We got to sit down with Erika Funke of WVIA and she interviewed us on ArtScene. We thought it would be fun to turn the tables and interview the interviewer about her prolific career in radio and the arts. Erika and the WVIA team have been an invaluable pARTner in spreading the word for Arts on the Square.
When you were a college student at University of Chicago, what was your dream for your career? Would that you be surprised at how it unfolded and where you are today?
The University of Chicago was a hothouse of ideas and, at the time, I was fascinated by the way various art forms can “talk” to each other and tell us something about what it means to be human. But really, I had no idea how I would spend my working life. It was Chicago after all, and my friends and I tried to hear as much live music as possible. And unexpectedly, it was a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that literally changed my life and gave it a focus, a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that took our collective breath away. We’d somehow experienced the power of music to move and connect us, bring us exhilaration and true joy. It was clear that finding a way to bring people together with music would be the next step for me.
Was WVIA your 1st Radio Job? Did you always want to work in radio?
As it happens, I’d already been doing radio shows all through college, but not with a career in mind. And actually, you might say that I backed into radio, though my mother had done some radio here in NEPA when I was growing up, and she’d almost gone into radio theater at the network level when she returned to NYC after college.
(Of course, there’s the irony of my name. “Funk” in German means “spark” or “flame”, and it’s the root of the word for “radio”–“Rundfunk”. A Swiss doctor reminded me about the early radio operators in his country who used to call each other “Spark” and “Sparky” because of the spark-gap transmitters that were standard.)
One thing led to another, and I was fortunate enough to teach media studies at a branch campus of Goddard College in the Boston area and to have yearlong apprenticeship at WGBH-FM, where I worked on their local version of “All Things Considered”.
I came back to NEPA to recover from some surgery and began volunteering at WVIA to keep my hand in radio. Within a few weeks, the morning classical host resigned to head west, and I had a terrific opportunity to join the staff and realize that dream of bringing music and people together.
Why is promoting the arts important to you?
As we know, radio is a remarkable medium. So many people love the way radio engages the human imagination–that we as listeners create the “pictures”. It’s also the intimacy of the relationship between the speaker and the listener that contributes to its power. Putting that together with an exploration of the creative life of the region seemed a natural thing. The “conversations” we can have in and through the arts allow us to touch levels of experience that remind us of the range of our humanity, from the most profound to the most light-hearted moments. And I’ve witnessed the way the conversations with creative individuals in the region and beyond on “ArtScene” can inspire us and get us out into the community to experience various art offerings directly.
What do you like most about our arts community here in NEPA?
I’m thrilled at both the quantity and quality of the arts activity in the region and also by the impact that artists are having on the quality of life of the communities where they live and work. Also by the fact that creative people are returning to the area to settle in and help us experience our home turf with fresh eyes. In fact, few things excite me more than meeting creative people giving shape and form to their vision of this place.
How long have you been hosting ArtScene and who was your absolute favorite interview?
Conservatively, we say we do on average 250 or more separate arts interviews each year–for at least 9 years running now. There have been so many conversations at the “ArtScene” table that have been memorable, but there’s one I’ll mention because it was among the most difficult interviews I’ve ever done and one that unfolded as a truly moving experience
The Academy Award-winning actor Jack Palance from the Hazleton area was having an exhibition of his paintings at the Everhart Museum in Scranton. He’d been on the media circuit that day, and WVIA was his last stop. He arrived and he was weary, and his body language said it all. He took his seat and twisted his huge frame as far away from the table as he could, while still allowing his voice–rich as it was–to reach the microphone, almost over his shoulder. I’m certain that my questions were respectful and I tried to make them fresh, but his answers were terse and dry-as-toast. I’d just about given up hope of breaking through his reserve, when I decided to go for broke. His eyes had been wandering and scanning the CD shelves, so I asked if he saw anything he liked among the classical albums. He paused and stretched his long (push-up?) arm over and pulled out a recording of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”.
His rigid frame softened, and he turned back to talk about how important music had been in his life–Mozart especially. He may even have said he listened to music while painting. And then he asked me whether I knew that he wrote poetry, and he talked about his various inspirations and the book he created for his beautiful wife. He actually recited some of his verses. And suddenly were experiencing a side of this talented and successful actor who had grown up in the hard-scrabble community of Lattimer Mines. His father worked in the mines and so did he. He played football and became a boxer, and of course, he was eventually known for his tough-guy persona in Hollywood. Here he was talking about the delicacy and power of Mozart, about the romantic emotions he expressed in his poetry. It was a remarkable transformation and a privilege to be permitted some access to the interior world of an extremely private person.
And truly, it’s moments like that when I pinch myself and realize how blessed I am to be able to share such conversations with listeners each day, so that we can get to know more about this remarkable place, ourselves and each other.
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