Five Questions with… Michelle Willson
Written by Emily Morrow on June 14, 2021
What brought you to hosting a show on WICN? Why do you love being on the air?
In 2004, I was doing a WICN Brown Bag Lunch concert at Mechanics Hall with my band, Evil Gal. GM Brian Barlow and I were standing onstage talking about the late Mai Cramer (beloved blues show host on Boston station WGBH for decades) after the show when he very casually asked me if I’d ever thought of being a radio show host. He told me if I was ever interested, I could come train at WICN. I thought about it for – oh, maybe a second. I started training the following week; took to it like a duck to water and several weeks later, I had my own show, “Jazz n’ Blue,” on Saturday afternoons. Shortly after that, I started doing another program on Friday mornings, “Voices of Jazz,” and stayed until 2009.
In 2014, I read in the newsletter that WICN was looking for hosts and decided to see if I could get back on the 90.5 airwaves. I approached GM Gerry Weston and he offered me the early morning show several days a week. I was living up in New Hampshire at the time and I spent a year driving 150 miles round trip – talk about a long commute!
In 2015, I moved to Worcester – I also returned to college (which I had dropped out of many years earlier to start my first band.) I graduated in 2019 from UMASS Amherst (bachelor’s degree – Arts Management – magna cum laude, baby!) and took over at WICN as Production Manager when Jon Marable retired.
What is your favorite WICN memory?
My favorite WICN memory is thinking back to the conversation Brian Barlow and I had in 2004 which led to my becoming part of WICN. At the time, I thought I was so clever to have talked him into letting me learn how to be a radio host. Many years later, Brian confessed that he had it in mind the whole time and he had sort of slyly directed the conversation so that I’d suggest it and then he could agree and tell me what a good idea that was!
FILL IN THE BLANK: The best concert I ever saw was ______________?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I’ve seen and been part of so many incredible shows, it’s impossible to pick just one. Mavis Staples – she was amazing. Singing with Dr. John in Boston, watching Billy Gibbons from backstage in Notodden, Norway, listening to Little Jimmy Smith at Scullers, Ella Fitzgerald at Symphony Hall, Fleetwood Mac at Boston Garden…wow, I can’t pick one. My favorite is the next one, I guess.
Many listeners don’t know that the majority of our hosts are volunteers that do this out of a personal passion. What do you/did you do professionally off the air?
In addition to my job here at WICN, I’m also a singer and bandleader. I’ve recorded many albums; my own and I’ve sung on other people’s recordings, as well. I’ve performed live, on tv and radio in 18 countries. I really enjoy the work I do for WICN, both on-air and as Production Manager. I don’t always like getting up as early as I need to, but once I’m at the station and thinking about what I want to share with The Vibe Tribe, it’s so much fun! Like all the other wonderful WICN hosts, I’m passionate about music, and I love sharing stories and history about the tunes and artists with The Vibe Tribe every weekday morning from 6-9am. My favorite time of the week is the Friday Dance Party, which started out as a short dance music interlude and is slowly morphing into an extended dance-a-thon every week! It also started out as the Friday Strip Tease Dance Party, but that’s another story for another time. As Production Manager, I handle all recorded aspects of programming, from the underwriting and station promo spots to pre-recorded shows. It’s quite engaging work, albeit very labor and time-intensive – my thinky parts get a real workout! The on-air time provides me with a nice contrast, as well as an opportunity to share my very large, very eclectic music collection.
Who are your favorite artists and/or albums of all time? Favorite albums…wow, another tough one. Right now, my favorite album is We Are, by Jon Batiste. Other favorites…Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Little Jimmy Scott, Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington – I can’t pick just one or even a few – good thing I don’t really have to, right?