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An Artist Takes to Radio

Glenn Zucman

Glenn Zucman looks like an artist. After all, he is one. But a talk show host? Well, even he would agree he is not the stereotypical model for radio talk show hosts. But now, marking his 100th show on CSULB station KBCH this month, it seems he certainly must be doing something right.

“I think I’m getting better,” modestly said Zucman, a lecturer in art. “If you book great guests, you don’t really have to be a great interviewer. A lot of the people I interview are so thoughtful, so creative, so charismatic, so introspective, so self-aware that if you just ask them something, they are going to have a lot of compelling things to say.”

His radio career came about in a roundabout manner. Zucman, the artist, was taking photographic portraits of what he describes as an eclectic cross-section of Californians, spending 18 months going up and down California.

“It started as, ‘I’m going to go take a bunch of photographs of different Californians’ so I can make paintings off them,” said Zucman, who put together an exhibit of those portraits, but maybe more importantly, learned something in the process. During his early photo sessions, the photographer and his subjects would talk a little. Eventually, he said, they would spend more time talking and less time taking photos.

“In the beginning I would go click, click, say a couple of words just to keep things flowing and then click, click some more,” remembers Zucman of the initial photo shoots. “It was really about taking pictures with a little bit of conversation just to keep it loose. A year and a half later they really became these long conversations and then ‘oh yeah, I guess I have to snap a photo.’ From a couple snippets of conversation it grew and became much more a conversation trying to meet a person and snapping a couple of photos.”

And so, from that, you can say his interest in radio was born. As an M.F.A. student at CSULB from 2001-2003, Zucman wrote the occasional art review for the Daily 49er and then one day was walking by campus radio station KBCH and the thought occurred to him to try something other than print, in large part because the previous photography work he had done that had evolved into interviews – minus a recorder.

The show just celebrated its four-year anniversary in February. It’s called “Strange Angels,” the name coming most directly from a song of the same name by performance artist Laurie Anderson.

“Glenn is a great interviewer who gets unexpected things out of the people he talks to since his questions are never run-of-the-mill,” said Karen Kleinfelder, the CSULB art professor Zucman credits with getting him to go back to school for his M.F.A., and who has been a guest on the show. “Plus, he listens and makes connections. He can speak knowledgeably about painting, film, cave men and cyborgs. The only thing that exceeds his breadth of knowledge is his curiosity. I think students and faculty would be amazed by the caliber of people he is able to get as guests for his talk show.”

Though his guests generally have some connection to the art field, it’s not always the case. He has interviewed neurobiologists Francis Crick and Christof Koch, educator Erin Gruwell, and computer scientist Andrew Glassner. And although he conducted an interview with the legendary musician Graham Nash in January, most of his guests are not famous.

“I really love talking to mid-career artists,” said Zucman, who does about half his interviews in studio and half in the field. “That’s the focus of the show. I wouldn’t turn them down, but the more famous people don’t really need you anymore. A mid-career artist in almost any field is someone who still needs to express their ideas and get their message out. They are also someone who has been at it for a number of years and have refined what they are doing and they tend to be really articulate.”

Anticipating and fearful of having nothing to say, Zucman used to book “so many guests” for one show to make sure he could fill the time slot, but now more confident in his abilities, he books fewer guests. And, instead of playing CDs during the breaks as he did at first, he now also has Los Angeles-based singers/songwriters playing live and has a compilation CD called “Strange Angels Live.”

“I don’t know how long I will do this,” said Zucman, “but I do enjoy it and I obviously have met a lot of interesting people I would have otherwise never met so that’s fun.”

Currently, Zucman’s radio show runs from 3-5 p.m. on Wednesdays with repeats at varied times. The show can be heard on the KBCH Web site at www.kbeach.org or his own Web site www.artboy.info/strange/listen.html.