I received a friendly message from Joni at the beginning of July, asking if MiBurg would be interested in helping with a WVPB/NPR event. After brief exchange, Joni ended with “I also just said ‘you all’ three times in the span of a minute. My West Virginia is showing.”
I liked her immediately.
Joni’s sense of humor and charming personality shines through in every text, email and phone call. She’s friendly and easy going, even when discussing work. Although she is serious about her job, she will happily add a Lisa Frank sticker to a note before sending it off in the mail. I appreciate her authenticity, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk with her about her work and the upcoming WhyListen event in Shepherdstown.
Joni is an assistant producer of NPR’s Mountain Stage and the host of A Change of Tune on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. She’s quick to say that she “got lucky” when she landed her job, but she seems right at home in radio.
Her career began in college as a DJ with her own weekly program called “The DJ Joni Show.” After graduating in 2014 with a degree in communications and public relations, she accepted an internship with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Over the next few years she transitioned from intern to part time employee, eventually taking a full time position with the network.
On June 26, 2016, Joni became the youngest as well as first female guest host of Mountain Stage. Joni said that she was surprised when Mountain Stage’s longstanding host and artistic director Larry Groce suggested she host the nationally-distributed program, but quickly added, “How could I say no?” Come this September, over 170 NPR stations around the country will broadcast that episode and hear Joni’s positivity for themselves.
A Change of Tune
Joni brings a fresh perspective and passion for music and radio to the table. We discussed changes in media consumption and the effect it has on networks like West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In the age of on demand entertainment, Joni consciously created an “appointment radio” program. She describes her program, A Change of Tune, as an “indie/alternative music discovery experience.” The show launched in July of 2014 and continues to air each Saturday night at 10:00pm on radio and on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s webstream. According to Joni, “Each episode is totally different. We have never played the same song twice.”
The ephemeral nature of the show is part of its allure. “Each show begins with a mashup and ends with a cover. Even though we make our show playlists available through Spotify after each broadcast, most of these songs are not available anywhere online, so you have to listen live to hear them. It’s a form of music discovery.”
The format works. “People are listening from Morgantown all the way down to Charleston and beyond. I’ve even received fan mail from Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia,” she said. Her work with Mountain Stage and interviews with West Virginia based musicians helps draw people in.
Joni’s twitter feed enhances the experience. During each broadcast, @achangeoftune tweets along so listeners can connect with the artist. Each tweet also include a link to the live broadcast and a cute or funny animated gif to engage active listenership.
— Joni Deutsch (@AChangeOfTune) July 30, 2016
Part of the conversation about changes in media consumption centers on attracting a younger audience to public broadcasting. “I thought about what would attract me to and want to support this organization (WVPB). Because a millennial won’t write up a $1000 check to a non-profit on a whim. Because we need to connect with younger listeners and podcast fans in a different way.”
NPR has addressed this through Generation Listen and the #WhyListen campaign. The initiative encourages active participation and engagement to connect listeners to public broadcasting. Inspired by the idea, Joni decided to host #WhyListen events around the state. “I wanted to create something that would encourage engagement. We wanted to see the people and give them an experience.”
Over the past year, she brought #WhyListen to Charleston, Huntington and Fayetteville. “Each event involves listening to snippets of new songs and then having the audience rate the songs from 1 to 5, which opens up really interesting conversations,” she said. Overseeing each event is a music professional panel including Joni, Larry Groce, and a guest panelist, usually a West Virginia based musician.
“It’s an opportunity to interact with the audience and gauge interest in different musicians. This actually helps us decide what to put on the air. We have even decided to feature artists on Mountain Stage because of #WhyListen audience interest.”
The free events are also good for local businesses. Each #WhyListen party is hosted at a local venue, serving local food and drinks. Swag bags containing goods from local businesses and artists are given on a first come, first serve basis. “I like the idea of cultivating local partnerships, not to mention giving away one of a kind swag,” said Joni.
I asked Joni about her favorite part of each event. “Larry [Groce] is hilarious. It’s nice to see him interact with people, and it’s nice to see people interact with the music.”
#WhyListen is coming to Shepherdstown
If you’re interested in a one of a kind experience, join Joni Deutsch, Larry Groce, and Rozwell Kid rocker and Martinsburg resident Jordan Hudkins on August 28 from 4-6pm at Town Run Brewing in Shepherdstown, WV.
Enjoy great food and local craft beer from the amazing menu at Town Run Brewing, and listen to new music from West Virginia and beyond.
The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited. RSVP at whylistenwv.splashthat.com to reserve a seat.
We hope to see you there!