Forty years ago, in December 1979, Jimmy Carter was president, William Milliken was Michigan's governor, and Coleman Young was the mayor of Detroit.
The Iranian hostage crisis was in its second month. Also in that time, Cynthia Canty began her first radio job at WMUZ, a religious station in Detroit. For six mornings a week, Canty would grace Detroit's airwaves from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m.
For Canty, the role was one of mixed excitement and fear — excitement over beginning her radio career, and fear over learning on the job in the middle of the night. During her early morning commute, she turned to a cassette recording of The Who singing "Who Are You," and Roger Daltrey's "swaggering vocals" paired with Pete Townshend's lyrics kept her from "turning around and calling this whole broadcast thing off."
Luckily for Michigan Radio (we're very thankful to The Who), Canty has spent the last seven years of her 40-year career as host of Stateside. Now, after a long, storied career in broadcast journalism, Canty is retiring.
For her final show, Canty's family, previous guests, and former and current colleagues joined her for a series of interviews. This story will be updating throughout the day, and once the full show has been recorded, we will have the audio above. For now, listen to one segment before the show airs Friday at 3 and 10 p.m.
The changing landscape of radio over the past 40 years
There have been some enormous changes to radio in the four decades of Cynthia Canty’s career. She looked back on those changes and talked about the future of radio with long-time journalist and former broadcaster Jim McFarlin, as well as Steve Schram, general manager of Michigan Radio.
One topic that both McFarlin and Schram kept returning to was the relationship that public radio has with listeners in the community. While listeners may be turn to satellite radio or an online broadcast to hear about niche, personal topics, public radio provides a balanced perspective about what is happening in their own community. McFarlin said that’s especially important in this current era.
“I think that public radio has created such a bond of trust with its listeners that they know they can go there and find something that’s straight news, unbiased. And that’s important these days in this era where everyone is calling us fake news,” McFarlin said.
Even though the way people consume audio content is changing, Schram said that the same elements that make for great radio will continue to matter, no matter how that content is distributed.
"I still think that at the end of the day, which is what I think has stood the test of time, is how well the content is curated, how well it is presented, how well it informs, how well it entertains.”
Dinner Party Convo: Writing yourself a new chapter in life
On her final week hosting Stateside, Canty lined up conversations with the people she would invite to her “dream dinner party.” For that final conversation, she invited two Michigan writers to talk about how they got their start in the literary world and about writing new chapters of life.
Desiree Cooper is a writer, a Pulitzer-prize nominated journalist, community activist, and author of the book Know the Mother. Keith Taylor is a writer, poet, and teacher, who retired in 2018 from the University of Michigan where he taught creative writing for many years. His poems, stories, book reviews, translations, and feature articles have been published in magazines, journals, and newspapers in North America and Europe.
As Canty moves into a new phase of her own life, Keith and Desiree shared their own experiences of moving into new chapters in their careers and personal lives. Three-and-a-half years ago, Cooper moved in with her parents when both of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She said being thrown into the world of caretaking has radically changed how she handles obstacles.
“I am a very type A person, and that has been slapped out of me in the last three years," Cooper said. "You cannot be goal-oriented, task-oriented… and take care of two seniors with Alzheimer’s at the same time. You have got to be a lot more zen about life.”
Both Cooper and Taylor shared pieces of writing with Cynthia to honor her radio service and send her into retirement. Taylor’s pick was the poem “Postscript,” from Seamus Heaney’s book The Spirit Level. It ends with a description of the overwhelming feeling of looking out toward a beautiful landscape in Ireland.
“More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there, / A hurry through which known and strange things pass / As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”
Cynthia Canty speaks with new Stateside host April Baer
Who will be sitting in the Stateside host chair once Canty retires? On January 6, 2020, April Baer will make her Stateside hosting debut. Canty sat down with Baer to learn more about her and to discuss her future on the show.
Baer comes to Michigan Radio from Oregon Public Broadcasting, where she hosted an arts and culture show called State of Wonder. However, she has strong Midwest roots: she grew up in Ohio and her husband hails from Ann Arbor, so she's made frequent trips to Michigan.
So, what does she imagine for Stateside?
"It needs to be the place where we can talk to each other," Baer told Canty. "The one thing I have always, always prized above all other things is, frankly, not to steal the slogan, that facts matter and that we're going to listen to each other. And that is what public radio is here to do. And that's true in the broadcast era, and still true in the podcast era. And I feel like regional stories deserve all the care and feeding and attention that the national news often gets. And the reason Michigan Radio was an important place to me was what I saw happening here, on Stateside, and with reporting coming out of the newsroom, and I wanted to be a part of that."
It was October 1980 when Canty joined Jim Harper and Jerry St. James as a newscaster and sidekick on their top-rated morning show. She said her time on the St. James and Harper Show on Detroit’s 100.3 WNIC shaped her career in radio, with Harper as her mentor.
“People don’t, I think, realize you were actually the first woman to be the part of a morning radio show in a big city anywhere,” Harper said. “There were no female news anchors at that time in the morning, none, absolutely none.”
Canty said she was starstruck and terrified walking in for her first day on the show. Just a few months before, Harper’s voice was the one she’d been listening to on her alarm clock. But Harper said he didn’t notice any of that. With her confidence and energy, Harper said, she became a role model for other women in the radio business.
“I think every woman in broadcasting, whether it’s on the air or off the air, behind the scenes, writing, producing, whatever, they owe you a little bit of a nod because you were a groundbreaking performer at that time,” he said.
We thank Cynthia for her contributions to Michigan Radio — and the broadcasting world — and wish her a very happy retirement. Sláinte, Cyndy!