Radio Snack

Food on the airwaves in Austin

You can divide the world between those who listen to radio (not only in the car) and those who get their media fixes elsewhere. It's been decades since radio waves – along with newspapers – were the primary connection from the larger world into American homes, and broadcasting has gone through enormous changes since its early days. Nonetheless, radio remains important to many people as a source of information, entertainment, and tribal connection. Music, news, sports, politics, gossip, religion, drama, and humor all have places across the spectrum of what we still call the dial. Food is no exception.

Because food is a hot topic, gastronomic features and news items crop up often, if randomly, in general radio programming, particularly on public radio. However, true Austin radio hound/food aficionados can follow several regularly scheduled programs that are all about food.

'The Splendid Table' With Lynne Rossetto Kasper

KUT 90.5FM; Sundays, 11am-noon

Probably the premier food show in the country, The Splendid Table has been on air since 1994 but broadcast in Austin only for two years. What began as a live call-in venue on Minnesota Public Radio has evolved into an hourlong program currently airing on 290 public radio stations, SiriusXM satellite radio, and World Radio Switzerland.

The show was initially inspired by Lynne Rossetto Kasper's award-winning book The Splendid Table, about the foods and customs of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. Programs now include all manner of food-related topics: interviews with chefs and writers; stories about food science and policies; questions from listeners; explorations of ingredients, spices, and condiments; recipes; and food travel.

Not only is Kasper knowledgeably articulate, she's curious, enthusiastic, and a gifted interviewer. When writer Monica Bhide asked about the most important tool for a radio host, Kasper answered, "a point of view." The show has won two James Beard Awards for Best National Radio Show on Food, a Gracie Allen Award for Best Syndicated Talk Show, and four Clarion awards from Women in Communication.

Susan Gayle
Susan Gayle (Photo by John Anderson)

'Food Love Austin' With Susan Gayle

KOOP 91.7FM; Thursdays, 2-3pm

"Everything to do with food interests me," says Susan Gayle, aka the Queen of Spoons, "except maybe a sink full of dirty dishes."

This is obvious in her program that airs on KOOP every Thursday. Though it's been on the air less than a year, Gayle's eclectic enthusiasm has parlayed the show from 30 minutes to an hour of interviews with chefs, sommeliers, food writers, producers, and activists.

Gayle grew up in Indiana; she spent nine years in San Francisco following a human resources career and reveling in Bay Area food ambience. She relocated to Austin in 1993, earned a Master of Business Administration degree at UT, and continued on her HR path. By 2008, Gayle needed a break from the corporate world. She spent time in Paris, raised chickens in Austin, and explored community radio at KOOP. "I didn't have a concept for a show; I just wanted to learn how radio worked. But I don't do anything halfway. When I get involved with something, I totally throw myself into it." She explains that KOOP has been on air for 16 years, and 90% of the work is done by about 100 volunteers. "You learn through apprenticeship: [Federal Communications Com­mission]-specific training, studio training, written and practical tests, working on teams and committees. Part of the apprenticeship is making a demo tape. Luckily, my demo for a food show was accepted. ... What I bring to the table is audio and interviewing skills. My experience facilitating large-scale meetings, keeping to a schedule, getting people to communicate – all apply to doing talk radio.

"I'm pretty wide open about choosing topics, and gathering information is second nature for me. I've met wonderful folks in the food world. One of my biggest lessons is that people I interview aren't always what I expect. But when you truly connect with someone, that connection becomes available to the listening audience."

'Delicious Mischief' With John DeMers

KJCE Talk Radio 1370AM; Saturdays, 10-11am

New Orleans native John DeMers has been a journalist/author for some time; he's celebrating his 40th anniversary as a writer. After earning a master's degree in journalism at Louisiana State University, he worked for newspapers, including United Press Inter­na­tion­al's foreign desk in Washington, D.C. He spent 15 years creating local food magazines and has written more than 40 books, including two food mysteries, Marfa Shadows and Marfa Rocks.

In the Nineties, a New Orleans radio station manager offered DeMers a food show. He declined until hearing the words, "We'll pay you." He began broadcasting the next week, teaching himself on the job. "I found I totally loved doing radio," he says. "I don't ever want to be off the air." In 2001, he moved to Hous­ton as food editor for the Houston Chronicle. "I came to Houston and fell in love with Texas." For 18 months, DeMers commuted from Houston to New Orleans every weekend to host his show, Delicious Mischief. Then he met the owners of Spec's Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods, who wanted to sponsor a local show; thus the Houston version of Delicious Mischief was born. Spec's has since expanded into Austin; an Austin edition of the radio show hit the airwaves two years ago.

