Reed Hessler retires from classical music station WBJC after nearly 40 years

After 39 years and 13 days, WBJC-FM’s classical music host Reed Hessler has retired.

The 65-year-old Hampden resident recorded his last live show on the classical music station 91.5 FM on Dec. 15 after nearly four decades on air.

“I’m very pleased to have been a part of WBJC, making a contribution to the arts community of Baltimore and the world,” Hessler said, noting that the radio station, a service of Baltimore City Community College, has had listeners as far as India.

When he started working at the station in December 1978, “I was young and idealistic, and my goal was to bring the masterpieces of classical music — Western classical music, European-based — to as large [of a] number of people as possible. As time went on, my listeners became the most important thing,” Hessler said, adding that he wanted to share his love of the genre with others, whether they were already fans or hoping to learn more about classical music.

“I feel that I’ve done that, along with my colleagues, and I’m very happy about that. When you have a radio station that’s on the air and all that is playing is classical music, you can’t do more to provide classical music to the world, or at least to Baltimore, than that.”

Hessler also fondly recalled his favorite memories, which included walking nine miles to work in snow (which he did more than once), and when a listener called in to tell him the music he was playing was beautiful, only to find out that the listener could not read or write.

“It was so touching to me. I was so proud that someone who was illiterate was responding to this great music,” said Hessler, who added that he pitched the idea to play solely classical music on the station earlier in his career, but was turned down. It’d take decades before the station would play solely classical music.

Most radio stations preferred to play diverse content in the 1980s, but as radio evolved into the 1990s, Hessler said people began to seek stations that specialized in a particular subject or a more focused format.

In the end, “it’s up to the listener,” he said. “That was the big change.”

At times, Hessler said, he’s still in awe of how long he’s worked at the station. After two years, he thought they might have booted him out. Instead, “I outlasted everyone,” he said (none of the employees from when he started still work at the station), and to his surprise, Hessler became a recognizable voice on the radio, with some people stopping him at the grocery store to comment on his familiar voice, he said.

“I wanted to be the best announcer possible, but I didn't think anybody cared who I was,” he said, but Baltimore, which “was more of a small town than I realized,” proved him wrong with their support.

Hessler has considered retirement for years, he said. It became more important to him after his wife of 29 years, Dyane Fancey, died in 2014. Hessler said he noticed that his long hours at night meant he was spending more and more time alone.

Nonetheless, Hessler, who is now in a relationship, said his job has brought him great joy, even down to the last few weeks, in which he discovered and played Finnish composer Erkki Melartin on the radio.

“I've always tried to find things people have never heard before to play on WBJC,” he said, and it was an exciting challenge to balance and diversify the types of classical music he played, especially since nearly all composers are “dead white males.”

Though his journey at WBJC is ending, Hessler said he’s looking to write more, to finish editing his late wife’s book of unfinished poetry, to teach, and to indulge in his interests, which include a wide range of music and film history.

“When I get into something, whether it’s Beethoven or Mozart or the history of the blues or Japanese film, I don’t just do it in a partial way. I become obsessive about it,” he said.

“And I think ultimately, it’s a good thing, because I can do justice to an art form this way and then share it with people.

“I want to continue sharing, and experiencing the pleasure and beauty of life and the world around me.”

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

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