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(The following news item appears on the WAMC Northeast Public Radio website (www.wamc.org).  It is reproduced here without permission.)
Alan Chartock: Thank You, Robert J.
There is a feeling of tremendous nostalgia at WAMC as Robert J. Lurtsema leaves our air after nearly thirty wonderful years at his perch. As anyone with an extended institutional memory knows, Robert J. has enjoyed some wonderful victories and suffered some disheartening setbacks during his many years on the radio. 

For me, Robert J. has become a member of the family, having stayed at our Great Barrington home many times. Anyone who has followed the career of this great man knows that he is passionately devoted to classical music. When you put him up against anyone else out there, his character and devotion comes shining through. He has always had the courage to be himself. 

At a time when the state of classical music is so precarious in America, Robert J. has been out there taking no prisoners and refusing to compromise his integrity. His style is distinctive and his delivery is recognized by most of us. When program directors were putting out secret lists of musical no-no's, based on listener surveys and the like, Lurtsema was defying the bosses and the odds. When dicta like "No vocal music before ten in the morning," rolled off the official typewriters, Robert was telling his colleagues to be brave and to do what was right. He led by example, encouraging all of us to try something new that we'd never heard before.

I'll never forget the morning I was at home in Great Barrington and people were calling to complain about some sitar music they believed had been going on for far too long. Ditto the time that he played what sounded like a full opera. This flew in the face of all those classical DJ's who sound exactly the same and who followed the rules of shorter and shorter pieces that one could cook eggs and cut carrots by.

Then there were those wonderful interviews that none of us can forget: the ones with Yo-Yo Ma or Seiji Ozawa or Arlo Guthrie or just about any musical genius you can name. And yeah, the people who didn't like Robert J.'s style would call up the fund drive and make jokes about the long pauses or some of the foreign pronunciations.

It is no secret that Robert believes in himself. That's what made him so good at his job. It is also why, when WNYC in New York dropped him and Vermont Public Radio dropped him, and Connecticut Public Radio dropped him, and Maine Public Radio dropped him, Robert felt particularly disappointed and made no secret about it. But in each of those cases, and despite the fact that huge numbers of our listeners wanted NPR's Weekend Edition played early in the morning when the rest of the nation heard it, we stayed with Robert J. "May he live a thousand years, nay, ten thousand years," I would intone. Stay with him we did, until he began to disappear
from the air for long stretches of time.

Well, you've heard him, you know that he's had problems with his health. It's time to do what so many of our listeners have been asking for us to do to let him get on with his remarkable life and to let us get on with ours.

With our new schedule, we have not lost an hour of classical music. Weekend Edition will be on when people want it and Robert J. will ride out a hero with his boots on, remembered with fondness by so many of us for all the good he's done for us. We'll never forget all the good programming and all the good teaching that he's done.  We are much in his debt.

©2000 by WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Inc.
 Reproduced here without permission.
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