Today is an emotional day for many of us at KCRW; Ruth Seymour, the station’s indomitable general manager, makes her farewell.
I am one of many of whose lives have been profoundly affected by Ruth. I moved to LA 19 years ago because I had fallen in love with the region and its experimental architecture, and started my life here editing an architecture newspaper. But then came the Rodney King riots in 1992 and a program called Which Way, LA?, created by Ruth, hosted by Warren Olney, a show that I found so meaningful and relevant I resolved to work on it. I volunteered for WWLA and eventually became a producer.
I did not know Ruth at first – initially she seemed rather unapproachable and scary—but along the way we got to talking and up came the topic of architecture and design. This was the time that blue chip public buildings in LA were under construction—the new Getty Center by Richard Meier, the Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. I found that as with every topic that Ruth embraced, she was passionate and fascinated by it. But she was not yet ready for a radio show on the subject.
Then came a controversy – the choice of the provocative Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to redesign LACMA, and his idea of renovation was to tear down the entire museum. Well, Ruth loves a good conflict and decided we needed to debate it on Politics of Culture. To my astonishment, she asked me to be the host. I was utterly terrified – to this day all I can remember is being a kind of verbal goalie, trying to catch and make sense of comments as they flew past me by from the likes of Andrea Rich and Edward Goldman.
But somehow, after this, Ruth decided that I should host a regular show about design and architecture, which she, with her knack for witty titles, named DnA. I was not really ready, in fact it took many months to get comfortable in the hosting seat. But that was just one of the many remarkable gifts that Ruth gave to so many of us. She took risks on us; she let us learn by doing, she let us experiment on the airwaves, she overestimated our capabilities, and in doing so, forced us to rise to that level.
As time went on, Jennifer Ferro took the helm of executive producer of DnA, and has been deeply involved in making the show what it is today. So it is with great appreciation for her talents and optimism about the future that I and my colleagues welcome her into Ruth’s seat on Monday. It is wonderful that Ruth’s legacy should be passed on to a gifted protégée.
But today is Ruth’s day and a sense of melancholy at her leaving. My experience of Ruth, who in time became a dear friend, as well as a sometimes ferocious critic, brings to mind David Hockney, the British painter who was so transformed by Los Angeles when he first moved here that his paintings changed, from monochrome to vividly colored acrylics. That is how I see Ruth. She is so electrifying a person that to be in her orbit is to have ones life transformed from black and white to Technicolor. The word “retirement” does not seem to apply to Ruth; I am sure that in her next stage she will continue to galvanize the world around her.
For more perspectives on Ruth from people who knew and worked with her, listen to KCRW’s The Truth About Ruth, airing today.