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DCRTV talks to 7's Gordon Peterson, 5's Shawn Yancy, 9' Lesli Foster, 4's Doreen Gentzler, WAMU's Ed Walker, and WTOP's Mark Plotkin. Check out the interviews, including audio, below.....
Gordon Peterson, interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
I sat down with WJLA’s Gordon Peterson (right) Friday afternoon to talk about his thoughts on the news industry and his life as “The Dean of Anchors.” (And no, it’s a title he doesn’t think of much at all). Peterson has a nice view of the newsroom from his large glass office, where he’s surrounded by pictures of his family and the legendary Edward R. Murrow, and many World War II books (his favorite). The 6 o’clock anchor and host of "Inside Washington" arrived at WJLA in 2004 after working for WUSA for 35 years. Here are some highlights from the interview:
Barba: You have been called “the Dean of Anchors.” Do you think that’s a title you deserve and does it give you something to live up to?
Peterson: I don’t think about it…I think it just means that I am older.
Barba: Growing up, were you a news junkie?
Peterson: I used to, on my way home from high school I would stop off at City Council meetings and listen to City Council meetings, or I’d go over to the Superior Court and watch trials. I was a very strange child…just curious about everything.
Barba: What did you want to be “when you grew up?”
Peterson: Well, I hadn’t planned on journalism, to tell you the truth, until after I left the Marine Corps….One of my collateral duties at the Marine Corps was as a legal officer, and I had done a lot of investigative work. And I decided I liked doing that. I liked asking people questions they didn’t want to answer.
Peterson: I sort of stumbled into journalism, I didn’t think about it – but it was such a natural transition. I wrote for the high school paper and all that business, but once I was here I realized “Hey, this is what I want to do. I never want to get a real job. This is fun.” So here I am.
On leaving WUSA:
Peterson: I had a wonderful run. I had great bosses, and all of them let me do pretty much what I wanted to do. If I wanted to travel they let me travel. It was a great ride, but it was great to get off nights after 35 years…I left under the best of terms.
Barba: What was it like coming here and being reunited with Maureen Bunyan?
Peterson: It was like coming home…They [WJLA] gave me the royal welcome here.
Barba: What would you say to young men and women thinking about going into the journalism field – should they?
Peterson: Oh yes, we’re not going to make it as a country without an independent press. You just have to keep your eyes open and be prepared, as I said, to do everything. You’re going to find yourself doing some things you never expected to do. And along the way, on that journey, you might find that one of these adventures turns into the work that you really wanted to do to begin with.
Barba: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
Peterson: I don’t know. I mean, I’m in good health. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be doing this – I don’t think I want to be Mike Wallace. But as long as it’s fun, and I’m in good health, and they like my act around here, I’ll keep doing it I guess.
Shawn Yancy - interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
We’ve officially hit up all four local stations now thanks to an interview with WTTG’s Shawn Yancy. Or should I say two interviews? (Note to self: please don’t hit the record button twice).
Viewers in D.C. were introduced to Shawn back in 2001 when she left Pittsburgh and started as WTTG’s morning anchor. Just three years later she was named the 5 and 10pm co-anchor with Brian Bolter. But did you know Shawn is also an artist? Shawn has three of her contemporary art pieces showing at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum on Capitol Hill through May 3rd. She’s never sold a piece before, but that’s next on her to do list…wonder who will be the lucky buyer?
After the interview, sports anchor Dave Feldman joked that I need to go to him when I “want the real Shawn Yancy as a football mom.” Until then – here’s Shawn on what a typical day at the station is like for her, how much she likes Twitter (syancyfox5), where she sees herself in ten years, and what she thinks of her co-anchor…
Here are some highlights:
On her second day at WTTG: September 11, 2001:
Yancy: It was an incredible day, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I was pulling into the parking lot here at the station listening to the radio when the news came over that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I walked down here to the newsroom and the news director, she looked at me and said, “Shawn Yancy, your week of training is over. I need you to go to the Pentagon. I was scared, but my adrenaline was pumping and I was excited at the same time. This was a huge story. I didn’t know what to expect at that point. We didn’t know if there were more planes that were coming into D.C. But I jumped into a crew car with a photographer and a producer and we headed toward the Pentagon. As you know, the roads were jam-packed that day - we got as far as downtown D.C. We got out and started shooting. We started interviewing people there and trying to tell the story from that point of view. I was a little fearful; I mean this was my first day reporting in Washington, DC., and it was September 11th….No one knew who I was here at the station. When I would call back and say “I have to feed in some sound,” or “I have video to feed” they would say “Shawn who?”….For me as a journalist it was probably a good way to walk right in and hit the ground running. Immediately I had to do my job.
