University of Rochester

Alumni Gazette

Making a Humble Difference

Want to host a radio program? Remember, it’s a conversation between you and your good friends. By Robert Skoglund ’70 (MA)

In the early 1970s, I published unique one-line personals in the Maine Times—an environmentally oriented newspaper that was read by every hippie with a master’s degree in the state of Maine.

“Antique dealer seeks attractive young woman interested in one night stand.” “Ornithologist seeks attractive young woman, willing to sacrifice everything for a few cheep thrills.” “Experienced traveler seeks attractive young woman who really enjoys being abroad.”

The staff at Maine Public Radio had been pasting my personals on their studio walls. They liked my literature and they knew I had impeccable taste in music because I had once sent in $5 to hear Harry Carney. Those were the only qualifications I needed to produce my first radio show.

Had I known back then that people got paid for entertaining their friends on the radio, I would have earned enough by now to winter in Fuengirola.

About the same time, I sent out samples of my writing to 5,000 newspaper editors along with an invitation to attend my Annual Free Lobster Picnic. Before I knew it, more than 50 newspapers were running my humor column, and every year on one day in August more than 1,000 people would show up in my back yard to picnic and watch a six-hour nonstop show by the top entertainers in New England.

Former Rochester Review editor Margaret Bond posted picnic invitations in the magazine, and a dozen or so Rochester grads, recognizing a good thing when they saw it, would be trolled in. Among them were Dan Jones ’68, who asked me to narrate his Maine Coast video, and Dr. Jeremy Tuttle ’69, who gave us the Belgian waffle maker that we use daily.

More than a few requests for tickets came from hospitalized radio friends, some written by their caregivers because they could no longer write. Radio friends who needed help to get out of bed would be bused in from nursing homes and wheeled or carried over to comfortable chairs under an apple tree. For years my humorous commentary and the old-fashioned music was the high point of their week. Some of my nursing home friends had few visitors, but they could count on me to say something on Friday nights that would make them laugh.

After I did a special program for one longtime radio friend who was ill, his wife called to tell me that he died the night before the broadcast, but that she and the family had listened and appreciated it.

A woman in her 40s wrote to say that she had started college. She flunked her first psychology test and was crying on the way home in her car, when I said something funny on the radio. She laughed and made up her mind that she wasn’t going to quit.

Would I suggest that you host a radio show? Yes. There are perks. You would have countless friends who collectively know everything there is to know and can answer any question you might ask. I was speaking in Montreal on 9/11: The planes were grounded, and the next day I found myself holding up a huge “The Humble Farmer” sign on the Canadian border. Within minutes, a new Mercedes stopped and the driver asked, “Geez, Humble. What choo doin’ way up heah?”

Should you take the time to sit before a mike for one hour every week and carry on a thoughtful one-sided conversation with a good friend, yours would be a welcome, appreciated voice. Do remember—your friend is in a car, in bed, working in a shop, or enjoying a meal. This is an intimate one-on-one conversation between you and your one close friend who is listening.

You don’t have to be a humorist to host a radio show. In fact, you’d be able to retire much earlier as an exorcist, a healer, or an expert on out-of-body experiences. If you’ve been picked up by a spaceship or slept with Tom Cruise, you can skip radio and go directly to Oprah or Montel.

Should you decide you want to host a radio show, don’t be afraid to ask. While at Rochester I applied for a grant to attend the International Congress of Linguists in Romania. I got the grant, and when Professor Christine Mohrmon gave me my money in Bucharest, I asked to meet the other American student delegates. She said, “There is but one delegate from each country.” I was amazed and said, “I’m representing Harvard, MIT, Potsdam State, and the University of Rochester? Why did you pick me?”

She very slowly looked me up and down and said, “Perhaps you were the only one who applied.”

Although my good professors probably wrote me off as a lost cause because I never wrote a grammar of Urdu, their efforts were not in vain. The Humble Farmer is probably the only radio show in the United States where you might hear the host passing along puns or spoonerisms in eight languages.

Robert Skoglund is the host of The Humble Farmer weekly radio program on Maine Public Radio. His more recent programs can be heard on his Web site. Skoglund and his wife, Marsha, a.k.a. The Almost Perfect Woman, run a one-room B&B on the coast of Maine.