Thursday, March 2, 2017

31 Women in Audio: Lorna White

Mix Messiah Productions presents: 31 Women in Audio, a series celebrating Women's History Month.

Day 2: Lorna White, Technical Director for "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me"

Lorna White (rear of stage) mics up Paula Poundstone as Tom Hanks gets ready to host the NPR show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". (Photo Credit: NPR/Andrew Gill)

Today, we are featuring Lorna White, a Chicago-based Broadcast Engineer and Technical Director for National Public Radio's popular radio quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". Leslie Gaston-Bird, a former co-worker of Lorna's at NPR, chatted with her by phone.

Leslie Gaston-Bird:"What was your earliest experience with audio?"
Lorna White:When I was a kid, my family used to go camping and we couldn’t take the record player, so I would sit with the microphone in front of the speaker and make mix tapes. In 8th grade we did a project with puppets we made. Two of my friends did a variation of the Tidy Bowl man so I recorded the toilet bowl flush."

LGB:What about childhood experiences with music or audio?
LW: I've always been musical. My folks had a Hammond B3 with a Leslie speaker. I took organ lessons at age 5. And when I was in high school, I was picked to become the high school accompanist for the choir. It was a small, rural high school and the girl who was doing it graduated. My mom took me out and bought me a piano. That was one of my fondest memories. I was a piano major in college but hated practicing. I would rather to record people who didn’t mind practicing, so my piano professor took me to the Illinois state radio station WGLT and I started filing papers. That was my first introduction to NPR.

LGB:How do you like being with a smaller crew compared to the large staff of techs we had at NPR in the 1990s?
LW:Being with 40 techs was great - about a third were women. The competition for the good gigs was tough, and the stronger personalities usually won out. And I didn’t have much of a strong personality at the time. When I found out that Chicago bureau was opening I acted because I had wanted to move back to the Midwest. So I was ready to come back and be in charge of my own work atmosphere and represent NPR and do interesting things back in the Chicago area. My daughter was 2 years old and I was the first DC tech to have a kid - the first one to be pregnant and go through that at NPR.

LGB:What do you hate/love about answering questions related to women in audio?
LW:I’m fortunate in that Robert Neuhaus (WWDTM engineer) and I get along really well and he respects my i don’t feel i have an issue. But I do notice that when we go to a theater to work, and if we walk in at the same time, they gravitate towards him, a tall man. But he deflects questions to me and it becomes apparent that we both know what we’re doing. The majority of the (comedy show) writers are men. And it’s "guy talk". Sometimes the news stories are pretty juvenile, but it's their job to figure out if there's anything in the story they can use without being obscene about it. And I do feel uncomfortable for the women writers that they have to go along with the boys club thing. But they respect my input and if I say “You can’t say that on the radio,” they listen. It’s different than doing a recording studio session.

LGB:What fictional or real role models do you have?
LW:Manoli (Wetherell) Farm was my big hero [another NPR tech - LG]. When I was in college and started to get board shifts "babysitting" All Things Considered I would her name in the credits. And now she is one of my friends.

LGB:What upcoming projects would you like to mention?
LW:It’s all downhill after Tom Hanks! (laughs) But we’ve got shows coming up all the time. Dallas, Texas is coming up, as well as another live show in Chicago’s Millennium park. That's an outdoor show. We had Chance the Rapper there two years ago and the audience was 20,000. Outdoors is always challenging but fun and good PR for NPR. And we are coming up on 20th anniversary next January, so we want to do all dream gigs. I would love to have Brad Paisley (musician). Politicans great - Barack Obama would be great to have on again! He was a senator last time he was on our show in Chicago. Joe Biden would be great, too. Or Ice T - we had him join by phone once.

-Leslie Gaston-Bird
Owner, Mix Messiah Productions, LLC