In the middle of the workday, among the dozens of talk programs
that are bantering on the left and right of the public stage, one specific has
taken its hour of time on the air and place a lot of focus on the local side of
Every weekday at 11AM, Doug Fabrizio brings both Utah culture and news to the forefront on KUER with his popular news-talk program Radio West. Running the gambit of topics from politicians and government, environment, film, faith, war, history, art, sex, music and more topics I can't even compile a list to. Putting most Utah-based personalities who constantly repeat the same old formula and rhetoric to shame, even when talking on national topics. I got a chance to chat with Doug about his career and thoughts on broadcasting, all along with pictures of this past Thursday's show and a tour of the studio.
Gavin: Hey Doug. Let's first start with what was life like for you growing up in Utah.
Doug: I grew up in Bountiful and – I have to say – really loved it. We lived on a stream and I wandered the course of the ‘crick’ with friends or by myself. So the terrain I’m most familiar with, and feel really at home in, is foothill scrub oak and that grass that turns yellow by mid July (looks like wheat – is it wheat?). We played kick-the-can and improvised our own plays in the basement – we even did a radio play based on the Broadway show ‘George M!’ (recorded into the condenser mic of a crappy cassette player). I think I felt the same way about growing up here as most Utah natives – it’s kind of a cycle – you want to get out at first, then you feel ambivalent (or trapped), then you start digging the place for its maddening strangeness. Right now I’m digging the place.
Gavin: I read that you actually aspired to be an actor first. What inspired you to do that, and what kind of stuff had you done before college?
Doug: I always wanted to be an actor. I did community theatre and was a drama geek in high school. I still feel like that was what I was supposed to do – but I wimped out and re-tooled my life. I feel resigned to it now – but just in case, I practice my Oscar acceptance speech when I’m alone.
Gavin: What made you choose the U for your degree, and what was your time like spent there?
Doug: I went to the U because I got a theatre scholarship. I auditioned for it - did a Hamlet soliloquy and a scene from a Neil Simon play. How original.
Gavin: How did you take an interest in journalism, and what made you decide to switch degrees?
Doug: I think I became interested in broadcast journalism because it was a form of storytelling and performance. Radio pieces and docs, even Radio West, are things I can create and direct and air time is show time.
Gavin: What led to you becoming a reporter for KUER?
Doug: I became a reporter at KUER the way many people came to work at public radio stations around the country at the time – I volunteered and worked for a pittance until I had wormed my way into the place.
Gavin: How would you best describe your early years in the field?
Doug: I did a lot of experimenting with the form in my early years. I felt, still feel, really excited about the possibilities of the medium and so I played around with structure and writing and sound. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but it taught me to never feel complacent and to never be afraid to try and make an idea work.
Gavin: You got the News Director job in 1993. What was your reaction to it, especially getting it so young? And how did the listeners react to that decision?
Doug: I’m not sure how listeners reacted to my becoming News Director – though someone once left a message on our hotline wondering why we had hired a junior high school student. I don’t exactly have booming pipes. I do know our station manager, John Greene, was nervous about the prospect of someone so young taking on the job. To his credit, John let me give it a shot and now there’s too much paperwork involved in trying to fire me.
Gavin: What were those years like for you running the station and being a part of Morning Edition?
Doug: Well I never have run the station – only the news room and I wasn’t really that good at it. I’m okay with the creative stuff – but I neglect the administrative part. As for being a part of Morning Edition – I was a terrible Morning Edition host.
Gavin: How did the opportunity to launch Radio West come about?
Doug: Radio West was John Greene’s idea – at least the original concept. At first it was a half-hour magazine program focused on the West. Those who listen, know it has evolved some over the years.
Gavin: To some, the whole change in 2001 kind of marked a new era for KUER. Do you take a lot of pride in that, or view it as something that was long overdue?
Doug: I’m the sort that hates change and 2001 scared the shit out of me at first. There was a lot of uncertainty within the station about getting rid of classical music, but John Greene had the foresight to see how important it was for us to change direction if we were going to continue to succeed. He did a lot of hand holding and it wasn’t easy – but by all measurable standards, it was clearly the right thing to do.
Gavin: What is it like for you having a show that both covers local aspects, and sometimes becomes part of the news?
Doug: That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often so I’m not sure what to say about it – it’s like being a bystander on the street – becoming part of the news isn’t always a good thing.
Gavin: Do you take any flack for including local entertainment in what's viewed as a news program, or do you believe it belongs there as much as anything else?
Doug: We don’t really get much flack for including local entertainment. Art and culture are an important part of the program. I actually don’t believe in segregating news – keeping the hard stuff from the softer stories (in fact I hate describing arts coverage or features as ‘soft’) or the local ones from the national ones. No matter where it comes from, most of us don’t see music or literature or great film as any less important to our lives than knowing about the critical events and issues of the day.
Gavin: Is there a goal down the road for the show or will it always be a changing entity?
Doug: Radio West has settled into a groove – though I hope it doesn’t become a rut. I’m never really satisfied with it and hope it will be constantly changing.
Gavin: When did the idea for Utah Now come about, and how did the opportunity to host it happen?
Doug: Ken Verdoia at KUED conceived of Utah Now and asked me to be involved. That guy has an extraordinary commitment to public broadcasting and a great vision for the station.
Gavin: What are the differences you've found in television, and how do you compare working on both shows?
Doug: Well, I began thinking that television couldn’t approach the intimacy of radio as a medium for conveying ideas and stories, but now I’m not so sure. Radio is my domain and I am still a fervent believer – but it’s the craft that matters, not the format.
Gavin: Considering all that you've done so far, are there more plans in the works for you, or are you reaching a point where you're content with what you're doing?
Doug: Good question – I am feeling content with parts of my professional life but some of the television work I’ve been doing has made me feel excited again about the possibilities – reminds me of my early days in radio.
Gavin: Let's go a little state-wide. What's your take on broadcast reporting in Utah, both good and bad?
Doug: I’m going to dodge this question. Nothing worse than blowhards who still haven’t perfected their own work making pronouncements on the work of others. Utah is like all American media markets – people who do really great work and people who ought to be ashamed.
Gavin: Are there any aspects you wish you could change or improve?
Doug: How much time have you got? I lack focus – ask longwinded questions – have an odd voice that trails off at the end of sentences and can’t parallel park… I could go on…
Gavin: With journalism going through the digital and format changes as of late, where do you see us in the next five to ten years?
Doug: That’s a critical question. I’m not sure, to be honest, but I do hope that while the format changes, the infra-structure of solid journalism (investigation, enterprise, fact and truth checking, clear writing and good editing) remains constant.
Gavin: You probably get asked it a lot, but have you ever given thought to writing a book on your experiences?
Doug: I haven’t thought about writing a book. Refer to my answer on my life in Utah and you’ll see what a yawner that would be. Scrub oak and yellow grass, are you kidding?
Gavin: What can we expect from both the show and yourself the rest of the year?
Doug: What to expect… hmm. Actually I want the show to be completely unexpected. I want you to turn on the radio not knowing what’s coming – it may not always work, but we hope it’s always interesting.