Some voices are so familiar and comforting to you that it’s like listening to an dear friend. Lissa LeGrand is that dear friend, and I’m writing about her because 2021 marks her 40th year of working at WBHM!
To celebrate her service, I’m interviewing her for this week’s column.
When did you start working here? In 1981. I was hired as an announcer working 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. when I signed the station off the air. It was a combination of hosting All Things Considered, playing pre-recorded classical music programs, playing some classical music of my own choosing, and finally some jazz which began at midnight. I was usually here until 2 or 3 a.m. planning out future programs. At that time, we printed out listings of all the music we played.
How did you hear of WBHM? I had heard of the station before there was a job opening. Friends of mine we are talking about WBHM. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and working for WXPN doing radio theatre, and I had a theatre company of my own. We produced live plays on stage but did radio theatre also. I moved back to Birmingham due to illness in my family, and that just happened to coincide with a job opening at WBHM.
Tell us all the different jobs you’ve had here. Announcer, music programmer, and I was operations manager for a while. And, I also worked for the Alabama Radio Reading Service.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen at WBHM? Transitioning to a digital operation. Our music library used to contain thousands of 3×5 cards, and it was nothing but LP’s. We made the transition to compact disc in about a year-and-a-half. But during that time, I was on the road performing with a band. When I came back, we were pretty much playing music from compact disc. WBHM also became a 24-hour operation, first with staff, then, as technology progressed, the station moved toward automated overnight hours.
You’ve left WBHM a few times, but you’ve always come back… The first two times I left; it was me. I had an opportunity to travel around the country playing bass with a band. One other time it was due to changes at the station, but I knew I was going to come back in some form. Fortunately, I had the skill to host both music and news programming such as All Things Considered. In terms of news hosting, it is a lot busier than it used to be. There’s lot more going on, and even leading up to today, I must be more focused, dynamic, and aware of the job. You have to be ready for anything during the news, whereas hosting classical music has a very different pace and feel.
Tell us about a memorable moment you’ve had at WBHM. Most of the time when I worked here it was in the evening when nobody else was here. It can get a little spooky at night. There was an occasional spider and once I swear I saw someone moving about in the adjacent studio! Another time was when we played orchestral symphonic series via reel to reel. They would be delivered by mail. The tape wasn’t long enough to hold an entire concert, so I had to sync the two tapes together in order for it to sound like one continuous concert.
What keeps you here at WBHM? I enjoy the work! I’ve also been challenged through the years to learn new skills. It’s been excited to be part of something that you can just see is ramping up and becoming a more robust service and serving the community in better ways. It’s hard to imagine not being here in some fashion. It’s a wonderful place to work in that you’re part of a team providing a service, but also a team of co-workers who are fun and nice to be around.
If you’re a Lissa-ner, join me in congratulating Lissa on 40 years of great radio!
(Through “Programming Notes,” we hope to keep you connected to what is happening at WBHM both internally and on-air. Have feedback you’d like to share? Or a programming question? Let me know!)
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