AMHERST — Fairly early in his life, Walter Carroll developed a great interest in classical music. But it was not clear that this would be his calling in life. He also loved the theater, and after graduating from university he spent two years in the Netherlands with a theater company and learned Dutch.
But classical music eventually returned, first to Vermont and New Hampshire, then to Amherst: in early June 1989, Carroll joined what was then simply known as WFCR-FM, at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, as the weekday afternoon host of the station’s classical music program.
For 33 years, his voice has been familiar to thousands of Valley listeners who listen to this afternoon show. But now Carroll, who is 77, comes to a halt: The Amherst resident’s last day on the air on what is now New England Public Media (NEPM) 88.5 will be July 1.
For the past eight years or so since WFCR, the local NPR affiliate, moved from the UMass campus to Springfield, Carroll has worked part-time. He says he may also replace the station occasionally in the coming months as the NEPM searches for a successor for him.
But otherwise, he said in a recent phone call, he is looking to travel with his wife, Ann, and catch up on classical music concerts and operas.
A Bach concert he attended at the Academy of Music in late May, he noted, “was the first show I had attended since the pandemic hit” in March 2020. “Now I can’t wait to hear more music – it’s definitely time.
That said, Carroll, an Indiana native who did classical music programming on his campus station when he attended Franklin College in Hoosier State, says he enjoyed his run at NEPM. , where he played a range of classical music but also shared his affinity for some of the great names in the canon – Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and others – with audiences.
Researching the stories behind composers and their work on a particular piece of music, and then integrating that part of his programming, has also been a key part of his work: “Putting the music into context and talking about what happened in the composition process has always been very important to me.
John Voci, NEPM’s senior radio manager, spoke about Carroll’s work and legacy at the station, calling him in a statement “a beloved companion to listeners.” He has filled our homes, our offices and our hearts with the classical music he loves.
“Walter will be missed by his NEPM colleagues and listeners throughout Western New England,” Voci added. “I speak on behalf of many in wishing him and his wife, Ann, all the best and many years of enjoyment in travelling, attending the opera and visiting family and friends. “
Carroll, born in 1945, grew up in a musical family in Indianapolis – a grandmother was an opera singer, a grandfather was a bandleader and some uncles were jazz musicians – and he sang in various high school and university choirs. Classical music “has always been an important part of my life,” he said, although he was also interested in pop and folk music at an early age.
Theater was also an interest, although after performing in Europe for a few years after college he eventually moved to Japan, where he lived for nine years, teaching English and working for TV stations. and radio in Tokyo; this work included dubbing films into English, narrating documentaries, and providing vocals for other recordings.
He returned to the United States in the mid-1980s and landed a job as a classic programmer first at a station in Vermont, then for New Hampshire Public Radio. A few years later, when he heard about a vacancy at WFCR, he applied.
“I had driven through the area and listened to their programming, and thought it would be a good place to work,” he said.
Although some classical music aficionados have expressed concern about the future of the genre, pointing to the aging of much of its audience, Carroll believes classical music is still going strong, both in general and here in the world. the valley, with new and younger musicians entering the field.
That said, he noted that “perhaps it’s time” for a younger person to take his place at NEPM, someone more knowledgeable about reaching young audiences via streaming music services and social media sites.
And play? Carroll never closed the door to that. He was active for years with the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, and he also acted in one and two person dramas in which he played historical figures.
One was with his wife, in which the couple performed at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst and other locations as David Todd and Mabel Loomis Todd, respectively, the Amherst couple who were contemporaries of Emily Dickinson. (Mabel Loomis Todd was the first person to bring Dickinson’s poetry to the world – and she also had a notorious affair with the poet’s brother, Austin).
Carroll will lead a NEPM trip, the “Festive Winter Waltz,” in December to Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. In the meantime, he can look around for possibilities to do more acting: “I haven’t really explored it, but we’ll see what develops.”
Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]