Barba: In August 2004, you became co-anchor of the 5 and the 10. What was it like for you? Was it a “wow” moment when you got the news?
Yancy: It was an incredible moment for me. It was a blessing. I was excited. I was a little bit scared. I knew that I had big shoes to fill.. It was a challenge I was looking forward to undertaking.
Barba: Do you think there is a future for local news?
Yancy: Absolutely, I think there is a future for local news. I think maybe the way we present local news will change. I think our station has done an awesome job of developing an interactive website, which if people are getting their news from online, some of our reporters, they do their report out on the field, do their report on air, and then put it online…We stream out newscasts on our website, have Twitter and Facebook. I think we are a good job, that as the technology age grows, and maybe if people aren’t coming to the television to watch the news so much, they are still getting their news from Fox5 because of the way we’re growing with our website and the social media we use to reach people.
On her role in "The Sentinel":
Yancy: The movie came out - I didn’t see it in the movie theater. My co-anchor [Brian Bolter] actually went out and saw it. He texted me and said, “Hey, you looked great. You made it in. I didn’t, just my voice is in.” Two years ago my family was in town, I bought the DVD, didn’t watch it. I thought, “Ok we’ll watch it together as a family.” We were going to watch it Thanksgiving Day after we ate, but I had to come back and work that night, so I didn’t get to watch it. But they all watched it and were like “You were great!” And a couple of months ago, I popped it in and decided to watch it for the first time. So a lot of people saw it before I even saw it. But it was a lot of fun. I was on maternity leave when they gave me that call to do it.
On Brian Bolter:
Yancy: Brian is a great person. He has a great personality and a great sense of humor. In fact, we’ve had multiple viewers ask us if we are husband and wife, which I get a kick out of. I think it’s because people see that chemistry between us. I describe it more as brother and sister. He kind of teases me sometimes and I tease him back and punch him on the shoulders, even on the air. But I think our chemistry works really, really well. He’s an incredibly smart person, great personality. Kind of a funny sense of humor, you just have to know him to know what he’s doing….If you saw him walking on the street you might not recognize him, he’s not always in a suit, shirt, and tie. He’s a big snowboarder.
On her future:
Yancy: I used to think, “Oh gosh, I want to be the next Katie Couric,” and don’t get me wrong, if someone gave me the phone call, I might go. But seriously, though, I love it right here. You can expect to see me here giving 110% every night, sharing your stories, giving my best in Washington, DC.
Lesli Foster - interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
Talk about a fun and interesting person -- I had so much fun with Lesli Foster (right) last week, she almost had to kick me out so she could get prepared for her 5 o'clock broadcast. Lesli joined WUSA in 2001 and now anchors the 5 and 6 o'clock newscasts, while also heading up the station's consumer unit. Listen to the interview to hear why she never forgets to carry around a hat and umbrella if there's even a sign of inclement weather, what her first on-air mistake was at WUSA (it was on her first day too!), and how she avoids much of the gossip that always swirls around the local media here in DC. Here are some highlights:
Barba: You've said that journalism is your life's work. What do you mean by that?
Foster: I think that journalism is an honorable profession, and unfortunately when you cut back resources, you don't always get to see that. But I guess what I mean by "life's work" is really doing something that has purpose, that has meaning. And to me, giving people information that helps them make decisions about their life is one of the most important things that we can do.
Barba: Tell me about your time in Flint, Michigan. What was it like breaking into the business?
