The way Marty Moss-Coane describes her start as host of the radio call-in show “Radio Times” in 1987, she was learning to fly while the plane was in the air.
“I did not know how to host and produce a radio show. It truly was learning on the job,” Moss-Coane said while reminiscing on her 35 years as host of “Radio Times.”
“I remember doing the first show — I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember that feeling at the very end. I made it through the hour and then, ‘Oh my God, I have to do this tomorrow?!’ And then the next day. And the next day.”
Moss-Coane’s very first producer remembers it differently. Barbara Bogaev said she was a natural.
“Marty’s really modest and lovely. I’ve never had a boss like Marty, because her humanity shines through in everything she does,” said Bogaev, who went on to host the national radio show “Weekend America,” now canceled.
“As a host, Marty was full blown. She just has so much empathy, and knows how to talk to people, get them thinking,” she said. “You hear that pause when someone says, ‘Oh. Wait. Let me think about that for a moment,’ And then they come out with a new thought, a new insight into themselves. That’s the kind of interviewer Marty was from the beginning.”
Moss-Coane announced in October that she would step down as host of “Radio Times” after 35 years, and the show would be canceled. Her final shows are this week, ending on Friday with Moss-Coane in the hot seat as “Fresh Air” co-host Dave Davies interviews the interviewer.
Moss-Coane is not retiring from the airwaves. She plans to develop a new show at WHYY, to be called “The Connection,” that will air weekly.
“I left Philadelphia to do a weekly show, and was telling Marty about it,” Bogaev said. “Just the envy in her voice: ‘Oh, a weekly show! I’ve always thought that would be the perfect job.’ That’s now 20 years ago.”
Moss-Coane, 73, has said she is tired of the “daily grind of a daily show.”
Another former producer concurs.
“I have been in broadcasting for over 30 years and I always point to my time as a producer on a daily talk show, ‘Radio Times,’ as the most stressful job I ever had,” said Christine Dempsey, who became chief content officer at WHYY and is now senior vice president of radio at WLVR in Bethlehem.
“Nothing to do with the people I was working with. More so to do with the rapid movement of the show,” she said. “It used to be 2 hours, and every day it was something different. Every hour, it was something different. You had to pivot and adjust really quickly.”
Dempsey worked at “Radio Times” in the 1990s when the show was two hours long. She remembers the show had more room for arts and culture topics then, gradually shifting to hard news and politics.
“About five years ago, we shrunk it back down to an hour, which coincided with the Trump presidency and the sort of roiling politics that we’re in,” Moss-Coane said. “That kind of shift, I think, was natural, at least in the beginning, dealing with our political system and trying to stay on top of all the news that was coming in.”
“We tried to save room for the poets that I love, and artists, as well. But it’s true: we got a lot more political,” she said. “I think the world got a lot more political, too.”
Even amid “roiling” politics, Moss-Coane maintained certain personal pleasures on the air. A lifelong movie buff, she pulled together a panel of fellow buffs every year for a roundup of that year’s films.
But politics was never too far away. One of her regular panelists was film fan Neil Oxman, whose day job is as a political consultant.
“She knows how to have fun,” said Bogaev, recalling the beginning of “Radio Times” when she and Moss-Coane shared one desk with one phone. They didn’t have a computer or even an answering machine.
“We started this radio show out of nothing,” she said. “We had this area in the back of the newsroom that had lots of light and some plants. We used to go back there and smoke. I love that about her because she’s so wonderful, but she has a devilish side.”
Moss-Coane counted 18 producers passing through “Radio Times” over its 35 years on the air. Some stayed in broadcasting while others went onto other careers, including politics. State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler was briefly a producer on the show.
“The thing I love most about working for Marty was learning how to be a good boss,” said Dempsey, who left “Radio Times” and became an executive at WHYY, essentially becoming the boss of her boss.
“Marty showed respect. Marty showed empathy, professionalism,” she said. “So many things you don’t read about or learn about in any type of professional management class.”
Moss-Coane honed her people skills before entering radio, as a social worker for the Philadelphia school system. Those skills served her well when she had to face down Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, commander during the 1990 Gulf War.
“Radio Times” had partnered with NPR on a nationally broadcast call-in show about the war, but “Stormin’ Norman” grew livid when a driver failed to pick him up from his hotel at the appointed time.
“He arrived hopping mad, seconds before airtime. Somehow Marty was able to smooth out all of those wrinkles and calm him down,” Bogaev said. “She was, as a social worker, just the person when you need someone to talk someone [else] off a ledge. She was a genius.”
Since she announced her departure from “Radio Times,” Moss-Coane has attracted media attention to a degree she is unaccustomed to, as the subject of newspaper articles, letters to editors, and TV segments.
She said she is looking forward to talking less about herself, and spending more time on “The Connection” talking about other people.
“Everybody from psychologists and philosophers to maybe a mountain climber or an activist or a surgeon or an artist,” she said. “How do we live a good life, a meaningful life, knowing that it’s hard, you know, lots of pressures? It takes me full circle to my days as a school counselor and case manager in Philly.”
Saturdays just got more interesting.