An Interview With
Celebrating 30 Years of
Non-Commercial Radio at WITF-FM
Brian E. Phillips
anything for 30 years is an amazing feat; keeping a radio station in the
red, with no revenues generated by advertisers for 30 years is
monumental. But that is exactly what Mitzi Trostle, the staff at WITF-FM,
and the stationís loyal listeners are celebrating. For
those of you who do not remember the beginning, it happened in 1971,
when then Director of Radio, Dr. Walter Shepard, and a group of
enthusiastic staff members and loyal supporters went on air for the
first time. It was Aaron Copelandís ďFanfare for the Common Man.Ē
Granted much has changed in 30 years ó the introduction of a more
streamlined programming approach, the introduction of audio streaming on
the web, and a variety of staff changes, including a new director of
radio, Mitzi Trostle ó but the philosophy at the heart of the station
remains the same: Quality musical, local news and cultural events, all
with a generous attitude which believes that the listeners comes first.
But there is a lot more to making a non-commercial radio station viable
than just an altruistic philosophy. Recently, Mitzi Trostle sat down
with MODE Weekly to discuss those details and to talk about the last 30
Itís WITFís 30th Anniversary. How long have you been at
the station, it hasnít been quite 30 years, has it?
[Laughs] Actually, Iíve been listening all 30, let me put it that way.
I havenít even done the math. I have been here 18 years. In the radio
station, 17 of those years. I started in membership. I have to say
Iíve always been a radio baby. I was the kid who always had the little
transistor radio under the covers when the parents said turn it off and
go to bed. I used to listen to all of this outrageous stuff on both AM
and FM. I just always knew that I wanted to work in radio. And this is
no bullshit, and you can edit that out if you want to, Iíve always
known that I wanted to work here.
My parents were always very selective about what they allowed me to
watch on television. I grew up in this area, Adams County, and I really
got into what this station was offering to me as a kid and then kind of
became enchanted with some of the local productions that TV was doing at
the time. I just always thought that it would be great to work here. So
from the time I was about seven or eight, I said I wanted to work in
radio and I wanted to work at WITF, and at that time there wasnít even
a WITF radio. And then along came the radio station in í71 and here we
are. I started out as a volunteer in the late í70s, I took an entry
level position in í83, and just worked my way up. There is virtually
nothing here that I havenít done, from answering the telephone to
programming and traffic. And two-and-a-half, three years ago I kind of
matriculated into this spot, if you will.
Other than your childhood dream, what is it about this job at this place
that was powerful enough to pull you away from the music you went to
college to study?
Well, I would like to think that I am still being true to myself. I am
still involved in music everyday. And, actually, I enjoy the whole
public service aspect of this job. I know that this company and its
products mean a lot to a lot of people. In some cases, its even life
changing. And not to sound like I am spreading the gospel, but it really
is important to me and I really love working here. I look at it as
community service. Iím just an old hippy at heart.
Speaking of community involvement, there isnít a better source for
news, local and national.
And that is perhaps why we are all so committed, because it really does
give you an angle that you canít get anywhere else. We, National
Public Radio (NPR), Morning Edition, and All Things Considered can bring
you a 19 minute news story, where that would really be the death of a
commercial radio station.
The station delivers New York Times quality stories in a venue
that is accustomed to quick takes.
Again, I am not knocking commercial radio; I find it fascinating. I
always think that it would be fascinating to work in commercial radio,
though I donít think that I have the guts to do it. It all seems so
dog-eat-dog, cutthroat to me, with radio stations being bought and sold,
and two or three monopolies owning and running all of the stations.
Itís interesting, but not for me.
And the other side of it is that the great American advertising dollar
And frankly, we have to run this station more and more like a business,
too. I wish I had the luxury of making each and every one of our
listeners happy all of the time, but I canít. All we can do is try.
And I am sincere when I say that we take all of our listenersí
comments seriously. Can we make everybody happy all the time? No. But we
also know who butters the bread around here. Our listeners do. And that
is why this is such an outrageous invention. That people would care
enough about our product that they would put up dollars to support it.
And for 30 years now, people have been doing it. And I have to say, loud
and clear, that it is only through listener support that we are here
after 30 years.
Is it safe to assume that the stationís philosophy concerning
programming is three pronged: music, national and world news, and local
and regional events?
And in the last two or three years, weíve tried to incorporate more
and more tidbits of information, and weíre getting more serious about
the quality of the local news that weíre producing here. We have some
award-winning journalists on board, Damon Boughamer and Justin Gilkin.
And theyíre very committed to this product. And weíve incorporated
ďThis Week in Central PA,Ē that artís organizations in the area
would say that they are very thankful for that as well. ďArt Beat,Ē
a segment that focuses on one local event thatís happening each
weekend in the community. The kidís module that we produce:
ďConcertos to Kazoos,Ē so more and more this is what weíre looking
to do, while still being able to bring in the National programming.
People want to hear Bob Edwards and Garrison Keilor, too.
Youíre describing a whole philosophy.
[laughs] Yeah, itís very easy and very complex at the same time.
Youíve had two very successful predecessors, Dr. Walter Shepard and
Wick Woodford. Their legacy is defined by history and of course by
reputation. How do you as the Director of Radio for the new millennium
define yourself apart from the history of the stationís past?
Thatís tough. I guess Iím being a wimp here, but I kind of want to
answer this in my own way. I am on fire for this business. I am a real
type ĎAí person and I have a lot of energy. I also talk the talk and
walk the walk. No arrogance there, but I always give my best. And I
really expect people around to do their best too. I guess I am always on
fire; I think maybe Wick was a little bit different. I think I come on a
little bit stronger.
[smiling] No, really?
[laughs] I guess I want to be the best Mitzi I can be and bring that to
this job and hope that that will also rub off on the employees here at
the radio station and that will be passed along to the listeners, and
thatís a really stupid answer, but thatís just what I am going to
For people who donít listen to WITF, for those who view your listeners
and the ďproductĒ as ďhoity toity,Ē what would you offer? What
are your opinions on that stigma that is sometimes place on your
I wonder if they have truly taken the time to experience it (both the
music and WITF). I must say that I do completely understand it. There
are certain things that intimidate me. I would say to those people throw
out any preconceived notion that you might have and give it a chance.
Fear is the unknown and suspicion is the real unknown. Become familiar
with it and see if you like it. If you donít like the classical music,
maybe you donít like a Benjamin Britten, but you might like a Bach
ďBrandenburg ConcertoĒ and itís all in how itís presented. We
want to present it in a way that people are not afraid of it, and what
we really want is for people to just come through the door.
For more about WITF-FM check out there website at WITF-FM at witf.org