Rosemary Welsch has been called the heart and soul — as well as the voice — of WYEP-FM (91.3).
That description, however, leaves out a lot of the particulars. It doesn’t tell you that she spent nine years as a volunteer at the station while working odd jobs as a waitress or in a photo shop. It doesn’t recognize her pioneering roles as a female host of a drive-time radio program in Pittsburgh or as a female program director. It doesn’t note that she was the station’s first paid on-air staff member.
It is difficult to say what Ms. Welsch, 55, would be doing today if it were not for WYEP. “I left home in Export at the age of 22,” she said, adding that she did not have a clear idea of what she wanted to do.
One day in 1981, she tuned to WYEP and heard a show called "Woman to Woman." Soon she was at the station volunteering. “My path to radio was not the normal one. I started in woman’s programming but quickly moved beyond it.”
In the early 1980s, WYEP was a hodgepodge of cultures, like a potluck radio dinner. She was exposed to Muslim, Jewish, Rastafarian programming and more. A host of mentors taught her how to interview people and how to pull a radio program together. But most of all, she listened to the station's wide variety of music.
Today, she is a senior producer at the station and host of the "Afternoon Mix."
It may be even more difficult to say what WYEP would be doing if it were not for Ms. Welsch.
“I could go on for pages on Rosemary's history and value to WYEP," said Peter Rosenfeld, current board member and former WYEP board president. "She is truly at the heart of the station's renewal. Her early version of the evening mix program, I believe it was on Friday evening, became the template for the "Morning Mix" program that she hosted as our first paid on-air personality. That program then became the template for the primary format of the station.
“In that evening mix program she hosted as a volunteer, Rosemary was so good at both selecting music, often over the objection of the program director, and in her cool on-air presentation, that she was the obvious choice to host the new "Morning Mix." It has been a wonderful experience working with Rosemary since the early days. She is the soul of WYEP.”
Lee Ferraro, station manager from 1996 to 2012, remembers when the station needed to change its format.
“When I came to YEP, it had the reputation as a granola/chick/singer-songwriter type of station. To grow, we needed to dispel that. We needed to be more about the music. My first mission was to strengthen the programming, and Rosemary was all in,” Mr. Ferraro explained. "… She got the staff on board and led us through that transition.”
He added what he considers to be one of Ms. Welsch’s greatest strengths.
“There is something else that Rosemary excels at. I don’t think there is anyone in the country who is better at interviewing musical talent. She has a way of bringing the person out of the artist and pulling the back story out of the songs.”
Asking listeners for money is part of the job at a community-sponsored radio station.
“A pledge drive is an opportunity to educate people and make a connection with them," Ms. Welsch said. "But you are also singing and dancing for your supper.”
Mike Sauter hosts the" Midday Mix" and, as the station’s music director, he knows the value of having someone with her experience just down the hall.
“She's not only a great resource for listeners, she's a great resource for co-workers. Rosemary is the heart and soul of WYEP. She has, by far, logged more time on the air at the station than any other person. So she has a detailed sense of the history of the station, what approaches to various ideas have been tried or not tried, what has worked or not worked, and how listeners have reacted to different musical artists or other programming content on the air,” he said. “Being a public radio station that isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea, there are doubtless a lot of folks in the Pittsburgh area that have never heard of her, but those who know of her respect her a great deal.”
Tim Means, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.