Foster: Flint, Michigan. Well, Flint was about an hour -- well, I should correct that. The market was Flint, Michigan. But the station was in a really small town called Clio. Think cornfields, long stretches of road with one house here, drive drive drive, one house there. Quite different from D.C. and quite different from Detroit, which is where I'm from. So I would drive an hour and a half each way to get to work in Clio, Michigan, because you're making no money. I was living at home, and that's how I got in the business....I learned a lot there. I had to do everything but shoot, so I had to edit, and I was awful. I always thought to myself "Lord, if I have to shoot too, I'm just not going to make it." It was a tough job...but it was a great teaching place because you were able to get the fundamentals there, make a ton of mistakes. I did my first live-shot there. I had snow in my eyes, in my nose. I had no hat on, because I was trying to be cute. I look back at that live-shot, and think "Oh my God, really?" And that exact same day when I came back they actually signed me to a contract, because for a while I had been working as a freelancer. I thought after the live-shot, "This is a wrap. They have figured it out. It is going down." And I got back and they were like, "We know it was your first live-shot. You did a great job." That's where I got the fundamentals.
Barba: So why did you come here. To WUSA?
Foster: Quite frankly for the opportunity. I was in Baltimore working as a freelancer, and the news director here at the time found out that I was freelancing, and there was an opportunity to come here and work full-time with health insurance and benefits. All of those great things, and just an opportunity to expand my skills and earn more money. When I came here, I believe he told me the position was going to be either mornings or a split of dayside and weekends. I just remember thinking, "I want the worst shift. I want the shift that nobody wants." Because I didn't want anyone to think that I was coming here and not earning the right to be here. That to me was important, especially because you had people here who were real icon names -- the J.C.s, the Bruce Johnsons, the Gordon Petersons, the Andrea Roanes...you just never wanted anyone to think that you didn't do what you needed to do to earn the right to be there. And I still have that attitute...You have to bring your A-game everyday. So that's what I tried to do on the morning shift, even on the ungodly hours we used to work.
Barba: What was September 11, 2001 like for you?
Foster: On September 11th I was supposed to anchor the noon show. JC was off, and I was watching the news, and I saw on another network that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought to myself, "That's not good. That's not good." And then the next one hit, so I immediately got myself together to get out here, and I knew I wasn't going to be anchoring that day, because it was too big of a story to have, you know, someone who is still a novice in some ways, covering in that grand of a scale. So I came in, and we were all partnered up with various photographers at the time. We were sort of the roaming crew; I was with a guy who is no longer here. We were following-- were listening to the scanners and trying to follow whatever report of a suspicious anything. We were roaming -- just all over. I just remember that day going, "This cannot be happening. Is this real? This cannot be real." And then the next day I was back on the morning shift again. I was pretty much at the Pentagon for about a week and a half, covering it every day from there, various angles of it....It was really an incredible time. When you're trying to find an angle on something of that magniture I think you just get into task mode. I don't think it hit a lot of us until after the fact, that this happened, and "Oh my God what about these lives lost and these people whose lives were interrupted."
Barba: You're anchoring the 5 and the 6. What's it been like taking over those broadcasts for you?
Foster: Crazy. Because in addition to anchoring the 5 and the 6 I'm also heading up the consumer team, with an excellent, excellent senior producer, Stephanie Wilson. It's a tough job because they are really two seperate jobs I think. Consumer is consuming. You're dealing with issues and trying to stay ahead of trends and products -- that's really a full-time job. What we've done here is merge two into one. So logistics every day can be pretty crazy between shooting a story, coming back and turning a seperate story, writing four stories a day, being responsible for posting that content, and anchoring two shows. That's a tough job. You know, people who are really good at anchoring don't just read words, they convey the meaning of a story. But before you even get on the air, there's a lot of work that needs to be done -- you're reading through scripts, you're rewriting copy, you're double-checking things....Those two jobs keep me very busy. There's not a lot of down time.
Barba: Has your job gotten harder recently due to all the furloughs?
