by Jennifer Vande Zande
Every Monday afternoon from 1-3, Trish Lewis delivers a mix of music that is often overlooked and underplayed, and we the listening audience are the better for it. The Eclectic Chair gives public radio listeners exactly what they crave…the A-typical. This summer marks the show's 10-year anniversary on Q90.1 Delta College Public Radio. For the past 6 years, Lewis has been playing host, composing musical narratives from her diverse playlists that include well-known artists like Tom Waits and Randy Newman, the more obscure sounds of the Electric Rag Band and Southern Culture On The Skids, as well local favorites like John Vasquez & the Bearinger Boys and Cornpone.
And though the music is the heart of the show, as it should be, there is no doubt that it is Lewis's self-effacing radio presence that has contributed to the longevity and popularity of the Eclectic Chair. You may or may not be surprised to learn that the woman behind the mic is a gifted prep-school drop-out, choosing instead to live in New York City where she worked for Unique Recording Studio. She mingled with the famous and infamous and was married to the late Gideon Sams, author of The Punk. I recently sat down with Trish and asked her how she ended up on the Chair and in the studios of Delta College Public Radio.
Trish Lewis: I owe a large debt to my late father, who told me I was the only child who would listen to both The Metropolitan Opera and Grand Ole Opry. We would listen to jazz, classical, humorists and even the program Hee Haw. He loved that I would listen to all music, from Dave Brubeck to Spike Jones, from blues to bluegrass.
I've been a listener of Q90.1 since I spent a year living in Standish in 1991, avidly tuning in at high noon to the late, great Jay Samuel Jackson's daily program The Session. He was such a great force in spreading the joy of jazz and blues. As La Caliente producer Mike Mendoza said, it was as if he was talking directly to you as a listener. I loved that.
I moved out of the area and went on an eight-year road trip working auctions, selling antiques and collectibles (read: junk!) at shows and flea markets all over the country. I was still a constant listener to all public radio to be found as I was on the road constantly. I already knew what I loved and what drove me crazy about the music programs offered. I moved back to this area in 1999 and was once again a constant listener to Q90.1. Or as one of the current Eclectic Chair's contributors calls us: "Listenerds."
In 2004 I wrote an email to the WUCX-FM Q90.1 Radio Program manager Howard Sharper, admiring his version of The Session and Sarah J's "Friday Jazz & Blues Party" version of The Session. I think I basically wrote a love letter to the whole station's programming in general. I offered antiques in lieu of cash for a pledge for one of the on-air auctions they used to hold. I even offered to work an auction as I had time on my hands being severely under employed. He wrote back that they no longer did on-air auctions, but if I would like to come in to answer pledge drive phones, they always needed help in that department.
So in the fall of 2004 I answered the radio pledge drive phones, and Howard must have liked my voice and my all-over-the-map answer to what kind of music I enjoyed. I owe Howard Sharper a large thank you as well, as he must have heard in me and my taste in music what was missing since the unexpected early death in May 2000 of The Eclectic Chair originator and Delta College radio engineer Mark Domsic. I had asked Howard Sharper what happened to Mark's show, as I was a fan and didn’t know what happened to him; Howard sent me home with a box full of under- or unused music.
A few weeks later on December 29, 2004 at 2 p.m. we launched The Resurrected Eclectic Chair. After the launch I was happy to return to the original name of The Eclectic Chair, which is truly hard enough to pronounce on its own! I started doing a show every month, then twice a month. When I finally learned to engineer my own shows, I was offered a weekly program as a community volunteer producer. I've chosen and recorded all the playlists since 2004 and published a complimentary website, radiochair.com. Whenever there is a guest programmer, I usually record photos of the guest's show. All the playlists since the show expanded to two hours and moved to Monday are available at the show's blog.
Jennifer Vande Zande: How do you prepare for the show?
TL: I try to listen to whatever hits my mailbox while at my day job during the week and on my headset during my daily walk or jog. I try to air whatever I can that's new, songs I enjoy or think listeners might enjoy. I also sometimes simply pull out my own dusty favorites. I always pack my studio bag too heavy with piles of tunes I usually cannot get through in three shows. I consider walking into the station with the bag my weight lifting exercise!
I have only done a few themed shows. I did a four-hour tribute to liquor and found I probably could have done four more hours. It kind of got out of hand. But it was fun. I hate to hold off airing the new music that comes in. I remove last week’s music from my bag and add any new and available to it before I return to record a show. It keeps the show fresh and on the high road to eclectic.
JV: Who are some of the guests you've brought in over the years?
TL: Midland musician and songwriter Dan Vaillancourt, Bay City musician and songwriter Cary Ewing, musician and songwriter Jamie-Sue Seal from Dewitt. From Saginaw I had Terry Stangl and Todd Michael Hall. Also Delta College professor, published poet and author Jeff Vande Zande, of Midland.
I also invited "obstreperous oriole" Penny Nickle, and Diedra Knox, who teaches at Delta College, because I wanted listeners to hear their joy in supporting public radio. I believe love shines through the microphone.
There were many more guest programmers of The Eclectic Chair when we offered the "DJ for a Day" pledge premium, but I haven't permission to use their names.
JV: Why was their support of Q90.1 and its programming important?
TL: There aren't enough programs on air today here or anywhere with a wide variety of interests and musical styles. Some of the music heard on Q90.1 cannot be heard anywhere else. The Q90.1 offering of local talent and opportunities: priceless.
JV: Do you always like what you play?
TL: No. But if I listen to music and find it technically good, yet it might not be a style I usually prefer, I will probably air it. I hear many different styles of music as air-worthy because everybody has their own different eclectic taste. Mark Domsic had a "No Zeppelin" policy that I have broken away from. All comers will be listened to by me with big ears and an open heart. I hope to live up to my own policy. My aim is twenty-minute music sets with as little talk as possible. I try to just make sure the listener hears the name of the artist, song, album, year of release and record company; artist links are always included on my play lists.
JV: What are you listening to now?
TL: Handful Of Luvin', Midland musician and songwriter Roger Briggs, Shaun Murphy Band, Cee Cee James, Joe LoStritto, Peter Karp & Sue Foley...Too many to list unless you want a real laundry list! Recording the show for me is like my version of what the late Flip Wilson called "The Church Of What's Happening Now."
The Eclectic Chair airs Mondays from 1-3p.m. on WUCX-FM Q90.1; last week's show repeats every Monday from 3-5 a.m.
© Jennifer Vande Zande, 2010