Barbara Kuschka marks 50 years in radio at WHMP; studio named in her honor

  • A photograph of Barbara Kuschka when she started her career as the traffic manager at WHMP in Northampton 50 years ago. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Kuschka, the traffic manager at the Northampton Radio Group, talks about her career there for the last 50 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Kuschka, a traffic manager at the Northampton Radio Group, talks about her career there for the last 50 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Kuschka, the traffic manager at the Northampton Radio Group, talks about her career there for the last 50 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Kuschka, the traffic manager at the Northampton Radio Group, talks about her career there for the last 50 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Kuschka, the traffic manager at the Northampton Radio Group, talks about her career there for the last 50 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2019 10:01:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Regular listeners of one of the Pioneer Valley’s most popular radio programs, The Bill Newman Show on WHMP, tuned into the show on Wednesday to hear a slightly different introduction from Newman.

“We are now, and in the future will be, broadcasting live from the Barbara J. Kuschka WHMP studio,” he said.

The studio had just been renamed in honor of Kuschka, who recently celebrated 50 years working at the station. Since she began work in 1969, Kuschka has been a behind-the-scenes figure, who one person described as the glue that holds the station together in her work as traffic manager.

“Making sure that the right commercial gets on at the right time,” was how Kuschka nonchalantly described her job.

But Kuschka’s counterpart at the Western Mass Radio Group in Greenfield, which is owned by the same company, had a different explanation.

“It’s like the hub; everything goes through traffic,” said MJ Fowler. Kuschka, she added, “has just got her hand on everything, and she keeps things running smoothly and beautifully.”

Kuschka started working at WHMP — which is now one of several stations that form the Northampton Radio Group owned by Saga Communications — as a radio-loving senior at St. Michael’s High School.

“I remember listening to the radio when I was like 4,” she said with a laugh. She used to carry a transistor radio, listening just about everywhere she went.

Radio, like other businesses in the news industry, can be a place where employees are fairly transient, and a lot of faces have moved through the station over the years.

Many of those people were recently at a barbecue held at Look Park to celebrate Kuschka’s milestone. Eating from paper plates and sipping down cold drinks, current and former co-workers shared stories of Kuschka’s personality and work habits.

Hugh Massey arrived as a news reporter at the station in 1972, just three years after Kuschka. He said during his years at the station — as a reporter, news director and later a production coordinator — Kuschka ran a tight ship.

“She was just amazing,” he said. “If I had something missing that needed to get done, I’d get a phone call … She will remain a legend.”

The current general manager of Northampton Radio Group, Dave Musante, said that despite being the person who makes sure the place runs well, Kuschka has never sought the spotlight.

Rick Heideman, the station’s general manager from 1992 to 1998, described Kuschka as “holding chaos in check.”

And there certainly can be chaos at any broadcast operation. Kuschka remembers a recent Monday afternoon when a red light went off in the WHMP studio, signaling that the signal had been off the airwaves for 15 seconds — an eternity in the radio world.

Luckily, the host had recorded a show beforehand, but there was still lots of juggling to be done to get everything on the air. But that’s what Kuschka does best.

Sitting in front of her computers, she shuffled around items on a digital schedule, building out the show’s programming on the fly. Kuschka can seem like the captain of a ship sitting in that office, making sure everything is happening as it should be. And on that day, the show went on smoothly.

“To the listener, they couldn’t tell the difference,” she said.

Back in the early days, everything was done on tape. If somebody wanted a copy of an ad from the station, for example, they would have to come by the station and pick up a reel. Now, somebody can just send Kuschka an MP3 file.

With advances in technology, so much of what goes on the air can now be prerecorded, and that has changed the way Kuschka has listened to radio. When she hears somebody’s voice, she knows whether that segment was prerecorded or not. Kuschka said she misses the live DJs who would take over the airwaves for hours at a time.

But Kuschka can still enjoy some of those early radio moments that she loves. Above her desk sits a small radio, which is always tuned to Pure Oldies 96.9, which is broadcast out of the office.

Looking back on 50 years, Kuschka said it is funny that all these years later, she’s still working at the same place, listening to the same songs she did all those years ago when she first started. And she has no plans to quit any time soon.

Asked why she never left the station, the answer was easy for Kuschka: “Because I just love radio.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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