Saturday, December 03, 2005


RADIO: Dean Olsher's "Next Big Thing" recalls old days of radio

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT:,1413,101~7514~1928760,00.html

Where the Golden Age of Radio meets the eclectic

By Stefanie Cohen
Berkshire Eagle Staff

Sunday, February 01, 2004 -

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Dean Olsher used to pay
friends $5 to drive him from Simon's Rock College to the WSBS (860 AM)
radio station in Great Barrington, where he held a job as weekend morning
announcer. He was 16 -- young, perhaps, but not too young to know what he
wanted to do for a living. He wanted to be on the radio.

Friday night, Olsher will be hitting Berkshire County airwaves again, this
time as the host of his nationally syndicated radio show, "The Next Big
Thing," which is the newest addition to the WAMC (90.3 FM) lineup. His
show will replace the "Savvy Traveler," on Fridays at 9 p.m. on Northeast
Public Radio.

"It's been really important to me to be on WAMC," said Olsher, sipping
coffee at the Neighborhood Diner in Great Barrington yesterday morning.
"It's a really important market, and it's important to me personally, too.
I have a lot of friends here."

Olsher, 40, grew up in New Jersey but has loved the Berkshires since his
college days. He has a vacation home in Stockbridge and drives up from
Brooklyn when he can.

Olsher has known he wanted to have a radio show since he was 12 years old.
He used to listen to Jonathan Schwartz and Vin Scelsa on WNEW alone in his
room at night and feel as if they were talking to him and him alone.

"They had such an intimate style. They were like companions to me," said
Olsher. His show, which is produced by WNYC, New York Pubic Radio, and
distributed by Public Radio International, tries to maintain that intimacy
with offbeat stories about interesting people. The hourlong magazine show
features literary journalism, interviews, fiction, essays, comedy and
performances by writers, actors and musicians.

Olsher bucked convention by including such a disparate lineup in his show.
His excuse is that he bores easily, and he figures if he bores so quickly,
his listeners probably do as well. And though their minds, like his, may
flit from topic to topic, their radio dials are staying put. "The Next Big
Thing," which was picked up by WNYC in 2000 and syndicated in January
2003, will be heard on more than 100 radio stations across the country
next month.

Olsher hopes his show is part of a nascent trend toward a return to the
Golden Age of Radio -- before television took families from their living
room huddle around the short-wave, and plunked them onto the sofa in the

"I feel like it's the Middle Ages, and there are a handful of monks out
there keeping this ancient wisdom alive," said Olsher of those who still
use the medium for topics other than news or music. His show has been
compared to Ira Glass' "This American Life," from WBEZ in Chicago, and
Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion," from Minnesota Public Radio.

Olsher said his experience at WSBS helped to shape his esteemed view of
his chosen medium in some ways.

"Before public radio became a phenomenon, this was the joint," said Olsher
of the local station. "On snow days, SBS had everyone's ear. Tom Jay's
'Trading Post,' these kinds of shows, they really matter in a small
community. I am so glad that they are still here. The fact that Nick
[Dillard] and Tom are still doing it is incredible."

A given show of "The Next Big Thing" could include a radio play acted by
Lili Taylor or Rob Morrow, an interview with ex-governor of New York Mario
Cuomo, a reading of a new work by writer Rick Moody, or a comedy routine
where a correspondent asks people on the street to sing songs from the
musical "Oklahoma!" from memory.

"We are very happy and excited about the program," said WAMC Executive
Director Alan Chartock. "Dean's a great guy. It'll be fun."

Nick Dillard, the WSBS morning disc jockey, remembers Olsher from his
Simon's Rock days. The two have stayed in touch intermittently over the
years, and yesterday Dillard was pleased to hear of Olsher's success.

"I am going to call him right now, and ask if he wants a beer," said
Dillard over the phone. "Dean did very well," Dillard remembered of the
young radio announcer. "He caught on quickly. I thought he wouldn't stick
with radio. I thought he would move on to other things. I am glad to see
he is enjoying it."

One of the things Olsher enjoys most about his show is a good
man-on-the-street interview. He thinks interviews with regular folks "have
an authenticity that is disappearing from radio."

Instead of the canned cadence of a news broadcaster, the people on the
street talk like people are supposed to talk, with stumbling, stuttering
integrity, he said.

"The media has contaminated a lot of people into speaking that way," he
said of the newscaster style. "It's a turnoff. Regular people are
geniuses. They often will have brilliant, funny, surprising things to

Ultimately, said Olsher, radio can capture people's personalities in a way
that even with all its fancy color and images, television can't. Olsher
thinks that radio is more immediate because the mind has to respond in a
way television doesn't demand. The listener plays an active role in
imagining the story. And beginning next Friday, Berkshire County will be
actively joining in Dean Olsher's stories, which sound like they would be
worth listening to.


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