Photo: WGBH/Anthony Tieuli

Laura Carlo's Journey to the Mass. Broadcasters Hall of Fame

The legendary Boston radio host Laura Carlo is fighting to keep classical music on the air. 

More than twenty years ago, Laura Carlo left an award-winning career in broadcast news to become the morning voice of classical music on radio station WCRB in Boston. For a time, she also hosted mornings for the World Classical Network, syndicated to sixteen U.S. cities, making her the most listened-to standalone female music announcer in America. Last fall, she was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. 

What’s it like to be a hall of famer? It’s just a lovely, lovely recognition that actually came out of the clear blue. They don’t tell you you’re in the running. They just announce they’ve chosen you.

You didn’t start out as a music announcer. I was working in news, and one day, the program director at CRB called me in and said, “I wanted to tell you that you get more fan mail than any of my DJs, and as of Thursday, you’re my new morning DJ.” And I swear my answer to him was, “You are on drugs.” And he said, “Really, Laura? Not, ‘thank you for thinking of me to do this?’” The two of us told this story at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. 

How does it feel to know that you can help set the tone for a listener’s day? I love that and it’s something that I take seriously. My job is to make sure that you have a wonderful launch into your day. 

Yours is an impressive track record in an industry famous for stations changing not only formats, but also on-air talent. What’s your secret? For the most part, I worked for stations that were small and family owned, where they got to know you. They gave you opportunities to try different things that you probably wouldn’t be allowed to do at the bigger stations. By being able to do so many different things, I made myself more valuable in the end.

A number of classical stations across the country have been lost over the years to other formats in the quest for higher ratings and revenue. How does WCRB stay competitive? Right now we are the only 24/7 classical music station in Boston. We’ve always kept an eye on other classical stations that would crop up and eventually leave, but even in later years when we became the only 24/7 in town, we had to look at all forty major stations in Boston as competition. What do we have that could entice someone who has no exposure to classical? How can we get some of them to listen?

You can’t sit by and say, “Oh, we’re classical. We don’t have to do that.” Oh, no. We are not only a classical music station. We are a broadcaster. We have to compete on the same level field as everybody else. So if there’s social media, we explore it. We have on-demand concerts; we have the ability for you to check every piece of music we’ve ever played; we have a free phone app. Anything that anybody else can do, we can do better.

Announcing styles have also changed. I didn’t care for the old style of stuffed-shirt announcing. And our program directors began to make the music more accessible. We started playing John Williams music scores because, guess what folks? That’s actually classical music. 

When you joined WCRB, it was a commercial station, but it has since been acquired by a public broadcaster, specifically the WGBH Educational Foundation. We were very grateful that GBH bought us because we were seconds away from being turned into a sports talk station. We would’ve been gone as a classical format, and that would have been a shame in a city we call the Hub of the Universe. Boston needed to have an arts and culture radio station, and GBH understood that, and saved us.

Yours is a musical household. Your husband is an opera singer? When we got married, he was doing a lot on Broadway. Then he sang with the Metropolitan Opera for seven seasons. I was living in Boston and he was subletting in New York City. We went back and forth with buses and trains for about ten years. 

What other kinds of music does classical Laura like? I do like rap. I’m a hard rock girl and—don’t laugh—I also like heavy metal. I listen to everything. As my former general manager once said, if it’s good music, it’s good music. 

There’s much more to this conversation. To listen to the entire Boston College Magazine podcast, click here.

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