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So long, KUSC's Rich Capparela: Classical music, without the 'strategically placed stick'

Rich Capparela on the radio in 1972.
Rich Capparela on the radio in 1972.
Courtesy Rich Capparela

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Rich Capparela, the man who comforts thousands of Southern Californians on their tortuous drive home, is himself tired of commuting, and is quitting his full-time gig at KUSC.

It's a blow for people who prefer his irreverent style -- "It's already dark out, so the hell with it. Here's a little night music from Mozart" -- to your typical listing of orchestra, conductor, Köchel number, key, opus, and on and on.

For 10 years, since the demise of K-Mozart, the commercial classical station, Capparela has been Classical KUSC's afternoon drive DJ, on the air from 4-7. This is his last month on the full-time grind, so I took the opportunity to talk with him about radio, music, and life.

Basically, I am your standard classical announcer, but with a subtext. For those who who want to listen, there are always subversive elements to everything I do, and that's what I've been doing for more than four decades. I try to make sure there are two shows going on. One for those who like their classical music served up missionary style, and then for people who want a little bit of something under the sheets, as it were.

What is the subtext? What are you subverting?

The preconception that classical music has a strategically placed stick. I got into classical music because of the announcer for the Boston Symphony. It was in the late 60s that I heard a broadcast and the announcer said [here Rich does a perfect imitation of the kind of soporific stuffy announcer that used to populate public radio] and I thought "Wait a minute! That music was much much better than what I just heard!" And so I decided that maybe I should participate rather than complain.

How do you imagine your listeners?

I've done seminars for how to announce for classical radio. And I've told the people, "Here's what the audience is doing while you are explaining the tumultuous first performance of Beethoven's whatever. They are brushing their teeth, arguing with their spouse, taking care of bodily functions, and are talking to somebody else at this very moment. Once in a while, if you say something that is intriguing, they may listen to you for a second. But they have lives to take care of and you're in the background."

Why retire from full-time drive-time? (He'll still do Friday afternoons from the beach, as he does now.)

I've gotten to the point where I think I may have another chapter. About every seven years, I have made it a point to shake myself up by doing something major with my career. And it's because one of the great fears I have is complacency.

Capparela says he'll continue to give pre-concert lectures, wants to develop a sort of composer stand-up, will do voice-over work, scuba, and do more gigs with his rock band, Otherwise Normal. Listen to the audio to hear what needlepoint inspired Rich, and the backstory to his very popular anti-road rage selection he plays every day to keep people from killing each other on the road.