by: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
One night more than there years ago, Marrie Stone walked into my private writing workshop, took a seat, and the first thing out of my mouth was, "Have you ever considered doing radio? Would you like to be my co-host?"
I'd been doing the show almost 10 years, one hour a week, with few weeks off, and needed a break. She said she was interested, and the next day she signed up for KUCI's training program. When the next quarter was being scheduled, she was on it.
Marrie is a natural. I don't know whether it's her training in law, but she puts words together in such a natural way. She's a careful reader. And her literary tastes parallel mine, although if she goes one way or another, she veers more toward the literary.
She's married to a lawyer, has a daughter, and for a month each summer lives with her family in another country. Last summer it was Australia, this summer, Amsterdam.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett: Talk about your path leading you to KUCI.
Marrie Stone: This story might sound familiar to you, Barbara. I have only you to thank. I took a writing class from you seven years ago. I was so intimidated and scared of you, keeping my eyes plastered to the floor tiles and hoping my invisibility shield was turned on and working.
Yet somehow I joined your private workshop, became less invisible, found my voice and, two years later, you asked me to join you. I was elated. Scared. Excited. Terrified. And that lasted until, well, I'll let you know when it eases up. But after taking the training class, watching you behind the microphone every week for an entire quarter, and filling a prescription for some beta-blockers, I dove in. I've been at it 3 _ years, hard to believe, but I'm loving every second of it.
BDB: Had you been aware of the station prior?
MS: To be honest, I hadn't known much. I listened to podcasts of your show, of course, so I knew a station was behind it. Apart from that, though, I hadn't been a listener. And that's a shame. There are so many great things across the board on that station.
I think there's a real need to expand KUCI's presence in Orange County and beyond. Now that we can stream on the web, and so much of our programming is available via iTunes, there's no reason for KUCI not to be on the wider world map.
BDB: What's the best thing about being a KUCI public affairs host?
MS: There's a lot of freedom at the station. I love the open minds, and the willingness of management to let DJs explore and experiment. There's room for every opinion, and every walk of life, and I love the diversity that fosters.
But it's our show, in particular, that gets my juices flowing. Writers are like movie stars to me. I'm in awe of anyone who can articulate some deeply felt, but amorphous, human emotion in a poetic and unique way. Being able to call up my heroes and chat with them for thirty minutes or an hour has something of a dream-like quality. I've learned so much, not only about writing, but about life. These are just people, albeit really smart and hard-working people. There's talent, but by and large it's dedication to a task, a goal and a dream. Listening to how that translates to best-selling, prize-winning books is a good life-lesson that bears a once-a-week reminder for me.
And those free books aren't a bad perk, either.
BDB: The worst thing?
MS: Well, the pay is non-existent. But from what I've saved on buying my own reading material, I may be coming out ahead of most day jobs.
BDB: Is there anyone you interviewed on Writers on Writing that stands out above the rest?
MS: Golly. This is like asking my favorite book or movie. There are so many who stand out, and the reasons are so varied. I'm a long-time fan of short story writer Tobias Wolff. He's the intellectual and creative equivalent of George Clooney, for me. The opportunity to spend a half hour talking with him was amazing.
Wally Lamb was also pretty incredible. So humble and giving, so inspirational and supportive of all walks of writers. I really loved him.
I also just like putting the Wolff and the Lamb together. It has a life-imitating-allegorical-art thing to it, doesn't it?
BDB: What sort of planning do you put into your shows?
MS: In general, quite a lot. Some shows require more than others. I always try to read the books, of course, and I'm a notoriously slow reader. I can't skim. I can't skip around. Because I write myself, I also can't just enjoy the book for the story. I really like to study how a piece is put together, how the author constructed character, built momentum, turned the plot, etc. Then it's a matter of reading and watching all the past interviews I can get my hands on, reading author biographies and ferreting out some of the intellectual ground that interests the guests. For some, that's a lot. For new writers, there's not much out there.
I prepare a lot of interview notes, questions, etc. But most of the conversation is determined by and during the interview itself. The questions are a guide, but I like the conversation to flow as naturally as possible. To riff on what has been said. To dig in here, or avoid there, depending on how they answer those initial questions.
BDB: Any other KUCI shows you listen to?
MS: I love Mike Kaspar and Nathan Callahan's Film School and Weekly Signals. I've learned from both of them. Dr. Mamak Shakib has changed some of my bad life habits. She's a weekly kick in the butt for my physical health. And I enjoy listening to Evan Simon and Cameron Jackson when I can tune in. They both have fantastic styles, and I learn a lot about both hosting and just the world in general from their shows.
But I'll tell you, my music taste has improved A LOT since joining KUCI. I was a closet easy listening fan. I rarely strayed from the top 40 on the radio dial. My horizons have been significantly and wonderfully broadened by my time at KUCI. There's amazing music out there that doesn't get played on traditional radio and that's a crime. I've learned to love reggae, jazz, and even some lesser known rock I would have never discovered on my own.
