KCRW’s Ruth Seymour useless: Longtime radio government dies


Ruth Seymour, the longtime radio government who constructed KCRW right into a public media powerhouse within the late twentieth century, reworking the sonic panorama of Los Angeles and past, died on Friday. She was 88.

Seymour’s dying was confirmed by her daughter, Celia Hirschman.

For the file:

9:42 a.m. Dec. 24, 2023An earlier model of this text credited Seymour with developing with title “Morning Turns into Eclectic.” This system was created by Isabel Holt earlier than Seymour joined KCRW.

When Seymour arrived at KCRW-FM (89.9) in 1977, the station was housed in an elementary faculty adjoining to Santa Monica Faculty, the place workers may hear the hum of the nation’s oldest radio transmitter west of the Mississippi by means of the partitions of the transformed lecture rooms. The listenership on the time was simply as modest, its numbers overshadowed by crosstown public radio peer KUSC-FM (91.5).

By the point Seymour retired as KCRW’s basic supervisor in 2010 after greater than 30 years on the helm, the transmitter had been upgraded, the places of work had moved throughout the road to SMC, and KCRW had turn out to be a cultural and mental trendsetter not only for Angelenos but in addition for public radio listeners throughout America.

Seymour, a bohemian tastemaker with a eager eye for expertise and sometimes unrelenting requirements, performed a crucial function in boosting the on-air careers of host and storyteller Ira Glass (“This American Life”), journalist Warren Olney (“Which Approach, L.A.?” and “To the Level”), satirist Harry Shearer (“Le Present”), literary critic Michael Silverblatt (“Bookworm”) and movie critic Elvis Mitchell (“The Remedy”). Her affect continued by means of KCRW creations like “Morning Turns into Eclectic” and “Left, Proper & Middle.”

“She was extensively revered, she was disagreed with wildly, she was controversial,” stated Susan Stamberg, a longtime NPR host and buddy who hailed Seymour as visionary. “You all the time knew the place she got here from. She by no means hedged her phrases and she or he all the time made an affect, optimistic or damaging.”

Seymour’s presence usually was an train in contrasts. She was a New York mental who discovered a house in sunny Santa Monica; a feminine chief thriving in a media business dominated by male executives; a colourful elbow-thrower within the staid tutorial world of public radio; a snob who was not above the occasional PR stunt; and a secular Jew who broadcast hours of Yiddish cultural programming on December’s sometimes Christmas-dominated airwaves.

Seymour’s three-hour annual present celebrating Yiddishkeit — known as “Philosophers, Fiddlers and Fools” — launched in 1978 with a mixture of music, tales and Yiddish. It was quintessentially Seymour, quintessentially eccentric, and it landed.

“This system ended and ‘All Issues Thought of’ got here on the air,” Seymour recalled in an essay years later. “The telephones started to ring. And ring. And ring. They rang for hours. Individuals waited till a line was free, simply to say ‘thanks.’ Some have been crying; others wished to inform their very own story; every name was emotional. We have been a handful of people, in slightly bungalow inside a abandoned schoolyard, surprised and overwhelmed by the response to this system.”

Seymour was born Ruth Epstein — the primary of three final names she’d undertake in life — on Feb. 17, 1935, at Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, N.Y. Seymour’s father, Jack Epstein, was a Polish-born furrier; her mom, Sylvia Gerlich, fled Poland after slapping a policeman in a dispute over some eggs, in keeping with household lore.

The pair met at New York’s New College for Social Analysis and have been lively within the Workmen’s Circle, a cooperative affiliation of Jewish employees, which led to energetic debates about present occasions on the dinner desk. “They have been my hyperlink to the world of Yiddishkeit, a world that was being destroyed as I used to be rising up,” Seymour recalled later. It was a world she would later resurrect over the airwaves.

Seymour studied Hebrew and Yiddish on the Metropolis Faculty of New York beneath well-known linguist Max Weinreich. There, she met her future husband, distinguished Beat poet Jack Hirschman, marrying him in 1954 and adopting his final title. (She rose to prominence beneath the title Ruth Hirschman and adjusted her final title to Seymour, in honor of a relative, later in life.)

It was a bohemian marriage that produced two youngsters, Celia and David, and familial excursions of obligation at Dartmouth (Jack was a professor), UCLA and throughout Europe. Counterculture was within the air, as was a little bit of cultural celeb: The household was pals with Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg and Leonard Cohen.

Seymour, beginning a profession in radio journalism, performed interviews by tape, however someday, “I threw my tape recorder into the Aegean and went off to reside on a Greek island,” she later advised The Instances. “I gave up an interview with Jean-Paul Sartre when he received the Nobel Prize to go to Greece and be an existentialist.”

“[My] dad and mom have been a bit hedonistic and narcissistic and adventurous; the main target was not on the kids,” Celia Hirschman stated. “We have been beloved, deeply, however the focus was on their experiences. That’s a fairly unconventional life.” Observing the household, songwriter Cohen known as them “4 archipelagos,” Hirschman stated.

The archipelagos drifted farther aside. Ruth and Jack divorced in 1973. By then, she had taken a job as a program director on the left-wing Los Angeles radio station KPFK-FM (90.7), producing applications on nice artists. The station additionally aired tapes from the Symbionese Liberation Military, which had kidnapped Patricia Hearst.

Her enterprise accomplice, basic supervisor Will Lewis, stated he created a program information that “welcomed all communications from any group, and we pledged to maintain the knowledge confidential.”

“I felt obligated. Ruth didn’t like the thought instantly,” stated Lewis, who served time in jail for contempt of court docket for refusing handy over the tapes to regulation enforcement.

