It’s a special edition of our Staff Spotlight: This month we’re talking with our Commentary Series producer and one of the very first employees of VPR, Betty Smith-Mastaler who is celebrating her 40th anniversary with VPR!
My name is: Betty Smith-Mastaler
Public radio employee since: 1975 half time. 1976 full time.
Public radio listener since: The day we signed on the air in Windsor, Aug 13, 1977.
My Job at VPR: My first job at VPR was to assist Ray Dilley, the project manager, with frequency applications to the FCC. When he became the first Station Manager, I became the Assistant Manager/Program Manager. In 1988, I was asked to experiment with the commentary format as the first step toward a full-fledged, regional news service. And even though the news service is now a reality, producing commentaries is still my job.
How did you initially become involved with VPR?
On April 28, 1975, I read a notice in the Burlington Free Press and on Channel 3 announcing a public meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing Public Radio in Vermont. I couldn't go because I was working the five to midnight shift at a commercial radio station at the time. But I'd heard about public radio from Ev Grimes, a friend and fellow radio person who was going to graduate school in Kansas and hoped to work at the public station there.
I was intrigued, so I got in touch with the people who called the meeting and said that I had my days free, could type and answer the phone, took direction really, really well and if they couldn't pay me, I'd work for free. They got a small grant, hired Ray Dilley as project manager, and hired me to assist.
How cool! What was VPR like in its early years?
The early years were very exciting, ambitious and innovative. Very big dreams on a very thin financial shoestring!
Do you have any favorite moments from the past 40 years?
Many! Standing with a handful of others by the Windsor equipment rack when the button was pushed to activate the very first transmitter and being awestruck by what we'd just set in motion! And another time, when 10-year-old Rica Poor climbed Windsor House's three flights of stairs to contribute her penny jar to an early fundraiser, thinking that with that kind of support, we couldn't fail!
With all of the good moments there had to have been a few nerve-racking ones?
Sure. Many early pay days were touch-and-go, but somehow we kept going until the audience had grown enough for membership to begin to provide stability.
Where do you want to see VPR go in the future?
I think there are exciting days ahead in terms of new technology, and I hope and expect VPR will apply it to increasing our public service mission and contributing to a deeper understanding of our cultural identity.
While we love having you around, what has kept you with VPR for so long?
The people, the original program content, the vitality of the region we serve and the sense of challenge.
Tell Me More:
If I could share a coffee with anyone, it would be: Oh boy, that's so hard! But I've long been intrigued by stories about my grandmother's reclusive Cherokee grandmother, so maybe I'd take the opportunity to learn what her life was really like.
I can't live without: Books, music, lively conversation, a garden, family, good colleagues and friends.
One thing everyone should know about me is: I'm a sucker for a good idea.
My favorite thing to do in Vermont: Ramble around back roads.
The one word I always stumble over on air is: Well, I'm not on the air much myself these days, but one word that I think is tricky on the radio for just about anyone is one that comes up quite often around here, and that's "rural."
I listen best when: I’m in a small gathering or one-on-one. When there's a crowd, the sounds of the event take over and the act of listening changes.
I make it a point to never miss: Well, never is a long time, but I try very hard to keep up with all of our locally-produced programs, and I make a serious effort not to miss the sky guys, the headlines (both local and otherwise) and of course, the next commentary.
When I tell people I work for VPR, they often say: "And how long have you been working there?" At which point I take a deep breath and say...