Foster: Yes, but I think it was harder even before that. Because we are in an era of quantity journalism, and that means we are being expected to be more productive than we ever were, with less resources. When you have a deliverable every day -- four stories a day, plus a show, that's a lot on a plate. And that's not a complaint, it is a reality. So for me, I just try to keep my head above water. There are some realities that come along with having to do more with less. Some days that means that's all you will do -- is keep your head above water, and that's okay. It's okay to tread water....It's always easier to do more, when you have more. When you don't have more, it's just not that easy. But you do what you have to do. We are all committed here.
Barba: Channel 9, not number one in the ratings, not number 2. What have you done personally, or what has the station done to try to boost the ratings? Foster: What I do personally everyday is not look at ratings. I just can't do it. That's not a burden I can carry. All I can do everyday is come in here and bring my A-game and do the best possible job that I can with the resources I have everyday. That's my job. What happens then is beyond my pay grade....I think the station is trying to make decisions that will hopefully get us some more eyeballs, but viewing habits are just that - they are habits - and they're very hard to break. And people get attached to the people that they allow into their homes, and when those faces change, when those people change, it's harder and harder to get that connection.
Barba: You've seen a lot of high-profile people leave during your time here. How do you deal with the gossip? Or how do you deal with the change.
Foster: I don't listen to it.
Doreen Gentzler - interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
I should preface this by saying that Doreen Gentzler (right) is one of my favorite Washingtonians, given the fact that I grew up watching WRC. (You are the best too, Jim). I had the opportunity to sit down with Doreen this week to talk about why she got into broadcasting, her work in the community, and where she thinks she’ll be in 10 years. She also catches me knowing close to nothing about sports. And Doreen is indeed popular – count how many times her phone rings and how many e-mails she gets during the interview. Or go about 20 minutes in to hear her thoughts on “big hair” – both hers and Jim’s. Here are some highlights from the interview:
Barba: What made you come to D.C. from Philadelphia, where you were working before?
Gentzler: A big part of it was moving back home, a big part of it was coming to work for WRC and for NBC. I had worked for NBC in Cleveland when there used to be an NBC owned station in Cleveland, so I liked this company and was familiar with it. Very exciting to get to work in my hometown and to get to work with Jim Vance, somebody who I had watched for many years and really respected and admired.
Barba: Did you and Jim Vance click right away?
Gentzler: How can I answer that? I think that they – Jim Vance and George Michael and Bob Ryan – had been a team for nearly 10 years before I came on board. And I think the three of them were a little bit skeptical about this, you know, “Who’s this person coming in from Philadelphia? They’re going to put her right on the 6 and 10 o’clock news.” But I think it took – it was a matter of just a few weeks, or many even less than that. They saw that – I grew up with two brothers. They saw that I wasn’t intimidated by them. I wasn’t afraid to interrupt them, or crack jokes at their expense. And I think that was key. We developed some mutual respect really quickly. I could see they clearly knew what they were doing, and I guess I demonstrated that I had some experience and knew what I was doing. But I have loved working with those guys. I miss working with George. Jim Vance and I, in many ways our personalities couldn’t be more different. We are very different people, but have a lot of the same beliefs and same values. We want to do our job. We want to be professional. We want to do a good job. We want to make the news interesting and accurate. Also, there’s a lot of compatibility – two people with a sense of humor who don’t take themselves quite so seriously, have the ability to laugh at ourselves and the situation a little bit, so that helps….We are pretty quick to laugh at ourselves.
Barba: What was it like when George Michael left the team that he’d been a part of for so long?
Gentzler: It was sad. He’s a very high-energy guy, and really, really cares about what he does and doing it well, and making sports interesting. So it was sad, sad for all of us when he left. We still miss him.
Barba: You’ve been here 20 years now. WRC, still the ratings leader – what’s the secret, you think, to that success?
Gentzler: We’ve been consistent for a long time. We’ve had a consistent team for a long time, and I think that’s important. People know where we’re coming from, they trust us, and believe in us. We try to do the best job we can. I think consistency, though, has a lot to do with our success.
Barba: There’s been some competition lately, I would say specifically from WJLA. What do you do to try and keep your newscast on top?
