Day every time we come in here,” Nancy cautions as we squeeze through WBRS’s cramped studio located on the second floor of the Shapiro Campus Center. Wending our way through boxes of outmoded equipment items and bins of old CD’s, we move into the recording area. “Apparently, the studio is going to be renovated, so they’re always moving stuff out,” she adds. “But then, stuff seems to reappear every week.”
In the recording space itself, the walls are lined with posters (and wads of masking tape where other posters used to be). “BMI—Helping Bands Avoid Desk Jobs Since 1939,” declares one. “Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night,” announces another. Rock magazines, campus flyers, and newspapers are strewn about the space, and one blue ice skate blade guard rests on the floor under the counter at which I take a seat. This is definitely a college radio station. But Judith Stone and Nancy Connery are somewhat unique college radio station program hosts.
It was Judith who led the way into radio. A hospital administrator, she was Associate Hospital Director at U. Mass. Medical Center and Project Director at the Research and Training Institute at Hebrew Senior Life. But when celebrating her 60th birthday, Judith decided that she wanted to do something entirely different. “I had a friend in P-town who had a show on the Outer Cape station,” she says, “and I began to think about how much I had always loved radio.” She used to listen to opera with her father who would narrate the shows for her. “It was a fantastic bonding experience—a gift.” She sits back, smiling, and adds thoughtfully, “In adolescence, when you’re feeling isolated and awkward, radio becomes your friend. It’s your membership, really, in the culture.” Most of us can certainly relate to that idea. “Anyway, I heard they were looking for a DJ, so I went over to interview, but I didn’t get the job.”
That did not stop Judith, though, for whom the idea of becoming a radio host had taken firm hold. “There was this woman who called herself ‘The Trash Queen’ who did a show for a prison in the Catskills,” she recalls. “She lived in New York and collected stuff from estate sales. I thought that sounded interesting, so I called her to see if I could intern with her, but that didn’t work out either.” She kept at it, though, and eventually found her way to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, which she assumed was “a matchbook cover thing, but it’s actually real.” An open house led to an audition where “They put me in front of a teleprompter and sped it up,” she says. “Then, they offered me a scholarship.”
Eventually, Judith ended up with a jazz show on what she would later learn was a pirate station in Allston. “It was in a kind of sleazy neighborhood,” she remembers with an eye roll. “People would even walk in off the street. Nancy came along as security.” Not long after, the station was shut down, and she saw a notice that Brandeis was looking for someone to do a Yiddish radio program. “It was perfect,” she grins. “Yiddish had always been part of my life. My mother was raised in a Yiddish household, and her mother always said that English was just a flash-in-the-pan thing.” It was a match, and for the next several years, Judith and her mother, Pearl Cohen, then in her 90s, hosted “The Yiddish Hour” on the Brandeis station every other Sunday at noon. In 2003, Judith added her jazz show to the Brandeis station roster, and “Home Cookin’ with Jazz” has been running ever since.
After Nancy (also a hospital administrator) retired from her position as Director of Admissions and Financial Services at Mass General, she got involved with the show as well. “I focused on building up the audience,” she says. “I started mentioning it to people, had cards made to give out, and started emailing our listener base every week. We started coming up with catchy weekly themes to draw interest as well.”
Judith says she doesn’t have any musical talent herself but, being a great appreciator of music, she loves bringing it to others. Nancy prefers her backstage role on the show, but, not long ago, she started to add comments from the background and now just “gets into schmoozing” with their listeners. At times during my visit, I actually forget that we were on the air and just joined the conversation myself!
“There’s hardly any kind of music I don’t like,” Judith says. “Except maybe Kenny G.” She pauses for a moment and then adds, heatedly, “Do you know how popular he is in China? When stores are closing at the end of the day, they play Kenny G. And he doesn’t even get royalties for it.” She shakes her head in dismay–both for China and Kenny G.
“Most of what we play is vocal music,” Nancy says. “And the show is very eclectic. We sometimes play show tunes, R&B, Motown—anything that strikes us. And sometimes,” she adds with a wry smile, “we sneak in some liberal politics too.”
On the day of my visit, the show features “roots” music—Klezmer, Cajun, bluegrass, and more. It may not be jazz as some think of the genre, but it’s certainly folk music with a “home cooking” flair.
Tune in to WBRS 100.1 FM on Mondays at 1:00 for a full serving of “Home Cookin’ Jazz.”