Askville: On the air

As host of local talk shows Conversations, Evening Rounds and Byline, David Hurand is perhaps the most recognizable voice of public-radio station WCQS-FM. Every week, the station’s news director takes on phone calls and in-studio guests (including Xpress reporters).

David Hurand

After hanging around public-radio stations in San Francisco, Hurand got his first job at one in Michigan. He’s also pulled stints as a news jockey for commercial radio and television stations. Then, in the 1980s, Hurand and his family packed up and came to Asheville, where public radio hadn’t even yet emerged. “So I couldn’t get a job,” he recalls.

After working as a janitor and a stereo salesman, he found his way back into the business, helping establish what has become a fixture on the local media scene.

Sitting in the studio where he was editing an upcoming episode of Evening Rounds featuring Mission Hospitals President and CEO Joe Damore (“One of the biggest jobs in Asheville,” notes Hurand), he talked about his rise to the mic in Asheville, the importance of local media, and how even he balks at being on the receiving end of interviews.

Mountain Xpress: Before coming here, you had established yourself with a string of broadcasting jobs. Then you moved to Asheville where there were none. Why?

David Hurand: Why did I do that? Because my wife wanted to move here. And I had sort of a cavalier attitude about it at the time. I just thought I could get a job doing what I was doing. So I tried to get TV jobs in Asheville, Greenville and Spartanburg, and I was unsuccessful. I did some other things, and I also was a stay-at-home father for a while. I assumed that in a community that had a reputation like Asheville had, with all the craftspeople and the artists and its history, that there would be a pretty dynamic radio station, and there wasn’t.

Tell me about the early days at WCQS.
I went over and talked to Barbara Sayer [now program director for WCQS] at WUNF; she was pretty much working as a volunteer. I told her that if anything were to open up, if the station grew and decided to move into any news direction, to keep me in mind. Not too long after that, they made a decision to move downtown. It became a community radio station, and I got hired to reach the five full-time employee level—which opened the door to National Public Radio.

Evening Rounds focuses on medicine and the medical profession. Were you already up to speed on hosting a medical-themed show?
I was not, but I had some advantages on that because my wife is a family physician. So that was helpful. So I was sort of already in that circle of people, you know: I knew a lot of doctors.

You also host Byline, in which you talk to local reporters about the week’s news.
Byline started because WCQS is trying to provide a service that covers all of Western North Carolina. We don’t have a full-fledged news department running around to cover so many different counties. Initially we thought we could do that program, provide in-depth news coverage of the region on a weekly basis, and do it by tapping into all of the other news organizations that are in the area. And the reporters have been helpful and willing to do it, which has been great.

You talk to a lot of people who aren’t used to sitting at a microphone. How do you make them feel comfortable sitting there?
The thing I’ve learned about this is, initially, most print reporters are reluctant to participate in either television or radio, because they’re print reporters. They work with pens and typewriters and ask questions. Just as it’s uncomfortable for me to answer your question—I like to ask questions more than I like to answer them—most of the reporters I’ve worked with, initially have been reluctant. But what happens is, first of all, I try to make it as straightforward as possible. In almost all cases, the reporters really know the material, so they have that advantage—I don’t really know the material. Then, once the reporters are on the program once or twice, they realize how much feedback they get when they’re out in the community. People say, “I heard you on Byline.”

You talk to a lot of experts. Do you play the straight guy, the everyman to their expertise?
I don’t mind playing the fool. I try to ask questions that I think that you would ask. But also I want to ask questions that challenge the guests. I don’t want to be easy on the guest, I don’t want to be friends with the guest, but I do want to be fair. I think you can be fair and be somewhat confrontational without badgering people or bringing my agenda to the interview. There’s enough of that going on in other media outlets.

But you do get a chance to do some lighter things, especially on the entertainment front.
Yeah, I talk to Tony Kiss; that’s one of those programs where he gets a lot of feedback in the community about it. People are listening. It’s amusing to me that people think that Tony and I don’t get along, and they try to read so much into it. Tony and I are friends, and it’s just part of the radio shtick. He’s here to tell us what’s going on in the community and in the entertainment world, and it’s really nothing more than that. I am the straight man on that; he just does all the talking.

Is there someone in the community that has been a difficult “get”?
[Mountain Xpress Publisher] Jeff Fobes. Jeff came once; he was pretty reluctant. So it was good to get Jeff on the air. We were talking about the role that alternative media or a weekly can play in the community.

It’s amazing to me how, if invited, people are willing to come. Just like when you asked me to do this, my initial reaction was, “I don’t want to do that. … Yeah, I don’t want to do that.” But when WCQS asks someone to come in, people usually say, “Oh, sure.” It’s amazing to me how willing and cooperative people are. And I don’t know why I’m willing and cooperative today with you [laughs].

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