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An Interview With Mitzi Trostle
Celebrating 30 Years of Non-Commercial Radio at WITF-FM

by Brian E. Phillips

Doing 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 years.

MODE Weekly: Itís WITFís 30th Anniversary. How long have you been at the station, it hasnít been quite 30 years, has it?
Mitzi Trostle: [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.

MODE: Really?
Trostle: 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.

MODE: 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?
Trostle: 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.

MODE: Speaking of community involvement, there isnít a better source for news, local and national.
Trostle: 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.

MODE: The station delivers New York Times quality stories in a venue that is accustomed to quick takes.
Trostle: 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.

MODE: And the other side of it is that the great American advertising dollar means everything.
Trostle: 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.

MODE: Is it safe to assume that the stationís philosophy concerning programming is three pronged: music, national and world news, and local and regional events?
Trostle: 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. 

MODE: Youíre describing a whole philosophy.
Trostle: [laughs] Yeah, itís very easy and very complex at the same time. 

MODE: 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?
Trostle: 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.

MODE: [smiling] No, really?
Trostle: [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 say.

MODE: 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 situation?
Trostle: 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

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