BRATTLEBORO -- It was a beautiful, sunny and warm spring day as I pulled onto Williams Street and toward the WKVT studios and offices. A Tuesday, I was preparing for what would be my last appearance on Live & Local with Steve West, marking the end of an almost six year experience of talking to West -- and his many listeners -- for an hour a week, about local news and the journalism industry at large.
And while much of those conversations kept to the topics of the day (or previous week), West also made time to pick my brain about personal tastes, music and family matters.
On Friday, May 10, at noon, West will sign off for the last time as host of the show, marking the end of a seven-year stint as Windham County's only local talk-radio personality, and one of only a handful around the state.
Born in New Jersey, West lived in several big cities along the East Coast before finally settling in Vermont. During his five-plus decades, he enjoyed careers as a professional musician (playing with the band Miracle Legion and sharing the stage with many stars of the ‘80s music scene) and in the mental health field before an offhand comment secured him a spot on the local airwaves.
"Well, I started in May, 2006," West said during an interview on Tuesday. West said that after WKVT had switched from conservative to progressive radio, he began advertising his computer repair business (Fearless Computing) with the station.
"Next thing I knew, the host of their local talk show ("Your Show with John O") was leaving, and I jokingly said to Fish (aka programming director Peter Case) ‘Let me know if you need a new host.
At first, West shared the show with Audrey Garfield, but when she left to run for the Brattleboro Selectboard, West continued five days a week, from 9 a.m. to noon.
When asked to describe his show in one word, West could only say "verbose."
"(This show) is three hours of talk every weekday about all the issues that affect and inform the greater Brattleboro area," West said. "It has been a showcase for every aspect of our community that needs our attention."
West isn't shy about his love of the community he's work hard to inform.
"It's been an honor to talk with and about one of the greatest places in the world. I truly love this area, and plan to live out my days here, so I've had the rare opportunity to talk to many, many of the players and shapers of life in and around southeastern Vermont. I stumbled into this, having never planned to do a talk radio show. But I've never been shy about opinions, and I sure do talk a lot, so it seemed to work. Being right up close to the news of the day and those who color our world has helped me better understand the mechanisms of what works and what doesn't work in the public arena. And I've also met a long list of fascinating people who have, in their own way, helped me to grow as a person."
West mentioned several stand-out moments from his time doing Live & Local, including his shows following the havoc of Tropical Storm Irene ("I feel more deeply in love with Vermont and with Brattleboro by virtue of watching people respond beautifully") and those following big political events like Town Meeting and the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
When asked for his most memorable guest, West was more concerned about leaving someone out than trying to list them off. He did, however, offer a who's who of local and state officials and politicians, in addition to many well-known community members and musicians.
West said that something as simple as walking in downtown Brattleboro or shopping at the Co-op would often give him a sense of who was listening and how his show was affecting their lives.
"Some of the nonprofits that we would highlight would come in and tell me wonderful stories of how, after speaking on the air, they would see a measurable and significant increase in help, volunteers, donations, etc. I rarely had hostilities directed my way, and I take that as a result of keeping the conversation open to all ideas, not just mine."
Case said that his station's dedication to live and local talk radio will continue in West's absence, but the details on who would be filling his shoes and when the show might return to the air were still being worked out.
"Steve was a big part of what we did on a day-to-day basis," Case said, "and we're going to miss his energy. His contributions to local talk radio will be missed by the community."
So what's next for Steve West?
"I'm going back to doing Fearless Computing full-time, but my principal focus will be on my music. I've been a songwriter for years," West said. "I just keep writing songs. My goal is to get into the studio and record these songs, and see what I can do with them."
Much like his version of Live & Local, West's music is self-described as his "take on things."
"I mostly write 3-minute guitar pop songs about life, living and other weirdnesses ... All along to catchy, hummable tunes."
And some of those songs include his unique brand of humor. Which brings us back to West's fondest memories as host of his own talk show.
"But above all ... I think it's the laughs. I've had some really side-splitting moments on the air with a lot of folks. Of course, it's not reasonable to laugh in the face of tragedies, and there have been plenty. But I do advocate finding a way to laugh at as much as possible. This is a peculiar planet, and humans are an odd and beautiful bunch, so there's always plenty to giggle at."
Tom D'Errico can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter @Tom_DErrico.
Here's an in-studio video interview we did with Steve West several years ago.