Although I don't know John Platt, I came across his name while reading up on a new artist I like, Bill Scorzari, and there was a quote from him. The shared interest in an artist was good enough for me to contact him for this column.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at?
John Platt: I got started in college, at WPRB in Princeton. In 1969, when I was a junior, I managed to get my first professional job at the legendary WMMR in Philadelphia by being in the right place at the right time. Right after graduation, I moved to Chicago, where I worked for three stations during the '70s, including seven years as program director and on-air host at WXRT. It was a great time to be in Chicago, with Steve Goodman and John Prine just coming on the scene. In 1979 I moved to New York to program the commercial jazz station,WRVR, and I've been here ever since, with an assortment of jobs as a programmer, producer, and promotions director at various places, including WNEW-AM (popular standards), WNEW-FM (rock), WYNY (country), and WNYC (where I made the leap to public radio).
Where do you work now?
I'm celebrating 20 years at WFUV, where my day job is communications director and where I host the Sunday Supper (5-8 p.m.). I'm blessed to still be doing what I love after all these years.
How do you describe your show?
A mix of folk, rock, roots, and singer-songwriters, with the occasional standard thrown in for good measure.
How do you prepare for your shows?
I use sets as building blocks – sometimes centered around an certain artist or songwriter, sometimes around a theme, sometimes artists coming to town, sometimes just because the music flows. I often spotlight an artist celebrating a major birthday by playing 2 or 3 sets and occasionally will devote a show to a theme, but that's rare because I have so much I'm trying to play (feeling like I'm trying to stuff six hours of material into three hours).
How many new releases and independent artists do you play?
New releases are 25-30% of the show. I like to mix what's current with great songs from the past that shouldn't be forgotten. I hope that sometimes listeners will say, "Wow, I haven't hear THAT one in a while!" And I absolutely play independent artists, with special attention to artists from the New York area.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
In the '60s, I got introduced, probably without realizing it, to roots artists like Rev. Gary Davis and Sleepy John Estes, through albums by Peter, Paul & Mary and Tom Rush. Then in the '70s I got exposed to all that great blues in Chicago. I remember meeting Muddy Waters, and Bruce Iglauer told me that I was the first person to play one of his Alligator Records on the radio in 1971. It was the first album by Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers. I remember interviewing Doc Watson on the air around that time, too. At WXRT we had an intentionally eclectic format that embraced acoustic and electric blues, country, reggae, jazz, etc., within a rock context. In some ways that philosophy still guides me today.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre and what artist define Americana music for you?
So hard. My desert island discs would probably come from Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Miles Davis, and whoever else I could squeeze in. I see "Americana" as an umbrella for artists drawing and building on American roots music. No one does that better than Emmylou Harris.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
With the wealth of fine music coming out, I can only see it getting stronger. They tell me WMOT is kicking ass with a 100,000-watt signal out of Nashville.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
So many. This guy from Long Island, Bill Scorzari, has a really authentic voice as a singer and songwriter. Reminds me a little of the great Sam Baker from Austin. Gabrielle Louise from Colorado with her album If the Static Clears. Kenny White, a really underrated talent, has Long List of Priors. From the last couple of years, Birds of Chicago, Brother Sun, The Jayhawks, Spuyten Duyvil, Max Hatt/Edda Glass, Harpeth Rising.
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
Just an unending passion for music of all kinds. Last year I got to interview a couple of my heroes, Linda Ronstadt and Graham Nash, but I also got to turn people on to a slew of new artists, both on the air and in my monthly showcase for emerging artists at Rockwood Music Hall. Last summer I presented this trio, Cole, Nakoa & Treacher, made up of three independent touring artists (Brad Cole, Matt Nakoa, and Robinson Treacher) who brought the house down at Rockwood with their harmonies and musicianship. Then I presented them again this winter at a theater on Long Island. A friend I'd invited who worked for Columbia Records for 30 years was so knocked out that he's made it his mission to get them management. I love it when I can make those connections. Or when I can play songs that lift our spirits in these troubled times. I do at least 5 or 6 every week and add them to an ever-growing Spotify playlist of Songs of Compassion and Commitment. Maybe I can make a difference in people's lives – who could ask for more?
What are your most proud accomplishments?
Other than being married for 45 years to an amazing woman, being the father of two incredible daughters and the grandfather of three perfect grandkids? Maybe that I was the second person (after Pete Seeger) to be named an honorary member of Tribes Hill, a collaborative music community that has nourished countless New York area artists.