Former WGUC classical music host Mark Perzel has found a new career back home in North Carolina.
"I've gone from spinning classical music and Halloween music to spinning heavy metal. I'm working in the aerospace industry as a machinist making high pressure turbines for commercial jet engines," says Perzel, who left WGUC in 2016 after a career spanning most of four decades.
Perzel, 58, works second shift in the Rotating Parts Shop at GE Aviation's plant in West Jefferson, N.C., in the northwest corner of the state. Instead of cutting holiday radio specials, he spends his day making precision cuts for commercial jet engine parts.
"I used to joke in radio that I live my life in seconds – 10 seconds to fill before the music, or a 60-second break. Now I'm living life in tenths of thousandths of an inch," he says.
The hardest transition from the fill-every-second world of radio was having ample time to make 20 perfect pieces as a CNC (code and cut) machinist.
"It is liberating. It's kind of very Zen," he says by phone in Ashe County. So is his home. He lives in a late 1880s farmhouse on five acres with his wife, artist Leila Spriggs. "Life is good."
Perzel, who grew up in North Carolina, started playing violin at age 10. Four years later, he began his radio career hosting afternoon drive for classical music WFAE-FM in Charlotte at 14. He came here to attend the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, where he majored in broadcasting and minored in violin performance.
Perzel joined WGUC in 1981, left a couple of times, and returned in May 1997. In addition to his air shifts, his deep soothing voice was heard on WGUC's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra broadcasts and annual Tunes From The Crypt (Halloween), Feast For The Ears (Thanksgiving) and Love Greetings (Valentine's Day) specials. He also hosted and produced the station's live broadcasts of the last three Lumenocity concerts, and often appeared as narrator or emcee at concerts by the CSO, Cincinnati Pops and at other community events.
"To tell you the truth, I had been doing radio since I was 14, and I was at a point in my life that I could continue to do radio for another 20 years, or try something else. I was at a crossroads. And I chose to do something else.
"I didn't retire, I just quit my job," he says. "I'm not old enough – or rich enough – to retire."
He left WGUC four years ago to be closer to his family. His mother lives about 90 minutes away. His father, Ed, who died in June at 81, was 15 minutes away. In the months before his death, when Mark was furloughed due to the global coronavirus economic shutdown, the father and son spent many memorable hours together expanding the backyard studio where Leila does painting, sewing and fabric art.
After they left Ohio, Perzel had worked part-time at the local library when he wasn't tending to the peppers, herbs, squash, onion and potatoes in his garden. Last November, he applied for a job at GE Aviation, which employs more than 1,700 in West Jefferson, Asheville, Wilmington and Durham, N.C.
"I find it funny that I lived near the GE Aviation headquarters (in Evendale) for years, but it took me to move 400 miles away to find them," Perzel jokes. He has voiced a video for GE about the plant, but wasn't able to call the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships again this year, because they were canceled due to COVID-19. (He also recently got a haircut for the first time in 15 months.)
Leila returned to Cincinnati last month to manage WCET-TV's Action Auction warehouse. Perzel hasn't been back here for a year. He keeps up with Cincinnati news on wvxu.org.
"I really miss Cincinnati – the people, the arts and culture, and the music of course, from local bands to the symphony and Pops. We live in an area with two grocery stores, a Walmart and a Lowes. I miss Graeter's and Jungle Jim's and Kroger. I haven't been to a Kroger in I don't know how long."
Even though he traded 33-1/3 rpm records for computerized cutting tools at 20,000 rmp, music remains a big part of his life, at home and at work.
"Now I can sit back and enjoy it. And not just one type of music. At work I have Bluetooth speakers from my phone playing everything from classical to jazz to doo-wop to rock 'n' roll to progressive music. Sometimes I'll listen to WGUC. My wife is big fan of streaming WFPK in Louisville at home," the Triple-A format station programmed by Stacy Owen, formerly of WNKU-FM.
He still plays violin, sometimes doing classical duets with a friend.
"This is the cradle of Americana music, and bluegrass and American string band music," he says. "I do fiddle around a little bit on my own -- but not in public. Not around here. Even 3-year-olds here can play better than I do."