An Air Of Familiarity

Longtime Baltimore radio voice Lisa Simeone has things to do, people to see, stories to tell. But for now, a temporary classical music gig at WETA in D.C. is a comfortable fit.

April 16, 1999|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Lisa Simeone wasn't exactly sitting by the phone when one of her old radio buddies called looking for help. She didn't even jump at the chance to get back on the air with a nationally syndicated classical music program. Her interests have changed.

But the offer did fit her life as a Baltimore free-lance announcer, even if taking the job meant getting up at 5: 30 a.m. to catch a 6: 30 train to National Public Radio's headquarters in Washington. That's rough duty for someone who is not a morning person. Thank heavens the gig only lasts until July.

"It's fun being on the air," she says during a taping of WETA's "Performance Today," where she is a substitute host. "This is not my dream job, or anything like that. It's a free-lance gig and I'm a free-lancer."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the editions of April 16 described "Performance Today" as a production of WETA-FM in Washington. The show is produced by National Public Radio.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Simeone, 41, used to be one of Baltimore's premier radio voices. She and David Zinman traded humorous lines and bits of history for 13 seasons during WJHU's broadcasts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Some listeners seemed to melt at her descriptions of a Mozart symphony or a Brahms trio. Her voice put them at ease. Three times Baltimore Magazine and City Paper voted her the city's most popular deejay.

"People react in all these funny ways," she says. "They project all these notions to people they hear on the radio because it's a very intimate thing."

When WJHU-88.1 changed its format from classical music to public affairs, Simeone turned to cultural affairs programming at the station. She left in 1996, having been at the station 10 years.

"At the time it was fun," she says of her WJHU days. "You got to listen to good music and I got to talk."

Simeone moved on to other interests: She delved into books on anthropology and sociology, enrolled in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Along the way she started a free-lance career, doing voice-overs and narrations for Discovery Channel, public radio and public television. She also became host and a producer for "Soundprint," a public radio documentary program.

"It allows me to talk about more interesting subjects than just classical music," she says of her work at "Soundprint."

She still lives in Charles Village, home for the past 14 years. Her cats, Zsa Zsa and Pinot, are still around. Another cat, Squadjie, belongs to her husband, Tim Munn, who Simeone describes as having "the job of a computer man but the soul of an artist." Munn works for the University of Maryland. The couple does not plan on having children.

"Lisa Simeone adores children, but she doesn't want to deal with adolescence," says Simeone.

The WETA gig has put her back on the air. More than 230 stations carry her voice to 1.4 million listeners across the country each week. In the studio she is the consummate professional.

"She brings a combination that I think is really difficult to find in this business," says Don Lee, executive producer of "Performance Today." "She has a warmth and a knowledge of the music. She knows her stuff and still she sounds like someone you could be friends with."

Lee has known Simeone since their early NPR days in the 1980s. They crossed paths years ago at WETA, another NPR station. That's the way life goes in the small world of public radio. A few months ago, Lee needed someone to substitute for the vacationing Martin Goldsmith, host of "Performance Today." Simeone's name came up.

"I said, `It's about time you called me. You've been doing the show for 10 years! What took you so long?' " says Simeone, who had two questions for Lee. "Is it a union gig and how much are you paying?"

When Goldsmith needed time off to write a book, Simeone seemed a natural choice. Spinning classical records is like a trip down memory lane for Simeone. Her radio career started with classical music.

A native of Pittsburgh, she grew up in an Italian-American family and moved to Maryland in 1975 to attend St. John's College in Annapolis. There, she was exposed to the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Chopin. After graduating in 1980, she asked officials at WACC, Anne Arundel Community College's student-run station, about having a show. They gave her a three-hour slot.

Baltimore's classical music community first heard her on WBJC in the early 1980s. She then moved to WJHU, the public radio station operated by Johns Hopkins University. Classical music was only part of her life. Another part came to light during protests against the actions of two Baltimore County judges in 1993 and 1994. One sentenced a theater manager to probation before judgment for raping an unconscious 18-year-old employee who had been drinking heavily. Another sentenced a man to 18 months for killing his wife hours after finding her in bed with another man.

Simeone formed a chapter of the Women's Action Coalition, discussed the cases on her weekly interview program, helped organize demonstrations at the Towson courthouse and at a judicial conference on domestic violence.

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