Longtime Reporter Mark Urycki Retires
Unless he files something for air tomorrow, or gets the itch to do on-air work again, this is the last day you’ll hear ideastream’s Mark Urycki on WCPN. He’s retiring after nearly four decades in local radio, in positions that included program director at WKSU and reporting for a country music AM station in Canton.
Tell me about your first gig in radio. You were an overnight jock for an alternative rock and jazz station? I take it this was in college?
There used to be a wonderful show at WKSU in the years ago, student run. It was called "Fresh Air," believe it or not, before Terry Gross. Progressive rock, or alt-rock. We didn't call it that at the time.
Why didn’t you stay on the music side?
Music is the reason I got into radio. I thought I was going to be a big-time music DJ, right at the same time that progressive rock radio was launching. I thought, "I know how to do this and the old people in radio don't get it and I'm going to go make a million dollars and be a successful radio station person." But by the time I got out of college I realized it was already absorbed into the big corporate world. You could get a job as a dee jay but you had no say in what you were playing. Some guy in Phoenix was deciding what songs you played and there was no fun in that.
You started doing news in 1982 at AM 900 WNYN in Canton. What drew you to journalism?
Actually, I wasn't really thinking about doing the news side of it. But a friend of mine that I had worked with at the University of Akron said, "Hey, I'm buying this little AM radio station in Canton. Would you like to do the news?" And I thought, "I haven't done news before!"
It was usual cop shop stuff. But then comes Walsh College — university now, it was a college at the time — who brings in, of all people, Mother Teresa. And I get to do a press conference with Mother Teresa. And this was stuff I just loved. I thought, "This is, like, serious news, this is fascinating, this is world affairs." Plus I was beginning to listen to NPR at the time. So I started doing, at this little AM station, more like NPR. When an NPR job opened up, I jumped on it.
I love a picture of you doing edits on a reel-to-reel tape machine.
With the razor blade in my mouth, which was the preferred method of doing it back then.
I hated when my cassette tape would get twisted up in the [tape machine] mechanism.
Or you cut a piece of tape on the floor and you think, "I need that one word that just hit the floor, I need to tape that back in." You cut the wrong thing. Yeah, that was scary stuff. I'm way happy, although when I first started using these cool edit digital work stations that used to crash a lot, and that would drive me crazy, too, because you lose everything at one time.
You’ve covered a lot of stories, from education to politics to sports. You don't often speak of public radio and sports in the same breath, but you and Nick Castele won Best Sportscast from the Ohio Associated Press editors for your coverage of the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA championship in 2016. Tell me some of the stories that have stayed with you.
There's been a few that I still think about a lot. The big, hour-long Kent State documentary about the shootings there; I spent about a year assembling the interviews for that. Kevin Niedermier and I worked together on a half-hour documentary on the liberation of the Nazi death camps. We interviewed people who were camp inmates, who were survivors that now lived in Northeast Ohio. But then we found the soldiers who lived in Northeast Ohio who did the liberation of those camps. And you don't know those people live among you. You see them on the bus or something and you don't pay attention to them.
What do you think of journalism today? Are you glad your’e hanging up your press pass?
The job is more difficult now because you're on so many different platforms. It used to be that I worked a really long every day just to get the radio stuff down. And now it's like, "Okay, now, do a web version of that same radio story that you just spent 10 hours on. You know, and then think about tweeting about it. And could we get a television angle on that?" That sort of thing drives you crazy.
I would argue there are a lot of things about public radio that have gotten way more gimmicky. I keep thinking, "Look, it's not about us! Stop talking about yourself in a story!" I worry that a lot of that is being okayed now, it's being allowed when it hadn't been before.
What are your plans?
Gosh, I've just got a lot of housework stuff to take care of and decompress.
Eventually I would love to — I think I would, anyway — in six months, nine months or a year or something, do a little freelance work, just to keep my hand in it. You know I've talked with Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa. A reporter friend of mine once said, after we had just talked to John Glenn — we were walking out — and she says, "Any day you get to talk with John Glenn is a good day." And I thought, "You know, that's absolutely right."
Sometimes, when the work is done, you have to pinch yourself and say, "I was so lucky to be there."
And we were lucky to have you. Thank you for your excellent reporting and your service to Northeast Ohio all these years.
Post your good-byes to Mark on WCPN's Facebook page.