BY NORM CRAMPTON
Forty-six years ago, George Walker, the longtime host of the classical music program heard weekday mornings on WFIU Public Radio, was all set to embark on a teaching career when a radio announcement changed his plans.
It was the summer of 1967, and Walker, a University of Michigan graduate, was pursuing a master’s degree in English at Indiana University, preparing to teach. Listening casually to the radio one day, he heard an announcement seeking volunteer news readers.
Walker recalls, “I thought that would be good preparation to teach, and I arranged to audition. They said that I was okay [on news] but that I sounded like a classical music announcer.” He soon graduated from volunteer to paid announcer and forsook his teaching ambitions.
Today, besides playing the classics from 9 to 11:30 am, Walker serves as a programming director at WFIU, helping to shape the on-air offerings of the National Public Radio station.
His job entails interviewing and auditioning new announcers and coaching them on delivery. He also does on-air interviews with performing artists appearing in local stage productions. And he reviews stage shows and opera, both on campus and throughout the listening area of south-central Indiana.
“Reviews are difficult to write,” Walker says. The challenge is to say enough so that even if his critical eye detects some problems with a production, he says, “I include the reasons to go see it.”
Because he is trained in classical guitar, it surprises some of his admirers when they learn that he once led a bluegrass band, The Jordan River Ramblers, named for the campus waterway. His public appearances are now limited to Friday night services once a month at Congregation Beth Shalom with a group called Shir Simcha. “In Hebrew, that means ‘joy of music,’” Walker explains.
One of the nice things about being on radio, he says, is that he’s kind of a secret celebrity. “So it’s not unusual if I’m in a checkout line and say something and maybe a person two down in line sort of looks up, and says, ‘Hey, you’re George Walker!’ That’s pretty nice. And then, of course, you know what the second thing they say is: ‘You don’t look anything like what I thought you would!’”
At 70, the WFIU morning host could retire now, but that’s not in his immediate plans. “I really like being George Walker,” he says.