Although DeMers lives in Houston, he travels to Austin every six weeks to record interviews with food and wine folks. "Live format is special. Although I tape shows ahead, I do it like it's live. If there's ambient noise, kitchen sounds, it just contributes to the radio experience.

"Radio is local," he says, "People like to hear to stories about their town." However, he also travels and records abroad, particularly with winemakers. "With digital technology, I can record anywhere and email it to the station. I can do a show in Dallas, Tuscany, or Hong Kong. Food radio has become my number one job regarding my time, interest, and income. I want to do radio forever. My favorite word? Foodandwine."

Cecilia Nasti
Cecilia Nasti (Photo by John Anderson)

'Field & Feast' With Cecilia Nasti

KUT, 90.5FM; Saturdays, 11:55am-noon; Sundays, 11-11:05am

KUT's Saturday morning listeners were well acquainted with Growing Concerns, Cecilia Nasti's gardening spot that ran 22 years. "I came to realize that my favorite shows were about food and food gardening," Nasti says, so in 2011 she rebranded the show into Field & Feast, a five-minute program about growing food, cooking, and the pleasures of the table.

After studying radio, television, and film at Northern Illinois University, Nasti's had an extensive career on the air. "I've been a fan since my grandmother gave each of us kids a transistor radio," she says. "I love sound and what you can do with it. Radio is theatre of the mind." In the late Seventies, she moved to Lockhart, Texas, as an AmeriCorps volunteer. She worked as a reporter/news anchor in Lockhart, Laredo, and Beau­mont before landing in Austin in 1982 for extensive stints at KUT and KGSR doing production, news, and hosting. Since 2001, she's written and hosted a daily feature for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department that airs on 100 stations.

The gardening and food parts? "I think I got interested in vitro," she says. "Food was a unifying force in my big Italian family; my grandfather was a horticulturalist. I loved the idea of food creation – flour, sugar, salt, and liquid can make a cake. Magic!"

Nasti independently produces Food & Feast, spending as many as 40 hours per show researching, scripting, interviewing, writing related Web posts, recording background sounds, mixing, and editing. "Because segments are short, I have to compress everything; it's like cooking down a stock to get the deep, rich flavor." Recent shows she's especially liked? "Interviewing Ray Benson [of Asleep at the Wheel] while he made corn soup. Jacques Pépin. One with [wine educators] Jane Nickles and Shields Hood; we talked about barbecue and tasted Rosé wines. I always want to give listeners something to think about, to make them feel inspired and empowered. I get immense enjoyment from that."

Marla Camp
Marla Camp (Photo by John Anderson)

'Growing Home' With Marla Camp

Edible Radio Podcasts:

Many Austinites know Marla Camp as publisher of Edible Austin magazine and indefatigable producer of local food events. They may not realize that for two years she's also been a radio host, first for the Heritage Radio Network out of Brooklyn and more recently for Edible Radio podcasts.

When Heritage Radio solicited hosts, Camp jumped at the chance. "I'd never done radio before," she says, "but I'd been a fan since I was a Tulsa teenager with an illicit transistor under the bedcovers, listening to underground Sixties radio. Then, for four years I commuted from Ann Arbor to Detroit for work. The Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor stations were my traveling companions. Radio is such a powerful medium – I've received more education from radio than [any] other way, except reading."

Having studied anthropology, art, and linguistics, Camp's professional background has been in graphic design and publishing, beginning at the Ann Arbor Observer out of college. Now owner of Impact Productions as well as Edible Austin, she's adept in all elements of publishing: writing, editing, sales, layout, graphics, and art. But radio work meant learning new skills.

"For Heritage Radio, I did my booking and research and picked my musical interludes. I interviewed two or three guests per show, both national and from Austin. I recorded live interviews from my home office, so sometimes you'd hear the fax machine or the cat meowing. In two years, I interviewed more than 30 food personalities, from Joel Salatin and Anna Lappé to Austin's Elizabeth Engle­hardt, Carol Ann Sayle, Paula Angerstein, and David Alan.

"When the editors of Edible Santa Fe and Edible San Francisco started Edible Radio, I decided to work there since I published Edible Austin; I joined in May 2011 and have recorded two programs so far. I want topics of universal interest that inspire listeners and affect their thinking about food. Why listen to radio if it doesn't affect you in some way?"

When Edible Communities Publications won the first James Beard Foundation Award for Publication of the Year in 2011, Camp was proud that the award committee noted that Edible Communities went beyond regional print magazines – it was comprehensive food journalism through websites, local events, and podcasts such as Growing Home.

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