Gentzler: We’re all challenged right now in this business. We’re all trying to do more with less. We’re trying to cover stories on the Internet and on the air, and we’re trying to compete with all these different media sources. If there’s anything we’re trying to do to continue to win, it’s trying to maintain the quality of our work, and trying to maintain the quality of our reporting and keeping it fresh.
Barba: You brought up the Internet, and you know the news is everywhere. And then there’s cable news. How do you keep viewers coming back to watch channel 4?
Gentzler: You better give them something they’re not getting on their devices – their computer or their Blackberry. You better give them people they know and trust. You better give them something different. You better be really focused on covering your own community, because that’s something that’s a lot harder to find on the Internet. You can find national and international news pretty much everywhere you turn. But the news covered by people who live in your community and who’ve been covering the news in your community for years, that’s a little harder to come by on the Internet.
Barba: Is it going to be harder to travel will all the cuts coming? And how do you convince management to let you go?
Gentzler: It’s just not happening anymore. Local TV stations are hardly traveling at all anymore. Dan Hellie, our sports anchor, he’s going to go out and cover the Maryland team in the NCAA tournament….He told us last night [Wednesday] that he’s flying out there – he’s carrying the camera gear. He’s flying out alone and carrying the camera gear, and they’re hiring a freelance photographer out there to shoot the game – who doesn’t have his own equipment I guess. Anyway, so that will give you some idea of where the budget issues are regarding traveling. It’s just not happening. We said, “Dan, are you crazy, are you nuts?” Dan recently injured his shoulder. So how is he going to carry all this stuff? I’ve got concerns about how safe that is for him actually, and he said “that’s the only way we’re going to get to go.” I haven’t traveled anywhere for a news story in a very long time and we didn’t cover the political conventions this year to save money. So that will tell you all you need to know about local stations and their travel budgets.
Barba: Should we still expect to see you on WRC in 10 years?
Gentzler: I don’t know. That’s a good question. That goes back to the same issue we were talking about with young people getting into this business. I don’t know how things are going to shake-out around here. I hope I’m still here, working in television news, and I hope local TV news has some resemblance to the product that I have spent the last 30 years being charged-up and excited about. But there are so many changes in our business and who’s going to survive and in what form – I don’t know the answer to that. It’s interesting and exciting, and a little frightening to watch the process unfold. But I hope there will be some role of some kind for me in the future.
Ed Walker, interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
I met Ed Walker (right) four years ago when I was an intern at WRC. By "met" I mean he was actually one of the first people to say “Good morning” to me when I walked through the doors of the Nebraska Avenue building – and as a nervous intern I will always thank him for that. However, it’s sad what you don’t know if you don’t stop and ask. I had, of course, heard of the legendary Ed Walker, but I had never listened (yes, I should be ashamed) to a Joy Boys broadcast, and I never knew what he was actually doing at NBC. Turns out Walker stills works in Willard Scott’s office on weekday mornings – so good to know the Joy Boys didn’t really separate back in 1974 after all.
I sat down with Walker on Tuesday after his afternoon taping of The Big Broadcast, a weekly four-hour long program that airs Sunday nights on WAMU 88.5 FM. The show features vintage radio programs from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, which Walker says gives people a chance to listen to old shows they "might have missed the first time around." Here are some highlights from the interview:
Barba: I read that as a child you dreamt of a career in broadcasting. Is that true?
Walker: That is very true. I started out when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My parents gave me for Christmas a little miniature radio station – they called it a phono oscillator, and you could hook a turntable or a microphone onto it and you could hear it on radios around the house. So, I wasn't satisfied with that so I put an aerial on it, and it went all the way down the street. So I'd go to the neighbors' houses and knock on their doors and say "We're going on the radio in about a half hour." That’s the way I would get my audience – my first experience on the air.
Barba: You grew up with radio - how important was it to you?
Walker: Very important. It was the major form of my entertainment because the pictures are all audio pictures, and I couldn't read comic books or newspapers and stuff like that, so I love radio.
