The Voice of Atlanta Radio
Lois Reitzes has been a fixture of the local airways for 40 years
STORY: H.M. Cauley
She calls 2018 her “Jack Benny year,” referencing the old-time comedian’s joke about being stuck at 39. But Morningside resident Lois Reitzes made it past that hurdle and is now marking her 40th year on Atlanta radio.
Since 1979, Reitzes has been an anchor on WABE 90.1 FM, one of the city’s local NPR stations. That longevity provides the expertise to talk about the constantly changing landscape of local radio. “It’s such a different world from when I began,” she says. “There were three commercial television networks and PBS then. Now, the choices just seem infinite.”
One of the biggest changes came in 2015 when WABE dropped its daytime format of playing the classical music that was Reitzes’ specialty. Having studied at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, she is wel lversed in the nuances of the genre, and while she can still be heard enlightening audiences on the station’s HD channel, she’s spent the last four years hosting City Lights, an interview program that explores the city’s arts and culture scene. “The change has been drastic, even more than I could have imagined, and not only for the format going to news and talk,” she says.
Reitzes admits it took about a year to find her footing in the new format. “I wasn’t exactly certain where I fit in, but I have to credit my boss, Christine Dempsey, for loving my on-air manner and wanting to hear more of me. She also wanted the show to be all local, even if it featured national or international authors or artists coming to Atlanta.”
In this stage of her on-air career, Reitzes relishes the chance to showcase the area’s arts scene. “I never imagined I could feel as fulfilled and rewarded in the new format as I do,” she says. “But I’m loving it.”
What’s harder to love is the workload. Preparing background info, listening to an artist’s music or reading an author’s latest book for a one-hour program that airs five days a week is an enormous assignment. “I never thought I was coasting for the first 35 years, but the amount of prep that goes into one interview [for this show], well, I hadn’t any idea I’d be working this hard at this stage of my life and yet feeling more gratified than I ever have,” says Reitzes, who has sat in front of the mic with everyone from photographer Annie Leibovitz to Alvin Ailey artistic director Robert Battle to cookbook author Anne Byrn. “Much of the interview has to be live, and that was very scary at first,” says Reitzes, “but I learned as I went along how to prepare for a guest’s not showing up or only having seven minutes worth of answers in a 20-minute segment.”
What’s most startling for Reitzes after 40 years is the way people now consume radio. “Streaming and podcasts have been revolutions for broadcasting,” she says. “It’s great for consumers to have access to such an enormous array of content, and they can listen when it’s convenient for them on anything from a telephone to a little tablet to a 65-inch screen.” Reitzes not only welcomes the new options, she’s happy to be a part of them. “At 65, I’ve acquired enough experience and wisdom to realize there’s still so much more to learn and explore,” she says. “I pinch myself every day, and I am not exaggerating.”
Listen to Lois Reitzes on City Lights at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday on WABE 90.1 FM or online at wabe.org.