Sylvia McNair in the studio at WFIU. Photo by Rodney Margison
Sylvia McNair in the studio at WFIU. Photo by Rodney Margison

By Janet Mandelstam

When Sylvia McNair began hosting a new program of classical music on WFIU-FM in January, it was a homecoming of sorts. McNair worked at the station in the early 1980s while earning a master’s degree at the Indiana University School of Music. 

“We cued up vinyl and made sure we put the needle in the right place,” she says of her work as a part-time announcer and producer back in those days. “Now,” she says, “the music is all in the cloud, a giant server in the sky.”

It seems radio technology, and McNair, have both changed in the intervening years. The two-time Grammy Award–winning opera star, who returned to Bloomington to teach at the Jacobs School of Music (2006–16), says she brings a unique perspective as she hosts a radio show for the second time. “After three-and-a-half decades in the music business, I can drop in stories about the conductors and artists, and give the music a personal touch,” she says. 

Many public radio stations have stopped playing classical music, says WFIU Operations Director John Bailey. That hasn’t happened in Bloomington. “It would be hard for us to imagine, with one of the great music schools right here,” he says. He adds that having McNair host the program is part of that ongoing dedication to classical music. “The program is special because of who she is and her connection to the station,” Bailey says. 

As for McNair, the radio gig is just one of her current pursuits. “I’ve still got a lot of energy,” says McNair, 62. “I still do singing engagements for family and friends and to raise funds for my beloved causes.” Among those are the IU-Kenya Partnership, Shalom Community Center, and Songs By Heart, a program connecting people with memory loss to music. “And I’ve turned my passion for teaching to adult literacy and ENL [English as a New Language],” she says. “This is some of the most satisfying work of my life.”

McNair’s program airs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays on WFIU2, the station’s second channel, which broadcasts at 101.9 FM in Bloomington. For more information, visit