If you’re looking for someone who has a bank of interesting stories, look no further than Kevin Gavin, a broadcast journalism veteran with more than four decades of experience and hundreds of interviews saved in his memory.
For the past five years, he’s hosted 90.5 WESA’s “The Confluence,” now a daily morning show that interviews community leaders, experts, activists and interesting personalities about issues important to our region.
Throughout our recent interview, we talked about Kevin’s career in the industry and what’s changed, how at one point he was interviewing people from his closet during the pandemic and some of the fascinating people he’s had the opportunity to interview over the years.
Check out our full interview below.
Where are you from?
I’m a Pittsburgh native. I was born in Etna and now I live in Hampton.
How did you get into the news industry?
In college, I was a sportscaster for Duquesne University’s basketball team and I also worked at WDUQ, Duquesne’s student-run radio, which later was sold to WESA-FM.
I fell in love with the news. I thought it was so exciting because there was something different to report on every day. I loved the idea of being able to share what I learned with people who might not know about it otherwise.
Where was your first job?
After graduating from Duquesne with a journalism degree, WDUQ’s general manager contacted me and said, “Kevin, I want to start a news department and I want to hire you as our first news director.” I worked there for 35 years up until 2011 when the station was acquired by Essential Public Media, now known as Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corporation (PCBC). They operate 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP.
How did your role change when WDUQ was acquired?
I was still doing a lot of similar work, but because I enjoy working with students so much, I was asked to overlook our internship program. I’ve worked with so many students, many of whom have gone on to build successful careers in the broadcast journalism industry, including WESA’s digital editor/reporter, Katie Blackley.
Some others include:
- John Dankosky, former vice president of news at Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (CPBN); fill-in host for the national program “Science Friday”
- Lucy Nalpathanchil, host and executive producer of Where We Live on WNPR
- Amy Juravich, news midday host and assistant program director, WOSU (Columbus)
- Amy Lacy, a veteran television reporter in North Carolina and Virginia
- John Davis, Morning Edition host and reporter, WGCU in Florida
Tell us about your show, “The Confluence.”
“The Confluence” was created in 2016 with another producer. My boss said, “Kevin, I want a weekly show to complement ‘The Diane Rehm Show,’” now known as “1A” show after she retired. At the time, our show aired every Friday and featured reporter roundtables who talked about local, national and international stories.
Two years later, “The Confluence” became a daily show, so we had to change the format. We decided this was a good platform to give voice to issues that aren’t being discussed in-depth or in a civilized fashion. We want to hear from voices that aren’t being heard. If you’re doing amazing work, I want to hear about you.
How do you go about finding stories for the show?
Our three-member Confluence team asks our colleagues what stories they’re working on. Because our show has a longer format, I can have a deeper conversation about interesting topics on the show in an 8-to-10-minute conversation versus a 30-to-60-second story. I’m always curious to know what people are in doing in the community. Our team keeps our ears open and we scour social media to see what’s getting a lot of chatter.
We also get a number of pitches from companies, universities and PR professionals offering different guests. These ideas help tremendously. We need and appreciate our listeners suggesting stories. And if you don’t hear from us, don’t get discouraged. The answer is going to be no more often than not, but just keep pitching. You can email us — myself, Marylee Williams and Laura Tsutsui — at email@example.com.
What advice do you have for sending story ideas?
I was once on a panel with different media outlets and we all agreed — I need a clear pitch of what the story is and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Most importantly, if you send out an email with a news release, be ready for a call, especially if it’s timely. I will have more questions and I hope you will have more answers. Releases should tease me and get me more interested. Be ready to answer questions quickly and/or have a guest ready that knows the subject.
What sort of guests do you like to interview on the show?
COVID is still a big topic so we’re always looking to talk to people who were affected by the pandemic. For example, we recently interviewed high school seniors to talk about how their senior year has been affected.
But we all need a break from the pandemic coverage sometimes. That’s why we’re still looking to talk to interesting, fascinating people – I love talking to writers, authors and artists to get their take on their thinking behind an idea or the development of characters.
What is one of your most memorable stories?
My favorite thing about my entire career has been interviewing people and helping to tell their stories. It’s not my story. I’ve interviewed thousands of people, but some that I remember the most are:
- Jesse Owens, a track and field four-time Olympic gold medalist and one of my heroes.
- Alex Trebek, the late host of “Jeopardy!”
- Hank Aaron, aka “Hammer” (MLB baseball player)
- Michael Collins, one of Neil Armstrong’s crewmates.
- Therese Rocco, Pittsburgh’s first female assistant police chief. I interviewed Therese in her kitchen. She started working part-time as a teenager in the Missing Persons division and became devoted to finding missing children.
- Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo. He was as nice in person as he was on the show.
- Herb Douglas, the oldest living African-American Olympic medalist. What a gentleman.
I’ve also interviewed a lot of people not as well known, but I still feel privileged to share their stories. For example, Nick Anglin is a teenager who founded a nonprofit called B.Y.E. (Black, Young and Educated) and later received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations. This past summer, he was looked up to as a peaceful demonstrator during the Black Lives Matter protests. What a kid.
You’ve worked in radio for a long time. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
There are so few stations doing news reporting these days. When I started early on, you had six different radio reporters at news briefings with the mayor. Now, radio stations are less committed to doing news.
What hasn’t changed is the imperative nature of covering stories. While there’s less competition, it’s more imperative that we get it right, because we might be the primary source.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Pre-pandemic, I used to get into the studio around 6 a.m. for the 9 a.m. show. At the time, we invited guests into the studio, which I love and miss tremendously. I loved talking to people in-person because whenever they got excited about a topic, their eyes would light up. It also was easier as an interviewer to rephrase questions if I saw a puzzled look on their face.
Now, we’ve reduced our show to a half-hour because it takes more time to produce a show with all of the workarounds. For example, we have to make sure every segment is timed to the exact second — we can no longer rely on cues from the producer. Most of us are working from home in our closets. After recording a segment, we upload it to the producers, they have to download it and edit it, and then share it with us again to listen to. It’s very time-consuming.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I’m not in the studio, I love going to sporting events (pre-pandemic), especially Pirates and college basketball games. I also like to read mystery novels and recently, I’ve been catching up on old movies. My favorites are the screwball comedies and cheesy sci-fi movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
I also work with the homeless through the East End Cooperative Ministry. Every Saturday morning, my church group used to serve breakfast, but because of the pandemic, we now pack 120 lunches and deliver them door-to-door. It’s such a fabulous experience, and while I miss serving breakfast, I’m glad we’re still able to help.
Want to hear more of Kevin’s stories? Listen to “The Confluence” every weekday at 9 a.m. on 90.5 WESA or follow him on Twitter.
If you’re a student looking for an internship, check out the station’s opportunities here.
If you’re looking for ways to support public programming, learn more here.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite