It's the end of an era on WVXU-FM. Around Cincinnati, the 7 p.m. Sunday arts and culture show, airs its final broadcast after 15 years this Sunday.
It's provided an important voice to local theaters, authors, musicians, actors and other performers, especially after the Enquirer's arts and entertainment staff was mostly disbanded in 2014, and Northern Kentucky University sold off folk-rock WNKU-FM in 2017.
"I was definitely overwhelmed when WNKU changed its format from AAA music. I received an avalanche of requests to be on the show from musicians, promoters, and venues," says host-producer Lee Hay, who will shift her focus to producing monthly specials.
Around Cincinnati debuted in August 2005, shortly after Xavier University sold the station to Cincinnati Public Radio. Hay, a former Xavier WVXU-FM staffer, was host and editor for original producer Gerry Donnelly, who insisted on two theater segments each week.
When Donnelly left in early 2009, Hay took over as executive producer and expanded the format to include more arts organizations, "especially ones without large or even no advertising budgets. I also started recording more musicians, smaller art galleries, artists, authors, poets. The guests were not only from the local area, but also regionally and nationally known," she says.
Hay relied on a small army of volunteer contributors [full disclosure here], including me. I've done a couple dozen Around Cincinnati interviews ranging from TV stars Rob Lowe, Jason Alexander, Sam Straley and The Voice contestant Michael Williams to Groucho Marx impersonator Frank Ferrante; local musicians Joe Mullins and Steve Martin; concert producer Joe Santangelo; Reds organist John Schutte; and Rosie Red.
On Sunday's final show I interview Heather French Henry about Augusta's Rosemary Clooney House and museum, which she owns with her husband Steve.
The last episode also features Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra pianist Michael Chertock, actor Bruce Cromer and musicians Over the Rhine.
Last week, Hay repeated one of her favorite segments, Todd Oldham's conversation with artist Charley Harper in 2005. Among her other favorites: Brian O'Donnell's interview with Cal Levy about The Who concert and his segment with guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; Frank Johnson's interview with RJ Smith, who had written a book about James Brown; Barbara Gray's interviews with poet Nicki Giovanni; and Hay's conversations with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and guitarist-songwriter Derek Trucks.
Hay also used her Around Cincinnati time slot to air shows about King Records history; 1950's Reds' baseball wives; Opening Day; plus specials with me about concert producer Joe Santangelo, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' 1966 Crosley Field concert and 40th anniversary of the 1977 Beverly Hills Super Club fire. She will have time to do more of these in the future.
"I'm not only proud of Around Cincinnati's legacy, but I'm humbled by all the friends we've made over the years and our successful effort to shine the spotlight on Cincinnati's vibrant arts scene," Hay says. "It was a team effort, and the volunteers who donated so much of their time are to be especially spotlighted. I couldn't have done it without these friends."
She's filled a huge void in Cincinnati arts and entertainment coverage with Around Cincinnati, and wanted to make that clear before it's no longer around.
When WVXU announced the cancelation on July 1, I wrote that "Around Cincinnati has become more complex to produce with many local arts organizations still facing an indeterminate intermission and the limited access to the WVXU studios due to the pandemic, requiring all interviews to be done remotely.
"WVXU listeners have learned so much about the local arts scene from Lee Hay and Around Cincinnati’s highly committed volunteer contributors. We are grateful for the time and expertise they devoted to the program," says Chris Phelps, Cincinnati Public Radio vice president of content. "The arts are an integral part of Cincinnati's vitality, life, economy, and community spirit. We look forward to continuing to tell their stories in new ways, within WVXU programming and across our multiple platforms."
Hay's next one-hour special will be about Rookwood Pottery. Her wish list ranges from documentaries about the former Reflections nightclub on Calhoun Street to profiles of Bootsy Collins, Katie Laur, John Ruthven, Carmon DeLeone, Riverfront Coliseum, Coney Island, the Crosley Company, D. Lynn Meyers and old long gone jazz station WNOP.
Weekend Fresh Air with Terry Gross starts airing 7 p.m. Sunday on Sept. 6. Here's my story about WVXU's weekend changes.