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June 3, 2002

Santa Cruz loses local public radio's Eric Schoeck

By Jennifer McNulty

For fans of public radio, it's a double whammy. Longtime talk-radio host Eric Schoeck is leaving town, stepping down as broadcast adviser at UCSC's radio station and as host of two long-running KUSP shows, RadioGram and Mind Body Spirit.

Eric Schoeck plans to continue his radio career from Connecticut. Photo: Jennifer McNulty
One of the most familiar voices on the dial, Schoeck is probably best known for RadioGram, which features interviews with authors and has been on the air nearly 15 years.

Schoeck has also worked in commercial radio, including more than six years as a daily talk-show host on KSCO, as well as stints on KBOQ and the now-defunct KMFO/KNZS. In fact, Schoeck's worst fear over the years has been saying the wrong call letters on the air. "I've only done that one time in all the years, so that's not too bad," he said.

Schoeck's campus job at KZSC, where he has overseen all day-to-day station operations for two years, includes coordinating about 80 student volunteers. The position has allowed Schoeck to integrate his personal passion for radio with full-time employment.

"I love the energy and enthusiasm of the place," said Schoeck, who is moving east this summer and plans to pursue his radio career from Connecticut. "KUSP is an entirely different world."

KZSC has been a good fit for Schoeck, a former Cabrillo College instructor. "I loved teaching college, I love college students, and I love public radio," he said. "It seemed like a pretty good match."

Schoeck and a part-time development officer are the only paid career staff at KZSC. He works closely with seven paid students and the student station manager, who holds a one-year appointment. In many ways, the broadcast adviser is the continuity that holds the station together from year to year, bridging the ever-changing student roster and a group of steady community volunteers.

"Eric has just been everything KZSC needed," said station manager Maruja Clensay, a graduating senior majoring in Latin American and Latino studies, whose list of adjectives to describe Schoeck include consistent, personable, dependable, sympathetic, and accommodating. "He's dedicated to the station and the well-being of everybody. I told him I consider him like a second father."

By the end of summer, KZSC will jump from 1,250 watts of broadcasting power to 10,000 watts ("it'll help us reach some of those nooks and crannies, like the North Coast"), said Schoeck, who credits Marlene Olson, director of student media on campus, with having the foresight to raise $100,000 to fund the project.

"The station is really a hybrid because of the community and student involvement," said Schoeck. "Our main purpose is to serve students, of course, but they take off in the summer. There's a lot of creative energy at the station." Not to mention a "gorgeous vinyl rock collection," he added.

Schoeck's own radio roots go back to his college days at Yale University where he was a hockey announcer and later hosted a music show in the 1960s. He revived his interest in radio while teaching early childhood education at Cabrillo College. "I listened to talk radio, and I wasn't hearing the kinds of things I was talking about on the radio, so I approached the station," Schoeck said of his first show on KMFO in Aptos, the now-defunct station that later became KNZS.

After 30 years on the Central Coast, Schoeck has developed dedicated fans. Along with RadioGram, Schoeck hosts Mind Body Spirit on KUSP, a show that "reframed" health to embrace emotional, spiritual, and psychological health. It has been on the air for four years.

"I've tried not to take him for granted, but it's going to take a lot of work to fill those two hours," said KUSP program director Howard Feldstein, adding that Schoeck is "as good as Terry Gross," the host of National Public Radio's popular interview program Fresh Air. "He has such a wide range. He can make anything interesting and relevant."

For UCSC, Schoeck has been a vital link with the community. He has interviewed dozens of UCSC authors about their work over the years, including John Dizikes, Bettina Aptheker, Page Smith, Edmund (Terry) Burke, Adrienne Zihlman, Ralph Abraham, Craig Reinarman, David Kaun, John Isbister, Fredric Lieberman, Geoffrey Pullum, Nathaniel Mackey, Peter Orner, Daniel Press, Carter Wilson, and Brent Haddad.

Historian Paul Ortiz, an assistant professor of community studies and a newcomer to the Santa Cruz area, discussed his book Remembering Jim Crow with Schoeck in February. It was, he recalled, a genuine pleasure and one of the best interviews of his career.

"He had read the entire book--it was full of bookmarks," said Ortiz. "Very often, the interviewer will just look at the book flap or the back of the book and go from there. Eric was able to actually talk about the book."

The scope of subjects Schoeck covers--from local nonprofit dentistry for the poor, to Indian literature--prompted Ortiz to call Schoeck an "incredible resource for the community."

Over the years, Schoeck has juggled his unpaid radio gigs with teaching at Cabrillo, running preschools, coordinating events for the Capitola Book Cafe, and, most recently, as broadcast adviser at KZSC.

Having worked in both public radio and commercial radio, Schoeck believes both have their place, but his preference is clear.

"I just don't like commercials," he said. "I like the depth of interviews and the seriousness of public radio. I'd like to believe there's still room for thought-provoking commercial radio that's not just hype, but there's a lot less room than on public radio. My heart's in public radio."

Schoeck enjoys talking with authors, especially right after he's finished the book, while it's "still breathing inside of me," he said. Among his favorites are local poet Adrienne Rich--"I've been reading her since the '60s"--and Terry Tempest Williams--"the finest author out there."

An interview with Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, demonstrates the unique power of radio. "He had that wonderful Irish accent, and that almost laconic Irish way of talking," recalled Schoeck, who was one of the first journalists to interview McCourt. "I was stunned by the book, I just fell in love with it, but talking with him was amazing. That's when radio really works so well." Many listeners agreed: About 300 people jammed the Capitola Book Cafe for a reading that night. "That's when McCourt's publisher first knew they had a hit," recalled Schoeck.

Schoeck, a fast reader who describes himself as having a "relentlessly curious mind," was delighted by an interview with Ruth Reichl, former food critic of the New York Times, about her first memoir, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. "It turned out to be the funniest, most engaging memoir, and she was wonderfully funny in person," said Schoeck.

Although he can't imagine life without a radio show, Schoeck has found it challenging to squeeze in the programs while working full-time. "I'm always rushing to the station, then back to my job," he lamented. Now, he said, it's time to try to make the jump to a larger radio market. "Terry Gross started in a market this size, and now she's nationally syndicated. She has the job she deserves," he said. "I'm happy for her."

"I've had a great run," said Schoeck, who hopes his proximity to New York City will allow him to work with authors in a way he can't from the West Coast. "There's no getting around the fact that the publishing world is based in New York. I've done this work with authors long distance for 15 years, and it's time to see what I can do on the East Coast."

Schoeck's last day at KZSC will be June 28.

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