I'm awfully excited about the new programming now, as well. I think there are some amazing up and coming DJs on the horizon.
BDB: So, you're the new public affairs director. Of course I'm glad about this. But are you?
MS: I am glad. Frankly, after I got over being a little scared, I got a little excited. Management is a new role for me, but there's a strong team in place and a fabulous group of DJs to support. Most of these guys have far more experience in radio than I, so I like to just listen and learn.
One of the many things I love about KUCI is the commitment and enthusiasm of the DJs. We're all volunteers, so folks are here only because they want to be here. No one is shackled to a paycheck. That makes the commitment enthusiastic, strong and genuine. Being in that environment, managing folks with a genuine love of broadcasting and radio who share different and eclectic passions but release them in similar ways is really a lot of fun.
BDB: If you were to sum up what the listening public will find during public affairs time slots, what would you say?
MS: It's an eclectic mix with something for everyone, which is exactly how we function best. From literature to the law, medicine to film, political shows to planetary shows, from the lives of elves to career advice, and so much more, it's really rich and broad programming.
BDB: Any plans for public affairs you care to share?
MS: Fortunately, we have an incredibly smart, capable and talented group of folks. They're really in command of their subject matter, and engrossed in their topics. And they're damn gifted DJs, to boot. Mostly, I see my function as staying out of their way and keeping them happy.
That said, I would like to bring up a crop of new and young talent to fill in a few gaps. I think some fresh voices are always a benefit. Especially to a college station.
BDB: What stations do you have cued in on your car radio?
MS: This is where I should tell you I only listen to NPR and classical music (which I do, occasionally). But I listen to more satellite Disney than I wish, and a fair amount of top 40, to appease my daughter. Besides KUCI and NPR, there's a lot of adult contemporary: 92.7, 93.1, 104.3 and some smooth jazz (94.7) because I'm getting old. For some reason, Laguna Beach only picks up San Diego stations, so I've got a smattering of those, as well.
BDB: And music...what do you listen to?
MS: I have this atrocious cheesy love song addiction (admission is the first step, I hear), so there are some embarrassing songs that have somehow snuck into my collection from the 70s and 80s. Ambrosia and Air Supply figure prominently, if you can believe it.
Honestly, though, my horizons have broadened since KUCI. I still won't touch country; hip-hop and rap aren't high on my list; and (perhaps it's my age) there's some music that just sounds like electric noise. Other than that, I've become much more open-minded. Some old favorites, Pink Floyd, the Police, Concrete Blonde, Tom Waits, they'll always have a place in my collection, too.
BDB: When you're not at the station or preparing for the show, what are you doing (as if there could be anything else)?
MS: Good question. What the hell do I do?! I drive. Here and there and back again. I'm the mother of a 9 year old, after all. Beyond that important task, I write myself. Fiction and some essays, though not as much as I should. We travel a fair amount, especially in the summers. I'm a bit of a foodie, so I love cooking and trying new restaurants. The stranger the food, the more I like it. And I even read for pleasure, if you can believe it. Wait . . . there's a bit of Facebook time in there, as well as following a few morbid blogs. Like my taste in food, the more morbid and macabre something is, the more I like it.
BDB: What's Miss Haley think of KUCI?
MS: Haley's at an age where anything that occupies my time, other than Haley, is a problem for her. I get a lot of eye-rolling and comments like: "Let me guess. You have to read." That said, she often tells people her mom's job is "cool" and when children's writers are on, like Lois Lowry, she's pretty impressed.
For me, raising a daughter in a digital age and in an indulgent gadget-driven environment, I want her to know the importance and timelessness of books. Real books. Made with paper and ink and bookmarks with tassels. I want her to see me reading, all the time.
I also like her being able to hang around the dynamic atmosphere of a college campus. There's nothing like university life. There's a youthful excitement, an engagement level, an enthusiasm she doesn't encounter in her dad's law firm. Exposing kids to college, what it looks and feels like, is a great side benefit.
More importantly, KUCI gets me out of my middle-aged, Laguna Beach, mommy-focused comfort zone. Which is really good for both of us.
BDB: What's on your wish list for KUCI?
MS: We've lost some ground with the UC budget cuts these past few years. After a lot of whining, we got our water cooler back, so now there's at least something to stand around while we gossip. But some of our equipment is a little, um, unpredictable. Because we all produce, host and engineer our own shows, having reliable equipment is nice. A CD burner that lights up and records, computers that hum, a tower that transmits. Most of it works most of the time, but not always.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's son was four when she started "Writers on Writing." He's now 16. She's Orange Coast Magazine's new literary critic, author of Pen on Fire, and has a story in the newish collection, Orange County Noir (Akashic). More at Pen on Fire .