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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Jackie Sauter on 47 years at NCPR

January 4, 2019
By AMY FEIEREISEL - NCPR correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

After 47 years behind the scenes and behind the microphone, Dec. 31 was Program Director Jackie Sauter's last day at North Country Public Radio, based at St. Lawrence University.

She sat down in the NCPR studios in early December to talk about her work, her early memories of the station, and what retirement holds for her.

Amy Feiereisel: Tell me when you started at North Country Public Radio?

Article Photos

Jackie Sauter, program director at North Country Public Radio at NCPR’s old headquarters in Payson Hall, St. Lawrence University, Canton, in 1990.
(Photo provided)

Jackie Sauter: I graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1971, which was a very long time ago, and my plan was to take the summer off and then go to grad school, and probably law school. But one thing led to another and I ended up taking a part-time job at what was then WSLU, as an office person/ part-time secretary. Then I was a part-time late night classical announcer. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I didn't leave and I was working full time for the local public radio station, which was just getting off the ground. NPR had just launched a few years ago and WSLU was one of the charter members of the network. I stayed in Canton and in the North Country and never looked back, and I've never regretted it.

AF: You landed eventually in the role of program director. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

JS: So as I say, I started as an announcer and then I actually helped develop our fledgling news service. And then the station needed someone to sort of think about what was going to be on the air. And I've always believed that the person who is designated as program director or content director is really an advocate for the listener, that my job has always been that everything that goes on the air should sound right from a listener's perspective. Are we giving people what they need to be a better citizen, to understand their community better, to have a better day, to be able to communicate with people in their town or across the region?

So, I always think about what does this program accomplish; if we put this on the air how does this help people? Unlike a lot of public radio stations, NCPR has a pretty varied format. Why? Well, back in the beginning people just had what they could get on the radio and we thought it was really important that people be able to have access to all kinds of things. I've said over the years that your public radio station should be like a public library. That you may not be interested in or want to take out every book in the library but aren't you glad that they're all there as a community resource.

One of the things that sticks with me the most and has always been my inspiration is some years ago a gentleman who grew up in a very isolated community in the northern Adirondacks, in a little house with his family that was miles from any other family, told me that growing up as a teenager the station was sort of his connection to the wider world. He tuned in every Saturday afternoon to listen to the Met (Metropolitan) Opera, and it meant the world to him because he never would have had the chance to go to the opera or hear an opera, and as an adult that's become an important part of his life.

AF: Behind the scenes, you also help very much shape and craft the language that all of the announcers use on air. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

JS: Sure. As I said being a program director/content director is really all about thinking about everything that goes on the air: Shelly Pike reading a weather forecast or David Sommerstein introducing the Story of the Day or Todd Moe saying good morning and reading school closings. It's all about communicating with other human beings, and I try to encourage everybody to use the same kind of language that we use when we talk to each other in person one to one. So, when I write content I try to write it the way real people talk and stay away from what I call radio-ese.

AF: Your big title is program director, but I think in terms of hearing you on the air a lot of people know you as the host of your show, Music for a Monday. When did you start hosting that, and can you talk a little bit about your experience?

JS: Well honestly, I've been a music host for a very long time, going back to the early days when I was a part-time, late-night classical announcer. Actually, before I answer your question, I'll tell you a funny story about that. In the very early days we played music from LPs, and one late night I put on the Eroica Symphony by Beethoven with the New York Philharmonic led by Leonard Bernstein. And I was a little oblivious and accidentally flipped the switch that turned the turntable from 33 to 45. So, it was going pretty fast.

I didn't realize it was at the wrong speed and a listener called into the call room and said, "you know you announced that as Beethoven's Eroica by it sure doesn't sound like that, could you just check and make sure that that's what it was?" And I looked at the LP cover and said, "Yeah, that's what it was. It's the New York Phil with Leonard Bernstein conducting." And the person on the phone said, "Oh Bernstein, he's always known for his unusual interpretations. That's why it sounds like that. Thanks, goodbye." And, of course, after he hung up I looked and realized that I had it at the wrong speed. So those things happened for sure. Hopefully over the years I got to be a better announcer and paid more careful attention!

Long before I was host of Music for a Monday I hosted a folk program which was a lot of fun. Then I decided to try something a little more eclectic, and over the years decided that I wasn't going to try for a particular format or a playlist, that I was just going to play things that I loved and that I thought that listeners would love. I think that it's been most successful when people have found a new performer who they fall in love with who they've never heard before. That's what I've loved most about doing that show.

AF: How did you develop your on-air voice?

JS: You know, I don't know that I ever actually consciously did. I think I've just always liked to communicate with people. I've always been interested in language and languages and the sounds that the human voice makes whether it's in English or Spanish or Russian or any other language. And so, I've always been attuned to sounds, to human sounds, and to music as well.

AF: What are you going to miss about working at the station?

JS: Oh goodness. Well, what I've loved most about the station is really two things. One is the incredible people I work with, and just coming to work every day and seeing and hearing what other people are doing. Sharing in their successes and helping people get through their frustrations and cheering when we win awards, and that's been wonderful, and I will absolutely miss that. And I'll miss the incredible opportunity that I've had, and I've felt so lucky over the years, to have work that means that every day I help make a difference in people's lives. That's just been just an extraordinary opportunity and a privilege, and it's been wonderful.

AF: What is one of the takeaways or the lessons learned when you leave?

JS: A lot of people have come up to me here at the station and also in the community and said, "This must be so difficult, you must feel very emotional leaving after all these years, what are you going to do when you leave?" And I guess my lesson that I've learned over the years is to just live in the moment. I have loved every second of being here at the station, but I think this is the right time for me to leave.

I could gladly, happily, easily stay forever, but I think for the health of anything you love it's important to remember when it's time to step aside and let new people, younger people, people with fresh ideas or just different ideas try things and do things and take leadership. And of course, I'll be listening and cheering you all on.

AF: What comes next?

JS: Well I'm probably going to take a little time off to just tackle some of the books that have been accumulating on my Kindle and on the tables and desks and stands all over my house. But my retirement goals are to pursue some of my personal interests more, like knitting and gardening and cooking and reading and all that, but also just spend more time giving back to the community and doing some of the things I've wanted to do, but just haven't had enough time.

We live in an extraordinary place full of extraordinary people, but there also are extraordinary needs here, and I hope I have time to try to do my little bit to help solve some problems across the region. Who knows? We'll see. Well see where the adventure takes me.



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