After the pair have been dumped by KPFK in some form of intra-leftist purge, Seymour landed as basic supervisor of KCRW in 1977 and introduced alongside Lewis as a administration advisor. It was knowledgeable partnership that might final for 30-plus years.

With the ’60s and its cultural revolutions and radical campaigns fading within the rearview mirror, Seymour’s fateful twist at KCRW was to repackage leftist cultural sensibilities for a merely left-ish Santa Monica mainstream, plus a heavy dose of media savvy.

The transmitter acquired upgraded, and the potential viewers acquired means greater. On got here the expertise, whom Seymour noticed: comic Shearer, storyteller Joe Frank, a era of hipper disc jockeys. On got here the eclectic and literary programming: drama and comedy, generally from Europe. On got here the grants and the Hollywood-aided fundraisers.

Seymour flooded the airwaves with NPR programming, generally operating the identical program 3 times a day to edge out different NPR associates for listeners. Potential audiences became actual audiences.

“What she has executed could be very intelligent,” public radio host Larry Josephson later advised The Instances. “She has taken the cultural and literary and public affairs content material of KPFK and molded it to a extra conservative viewers. I believe a big a part of her viewers are former New Yorkers. They moved out West to run the film enterprise.”

One in all Seymour’s most exceptional qualities was her utter confidence in her personal judgment. She shortly turned one in all NPR’s most high-profile, most revered, most polarizing associates. At NPR conferences, “Ruth will arise and yell, ‘That stinks!’” host John McNally later advised The Instances. “Public radio folks weren’t used to that.”

Public radio folks additionally generally desperately wanted her. Within the Nineteen Eighties, as NPR floundered financially, Seymour led fundraising campaigns, serving to save “Weekend All Issues Thought of.” She personally led a particular pledge drive to assist fund expanded NPR protection of the 1991 Persian Gulf Warfare.

“She acquired on the air, she placed on a camouflage uniform and placed on tough-looking boots,” stated Stamberg. “She stated, ‘It is a conflict, we’re going to cowl it, and the best way we’re going to do it’s together with your cash so we are able to ship the easiest reporters over there.’” She earned the nickname “Nationwide Public Ruth.”

Seymour’s supreme confidence drew admirers and created passionate critics, who have been generally one and the identical. “She was in a position to domesticate expertise when she noticed it, and she or he had excessive requirements,” Lewis stated. “She would combat with Larry Josephson over the content material of his program, in an actual shouting match.”

“It’s not a good suggestion to oppose her until it’s actually vital,” Josephson later advised The Instances. “I believe as soon as she admitted she was improper to me years after we had an argument. She has an amazing will, and as soon as she wills one thing, nothing will get in her means, together with the details. She’s form of like an avenging angel from the Bronx who landed in Southern California.”

Some felt her firings and present cancellations may very well be ruthless, particularly within the usually gentler environs of public radio.

“She was not a straightforward individual to work for, to say the least,” stated retired host Olney, whom Seymour employed in 1992 after the L.A. riots to strengthen KCRW’s native information choices. “Loads of the selections she made have been, from an goal standpoint, most likely the precise choice, however [were done in ways] that have been hurtful to folks. And she or he didn’t have a lot endurance for that form of concern.”

Others discovered Seymour’s forcefulness inspirational.

“It’s actually vital understanding that there’s somebody on the market who’s going to stress you to be wonderful, and I’ve all the time been influenced by and in awe of a girl, an individual who operated with out caring what folks considered them,” stated Jennifer Ferro, Seymour’s successor as head of KCRW. “She was going to make what she knew was the precise choice, and I usually look to that for inspiration once I make laborious choices.”

Seymour’s instincts and a spotlight to element are nonetheless felt to this present day. In 1996, KCRW turned the primary public radio station exterior Chicago to broadcast Glass’ “This American Life.” Besides it wasn’t initially known as “This American Life,” it was known as “Your Radio Playhouse.”

“She was very insistent that it was a horrible title,” Glass later stated. “If not for Ruth, we nonetheless might need the opposite title.”

Seymour’s most enduring impact on music was her years overseeing KCRW’s “Morning Turns into Eclectic,” an inspiration to producers and indie music followers throughout. Its title is a riff on the title of the 1931 play “Mourning Turns into Electra” by Eugene O’Neill.

Of Seymour’s period at KCRW, “the one most enduring factor is ‘Morning Turns into Eclectic,” Ferro stated. “That’s a legacy that continues and I really like that. … She had this mental rigor, mental dedication that was fairly unparalleled for L.A.”

On the finish of Seymour’s profession within the late 2000s, nonetheless, the financial system was in turmoil, legacy media was beginning its fateful shift towards much less gatekeepery digital media and KCRW’s viewers numbers had began to flag a bit.

“Instantly, someday she got here in and stated, ‘I’m leaving,’” Lewis recalled. And like that, an entire period in radio had come to an finish, unto herself.

“Ruth was one of many nice figures in public broadcasting,” Lewis stated.

Seymour is survived by her daughter, Celia. Her former husband, Hirschman, died of COVID-19 in 2021. Her son, David, died of lymphoma in 1982 at age 25.

In accordance with biographical materials ready by Celia, Seymour, profoundly affected by the expertise, had spent every anniversary of her son’s dying alone, “strolling on the seaside after which spending time going by means of photographs and cracking open the door to a grief that she carried consistently inside her, however managed to maintain hidden from the remainder of the world.”

In a 1987 interview with The Instances, Seymour recalled what she had discovered from giving up on interviewing Sartre, shifting to a Greek island and communing with the which means of all of it, if there even was any.

“Properly, you recognize it’s not the tip that’s vital,” Seymour stated. “It by no means is. It’s all the time the journey itself. It’s not what you discover. It’s the search. Lots of people misplaced their means, however these of us who survived, I believe, are higher off for it.”


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