by Andrew Edwards
Photo courtesy of Chuck Robinson
Famous authors, musical guests and radio skits are all set to come to Whatcom Community College March 19 when the Chuckanut Radio Hour, Bellingham’s local radio variety show, will move to its new home in Heiner Theater.
“I think it’ll be a nice way of bringing new people into the college community,” said Bob Winters, the division chair of the English and Humanities department.
The Chuckanut Radio Hour is produced by Chuck Robinson, a member of Whatcom’s board of trustees, and his wife Dee, who own Village Books in Fairhaven. Chuck Robinson said the show first started in January 2007 as a way to broadcast author interviews, and “for whatever reason it’s continued on for 6 years.”
The shows are usually around an hour long and are recorded in front of a live audience. They usually include an author interview, musical guests from the community, spoken word essays and an ongoing radio series set in a fictional coffee shop called “The Bellingham Bean.”
“The whole tone of the radio hour is like an old-fashioned radio show,” Winters said.
The program is produced about 10 times a year, Robinson said. “The entire cast is volunteers. They do it like a kind of community theater.”
The show’s premiere in Heiner Theater will feature several members of Whatcom’s faculty. Among these will be Psychology professor Laura Overstreet, who has recorded two albums and performed with famous artists such as Leann Rimes.
Overstreet said Robinson contacted her and asked her to be the musical guest for the first show at the college. “They wanted someone from Whatcom as they debut this new venue,” she said. For the premiere, she said that she will perform a 30-minute set before recording begins and then will play three of her original songs during the show.
“[It is] great that we have our musical guest be one of our faculty,” said Winters.
College President Kathi Hiyane-Brown is set to make a cameo appearance and English Professor Anna Wolff will present some of her own poetry. Winters will interview the evening’s featured author, Ruth Ozeki, about her new book “A Tale for the Time Being.”
Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest and is known for bringing Asian and Western perspectives together, and how they sometimes clash, Winters said, adding that the interview is scheduled to be around 15 to 18 minutes long. “She just sounds like a fascinating program,” he said.
The show was originally recorded at the former American Museum of Radio and Electricity, now the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, in downtown Bellingham. It then relocated to the ballroom of the Leopold Retirement Residence to accommodate a larger audience.
The program often draws a large crowd, Robinson said, and finding enough seating and parking for audience members has been an issue at the downtown locations. Both problems should be resolved at the new venue, he said, since Whatcom has several parking lots and the Heiner theater can accommodate up to 328 people.
“We’d love to have a great big audience,” Winters said. “A full theater is a great experience.”
Aside from the practical advantages Whatcom’s location provides, Robinson said he is open to potential student participation in the program.
“It has always been the intention of Chuck Robinson and president Kathy that the relationship between the college and the radio show is that it involve students, staff and faculty,” Winters said.
“We know there are people on campus who are musicians,” Robinson said. “We’re very open to finding students who may be able to take part in it that way. We’re really pretty open with possibilities.”
Robinson said the show has previously had a student intern from Western Washington University and there is potential for similar opportunities for Whatcom students. “When we talked with president Kathy, she was interested in . . . internships,” he said.
One benefit for Whatcom as a result of hosting the radio hour will be raising the
college’s profile by drawing in visitors that might not otherwise have a reason to visit the campus, said Winters.
“I’m very interested in bringing more people to campus,” Robinson said. “We’ve talked about the possibility of having student ambassadors out there with tables” during the recording, he said. “The president has some other ideas about how they might use this to make some connections with the Cordata neighborhood.”
Robinson said the relationship between the college and the show will be strengthened even further in celebrating Whatcom’s 45-year anniversary. “We’re right in the midst of planning a special event . . . for the college gala,” he said.
Tickets for the shows are usually five dollars, but admission will be free for anyone with a current Whatcom I.D. except for special programs with big name authors, Robinson said. He added that since the radio hour is a volunteer organization it is also not for profit.
“Everything beyond the expenses of the show goes towards some charitable organization,” Robinson said. The show has previously raised large amounts of money for local organizations, such as $10,000 for the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham. The proceeds from the first show at Whatcom will go to the Whatcom Community College Foundation, he said.
The March 19 debut will begin with music at 6:30 p.m. and taping will start at 7:00 p.m. The Chuckanut Radio Hour is broadcast Saturday evenings at 6:00 p.m. on KMRE, 102.3 FM.