Former Baltimore radio talk show host, political activist and striking-figure-about-town Lisa Simeone has been named the anchor for NPR's "Weekend All Things Considered," a new outlet for a presence long familiar to area listeners.
"It's exciting, being able to talk to a wide variety of people," said the mellifluous-voiced Simeone, 43, who will start in mid-October.
The show, the weekend counterpart to the public radio network's prime evening news program, has been struggling since last fall's departure of anchor Daniel Zwerdling, a former NPR foreign correspondent and investigative reporter who was the host for nearly six years.
Walter Ray Watson, the show's senior producer, said that Simeone will help stabilize and revitalize "Weekend All Things Considered," which is broadcast from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Locally, the show airs on WJHU (88.1 FM).
"It's a commitment by listeners to turn on the radio at five o'clock on Saturday, because they could be doing all kinds of things at that time," Watson said. "We really think that Lisa has the kind of voice that welcomes listeners."
Simeone, a native of Pittsburgh, got her start as a classical music disk jockey on WBJC (91.5 FM) after graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis; she later was the host of shows on classical music and politics on WJHU. (The name is pronounced Sim-ee-o-nee for those of you looking to win a bar bet.)
Her program with then-Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor David Zinman, which lasted for 13 years, was carried nationally on about 150 stations. Although popular with listeners, she made a stormy departure from WJHU after it canceled the talk show that she ran with Mark Crispin Miller, a media critic who was then at Johns Hopkins University. Since then, she has been the chief guest host for two NPR programs, "Performance Today," and "Weekend Edition Sunday."
Her new gig will provide a terrific channel for her eclectic tastes, she said.
"It's not the same as the weekday show, with the gaping maw that needs to be filled every day," Simeone said. "It's much more creative and allows you to stretch." She also promises not to move from her Charles Village home, preferring to commute to D.C. on the MARC.
While other NPR correspondents will contribute stories, Simeone said she's working on several pieces for the show. She's producing a segment on a woman whose wig business caters to cancer patients receiving chemotherapy; one on, in her words, "felons and thugs in the NFL"; another on the closing of a duckpin bowling alley in South Baltimore; and a story on the overstimulated lives of today's children, and how that may affect their physiology.
"She's a very cultivated person," said Miller, now at New York University, "yet so unpretentious that one can say with perfect accuracy that she wears her learning lightly." In earning a masters from Hopkins' writing program, Simeone wrote a paper for Miller on the culture of bachelor parties that she later turned into a documentary for "Soundprint," a syndicated show for which she also served as host.
Some future pieces sound similarly informed by her feminist principles. In the wake of comments from the bench by two Baltimore County judges in the mid-1990s that appeared to belittle women who were victims of violence, Simeone arranged for protests and established a Baltimore chapter of a women's activist group.
But she said such political activity is in her past. "It's a different situation - when I was at JHU they didn't have a news department," Simeone said.
"When I organized those protests, I never spoke about it on air. I kept them very separate. I'm at NPR. I'm not going to be starting any protests."