Barba: Tell me about the Joy Boys
Walker: It was a two man show....We were on at night because our boss never thought we were worthy to be on the a.m. drive, so we ended up in the evening, and we kind of got stuck there because we were successful and they had business. You know, it's hard to sell radio time in the evening because of television....One of the biggest compliments to us was that people working at the station would come down and sit in the studio with us during their lunch hour when we were on in the afternoon. They would sit there and laugh and it kind of gave us a built-in studio audience. When people think enough of your show to come down and spend their lunch hour with you, that's kind of nice.
Barba: On the Joy Boys- who planned the sketches?
Walker: While the records were on we would think of an idea. We didn't have a script. We might have a few notes and an outline, but we didn't have a verbatim script. You couldn’t do it with a four-hour show. We did it in the very beginning when we had maybe an hour show, we could script it, but we soon got over that.
Barba: How many voices did you do on the Joy Boys?
Walker: I've lost track. We both [Walker and Willard Scott] did voices. We always used to say that for paying the two of us, you'd be getting a couple dozen voices. I may be exaggerating, but we did a lot of voices. I can't do them anymore, like the woman's voice, the falsetto voice. I can't get up that high anymore, so I had do drop that voice -- but we did in those days.
Barba: You already talked about Willard Scott, but when you met him in college did you realize that you would be with him for so many years?
Walker: No, I sure didn't. The first time we met - I've told this story 100 times and I'll tell it again. That he was coming in to look at the school. I was a year ahead of Willard there – we had a mutual friend who brought Willard around. We had a little station on campus, we had just started to get it going and I don't think anybody heard it then, but anyway, the first time I met Willard was over a microphone. They brought him into the studio and said: “Say something. Say something smart to him and see what he does." So he did, and I did, and he did. So the Joy Boys – we had a certain chemistry, it seemed to me from the onset.
Barba: What was it like ending that partnership?
Walker: Oh, it was very sad for me. It had to be because Willard was going to New York. We are still friends. I still work in his office, but it was sad to have an association that had gone for over 20 years end. And Willard was the one who suggested that I get into television talk. I said: "You know, I'm not good at this, you're more of a mugger on TV than I am." He said "Yes, but you can talk. No one can shut you up when you start talking." So I took his cue, and I got offered a job over at Channel 7.
On The Big Broadcast:
Walker: I think a lot of people listen to us who missed it the first time around. I get emails all the time saying: "We don’t even turn the television on Sunday nights." People in their cars, coming home from the beach in the summer time. Some of those radio shows are really interesting. It makes you – if you get home, you stop the car in the driveway and when the show is over you go into the house. So it's still interesting today.…The theater of the mind is very good.
Mark Plotkin - interviewed spring 2009 by Tricia Barba
WTOP’s Mark Plotkin has been called loud, long-winded, and a thorn in the side of politicians. At a roast in his honor back in 2000 former Mayor Marion Barry said Plotkin had “perfected the art of pissing people off,” and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called him a pest, adding, “he is, however, our pest.” (The thick-skinned Plotkin admits he didn’t like the pest line too much.) The commentator prefers to think of himself as authentic, animated, and most definitely a “verbal person.”
Plotkin says he had politics ingrained into him as a kid in Chicago – and most would agree he is now a central part of DC political life, not as an elected official (he ran for City Council in ’82 and ’86) but as a radio fixture first at WAMU and now at WTOP.
Interestingly enough there are some places you won’t find this ubiquitous commentator – those would be Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Plotkin doesn’t even e-mail! Listen to the interview to hear why he calls himself “mechanically-challenged,” what he thinks about the White House press briefings, and what he’d be doing if he weren’t on the radio.
And for even more on Mark Plotkin just go to wtop.com.
On why he doesn’t e-mail:
Plotkin: I’m un-trainable…I don’t know how to type, and I have found that I can be verbally persuasive. When people say “email me,” and I’m of a different generation, and they say “email me,” it sounds like the equivalent of “send me a memo.” It sounds like a delay tactic, and I have to book my guests for my show, which is on from 10-11am Fridays…and when you are talking to somebody it forces them to say yes or no. So even if I could type, or learn to type, I don’t like looking at a screen…I do receive faxes, but I don’t do faxes. I’m mechanically challenged, and machines sort of become dysfunctional when I’m in the vicinity.
