Cheryl Willoughby | Music Director

Cheryl Willoughby | Music Director; Saturday, Noon-5pm


"The best part of my job is that I never have the same day twice."

Background:  Born and raised in Denver, attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley as a full scholarship Horn student. Graduated from the school of Performing Arts with a BA in Watercolor Painting, with a Music minor. While in college (1986) began working as a host/producer at KUNC-FM. Returned to Denver in 1993 to become the Assistant Music Director at Colorado Public Radio, and moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to become the Music Director at KUSC-FM for the jointly operated Classical Public Radio Network. In 2004 I left there to take on a new position as the Director of Programming for VPR Classical, Vermont Public Radio’s nascent 24-hour classical music service. And as of October 3rd this year, I’m here! When I’m asked about my musical background I describe myself as a reformed Horn player. I also dabble in didgeridoo.


Nickname: It must be Mo, as in “MO-lasses in January”. Blame it on my Scandinavian roots, but I am nothing if …not …exasperatingly…deliberate.

First album I ever owned: I don’t recall for sure, that was a LOT of albums ago. But it was either Chuck Mangione’s Land of Make Believe or the London Symphony Orchestra’s magnificent Star Wars soundtrack, I got them both around the same time.

Five desert island albums: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme; Schubert’s Winterreise (the recording with Matthias Goerne and Alfred Brendel); Wátina from Belizian singer Andy Palacio; Beethoven’s Symphony #9 (with Charles Munch, the Boston Symphony, and soloists including Leontyne Price and Maureen Forester); and Stevie Wonder’s double-album anthology, Musiquarium – because if you have to be stuck on a desert island, you’d better dance. If I could choose six, the Myra Melford/Marty Ehrlich collaboration Yet Can Spring would be there too. Those two have more chemistry together than Alexander Borodin had in his whole lab.

Favorite podcast: I’m not much of a podcaster. I prefer listening directly online rather than downloading.

Greatest places to see live music:Jazz Standard & St. Anne’s Warehouse in NY City, Symphony Hall in Boston, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Vatican, El Chapultapec jazz club in Denver.

Most memorable concert: The Los Angeles Opera’s 2001 production of Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron – disturbing, stunning, an unforgettably riveting experience.

Favorite movie about music/musician: “Bleu”, the exquisite film by Polish director Krzystof Kieslowski.

Favorite book about music/musician:  I can’t choose only one but I can say I really like Ashley Kahn’s writing. I met him at the Detroit Jazz Fest a few years ago and my impression of him from a reader perspective was reinforced in person. I’m going to cheat and choose two of his books, since they’re related: A Love Supreme – The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album and The House That Trane Built - The Story of Impulse Records.

When not listening to classical music, I listen to everything else! I’m an omnimusivore. I hosted a radio program of international music, jazz and spoken word (poetry) for several years and those kinds of sounds still represent a big part of my personal audio collection. I also love folk music, bluegrass, soul, New Orleans grooves, blues, and – growing up in Colorado – the old school c&w greats (Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, etc…) will always tickle my ten-gallon. C&w music speaks to me partly because it comes from such a longstanding human tradition: it’s one of the last places stories about people are still being told in today’s music.

Finest moment on the air: when Soovin Kim broke a string just a few minutes into a live studio performance and I vamped successfully until he was able to replace the string, tune it up, and start playing again. The whole situation brought to mind that old story about how Paganini allegedly wrote many of his Caprices: in debtor’s jail, where he was allowed to bring his violin with him. As time went by and he continued to write and played the Caprices he occasionally broke a string without being able to get a replacement right away. So the unconventional architecture of these pieces was said to be determined in part by the considerable limitations of his personal situation. Who knows? It’s just a story. But it’s entertaining, anyway, and it got me through what could have been otherwise a very awkward scene on the air.

Most embarrassing moment on the air: Do we really have to go there? OK…well it would have to be the time when I was working a late evening shift at KUNC-FM in my early days there as a student announcer. I was in the habit of leaving the studio door open because that late at night the building was quiet, I was alone, and it was nice to have a little air in the studio. One Friday night around 9pm I was doing my thing, just about to go on the air, when the nighttime custodian came in unexpectedly to vacuum. I quickly reached over to close the door to the studio so I could take my station break, except – the large chunky Tibetan bead necklace I was wearing snagged on the turntable arm and swung the needle back and forth several times across Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album. Which had, until that unfortunate incident, been playing live on the air. Talk about a mood-wrecker! Sorry, Joni. That was a painful lesson learned (for me AND that night’s listeners) about never wearing rogue accessories while on the air.

If I weren’t a radio host, I’d be very sad and wondering how I missed my calling. Actually I’d probably be a struggling freelance artist, working in some esoteric Bill Viola-inspired combination of photography, video, poetry, dance, collage, and music.

The best part of my job is that I never have the same day twice. Every day is filled with different projects. And, I’d have a hard time describing any part of what I do as a “job”. Sharing great music with other people is a pure pleasure, not work.

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