Barba: Did politics, commentary, analysis always come naturally to you?
Plotkin: I have this job because I kept losing elections... I lost city council in ‘82 and ‘86, and I really ran out of concession speeches...I've always been curious. I've always been a good observer, and this is the real, ultimate retaliation for not getting elected -- that I stuck around.
On how he ended up in DC:
Plotkin: I’m still on the waiting list at Brandeis. I’m still waiting. And I didn’t get into some schools. And GW was in Washington, D.C. I got in some schools, and didn’t get into others. So I thought, “Well, location, location, location. How can you go wrong being in Washington?”
Barba: If you weren’t doing this right now, what would you be doing?
Plotkin: Maybe I'd be teaching tennis. I enjoy that. You're outside. I’m not a bad tennis player. I played in college. I did it one summer…It was enjoyable, and you saw people learn something. It’s a great sport. You’re engaged with other people. You are outside. Or I would teach. I taught elementary school, that was really to stay out of the Army because you got a draft deferment, but I’d like to teach college-level urban politics, I think, but you need a few more degrees.
Barba: You never got on the City Council. Looking back do you think, “If I were there, I could have made a difference”?
Plotkin: I felt that for a long time. I felt like, I’m not really having the impact I would like to have, But I feel like I’ve really done some things even in this capacity [radio], with the Wilson Building and the Taxation Without Representation plates, although that was not my idea, it was a woman named Sarah Shapiro’s idea…I think being on the radio you are a constant presence, and I think redundancy has its value. And there’s a tremendous advantage for being at this station [WTOP]. It is the number one station in the city. It has great range and impact…And I’m given a lot of leeway in terms of commentary to try to make my point. So maybe I can influence events even more than being one of 13 votes. You don’t have a vote, but you have a megaphone, so hopefully that makes a difference….Maybe I was destined to do this, Tom Sherwood of NBC4 says, “You wouldn’t have gotten a bill passed and you would have been recalled in the second year, and you never would have been re-elected.” Maybe he was right.
On Voting Rights & Obama:
Plotkin: Obama is bad on this. I interviewed him for about six minutes this summer, and when I asked him about the issue, not license plates, I saw a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Actually, even when the [DC voting rights] bill was marked up in the Senate his remarks were the least passionate compared to Jon Tester from Montana and Claire McCaskill from Missouri, and he is a constitutional law professor a community organizer. If fact, he made things worse, by telling the Washington Post that this is a partisan issue. It’s not a partisan issue, it is an issue of fairness and justice, and I don’t understand why he hasn’t out the plates on…They are absolutely duplicitous, disingenuous, and downright dishonest about responding to the license plate… It is absolutely terrible. This is an issue they don’t want to address. You know, Clinton put it on for the last month and half. It would mean a lot for the spirit of the city. Stop going to Ben’s Chili bowl, put the plate on. That shows real support, and a real, not collaboration, I’m trying to use the right word, a real partnership with the residents of the city their aspirations. To think that Barack Obama is doing what George Bush did, who was against it – Obama is actually voted for the bill. What is the hesitation? He considers it too radical or too far out, or too much in your face. No he should be proud to put that plate on. And it is insulting, not just to me, but to the residents of the District, I don’t speak for residents of the District, that he refuses to address it….It will be interesting when the bill passes the House and goes to president, what kind of signing ceremony they have. Is he going to do it in the middle of the night? Is he super cautious? Or is he going to celebrate that moment?
On White House press briefings:
I think those briefings are ridiculous, all it is is reporters fawning over [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs… There’s no news that comes out of them. They’re not at all equitable about calling on different people. It’s maddening.
On being Un-Washington:
I am who I am, and I think I bring a certain Chicago -- I enjoy what I’m doing. I don’t think I take myself too seriously, I hope I don’t. I’m not distant, or diffident, or aloof, and I enjoy living, and I enjoy life, and I enjoy what I do. And other people in this city don’t seem to enjoy what they’re doing…there’s a certain reserve…I don’t fit in, and that’s fine.