PBS

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Paula Kerger

 

As the longest-serving President and CEO of PBS national, Paula Kerger oversees media content that’s distributed to more than 330 public television stations. Growing up in rural Maryland, Kerger had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but in adulthood, found her calling in the nonprofit sector. In addition to reflecting on her childhood and career, Kerger shares her thoughts on leadership, finding your path in life, and navigating an ever-changing media landscape.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Paula Kerger Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

   

The greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go.

   

She’s the President and CEO of the national Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Meet Paula Kerger, visiting from Virginia, next on Long Story Short.

   

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

   

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. My guest is a fellow President and Chief Executive Officer in public television – on a much larger scale. Paula Kerger heads the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the national nonprofit media organization provides wide-ranging, high-quality programming for more than 330 locally owned public television stations, including PBS Hawai‘i. During Kerger’s tenure, PBS has markedly grown its audience and brought to American homes the blockbuster television series Downton Abbey on MASTERPIECE, The Vietnam War film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and the educational children’s series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Kerger has headed PBS since 2006, making her the longest-serving CEO in the organization’s history. Before her grown-up ventures in public-service fundraising and educational media, Kerger spent her childhood in a country town outside Baltimore, Maryland. There, a special family member taught her a thing or two about responsibility and serving others.

   

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I loved being outside. I loved animals. So actually, my first idea was that I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved, you know, working with animals. We had dogs and cats. I had a horse when I was little.

   

How old were you when you had a horse? And that’s every – I mean this is a stereotype, but many, many girls dream of having a horse.

   

I think most girls dream of having a horse. And, you know, the thing was, my aunt had horses and I was very close with her. She and I are only about twelve years apart. So she in many ways was more like a sister to me. And, you know, so I rode from the time I was little. I have pictures of me probably, you know, a year or two sort of propped up on the horse behind her. And so every year, like for Christmas Horse was my Christmas list. That was actually all I asked for. And so I think I was like eleven or twelve, twelve maybe when I got the horse and I got the horse at that age because my parents felt that I was old enough that I would be responsible for taking care of it. And it was I think that, you know, I’m not suggesting every parent go out and buy their child a horse. And we lived in the country. I kept the horse at home. But every morning before I went to school, I had to carry heavy water buckets down to the barn and feed the horse, put the horse out, you know, bring it back at night, brush it and take care of it. And I think that kind of responsibility, I mean, you can do this with goldfish as well.

   

But I think, you know, whatever it is, I think that there’s something about having that kind of responsibility, particularly when you’re young. The other thing about horses that are interesting is that they’re really large animals. And there is – I think that especially for girls, it’s empowering. Girls develop deep bonds with their horses. I certainly did with mine. And both the freedom of being able to ride and, you know, to have this relationship with an animal that you’re not controlling in the same way that I think sometimes you might be tempted to try to control other things in your life. You develop mutual respect. And that’s what I think is also was really important in my relationship with my horse.

   

Did you name your horse?

   

My horse came with the name and his name was Raven. This was before the football team. But he was… he was really wonderful.

   

Can you see how that discipline and that relationship translated to your later life?

   

Yeah. I mean, I think I’m a highly responsible person. And I think part of that is you learn those lessons early when you have the responsibility of a horse or a dog or an animal or I mean, I don’t mean to put children in the same bucket, but when you have the responsibility for someone or something else, that has to come before you. And so, there were many afternoons that I would want to do something with my friends or maybe just stay inside and read or whatever. But when someone is counting on you or something is counting on you, that has to come first. And I think that’s a really important lesson to learn at a young age. That sense of something larger than me.

   

One of the biggest human influences in Paula Kerger’s life was her grandfather, who lived next door to her childhood home in rural Maryland. His diverse interests and skills set the stage for what would come much later for Kerger.

   

Grandfather was a professor. And so he was a scientist, but he was also a great artist. And I think that those two pieces of him really influenced me a lot.

   

Right brain, left brain.

   

Yeah, exactly. He really helped kindle my interest in science. He was a physics professor. And so he did a lot of work in microwave technology. In fact, he started the public radio station in Baltimore. And so I think my path into public media was perhaps destined because of his influence. But he also was involved with the local theater, and he was involved in all the tech work. But he was a great storyteller. Some of my greatest memories when I was a kid was sitting with him and he would just spin these amazing stories about make-believe stories about animals in the woods and all these other kind of things. And it’s just, I think it was probably one of the most fundamental formational things for me is growing up with someone that had that great creativity that shared that with.

   

I’m sure grandparents who hear this will be very pleased.

   

Yeah.

   

And your parents, what were they like?

   

My mother worked out of the home and my father was an engineer. And so, he also was very science-based. He was more of an authoritarian type. He went to the Citadel, which is the West Point of the South, for those that don’t know what that is.

   

Hardcore discipline.

   

Very hardcore discipline. And so I think that’s also where my grandparents actually then came in.

   

They were the refuge.

   

As I think is often with kids. You know, the parents are the ones that set all the rules and the grandparents are ones that bend them a little bit. But I grew up in a house where music was really important. We had a lot of Broadway show albums and we listened to music a lot and we were very engaged in the community. Both of my parents were very big volunteers. And so from the time that I was little, I was involved in everything from going door to door to raise money for the heart fund, to – my father was a football coach. And so, you know, I would – probably the most mortifying thing I ever did when I was a kid is when practice was canceled because of the weather, he would give me a list of all the boys to call to tell them they didn’t have to show up for practice. And most of them were about my age. And it was just mortifying to have to go through and call everybody at home and say, you know, to come to practice, goodbye.

   

That’s funny. Now, speaking of the make-believe stories your grandfather told, the schools you attended in that rural area also sound like a make-believe land.

   

I know.

   

Featherbed Lane Elementary?

   

I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. It’s like, where did you go to school? I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. And then Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes? Where does that name come from? Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes oh, or something – this all goes back actually to the – in the case of Featherbed Lane, I think that’s probably more Revolutionary War. But Civil War, you know, and Johnnycakes were something that were made that actually soldiers carried in their packs. And I think that, you know, people find them so unusual. But I think it’s a reminder that that part of the country, Maryland is one of the original colonies, has a very different history than Hawai‘i. And so I think part of even the names of those schools are reflective of a different culture.

   

And what was high school?

   

High school was a normal named high school.

   

Okay.

   

So I went to Randallstown High School, and Randallstown was the adjacent town. So that’s like a regular school name.

   

After high school, Paula Kerger’s love of science and animals inspired her to work toward becoming a veterinarian. But things didn’t quite pan out the way she wanted.

   

Veterinarian school, at least now – it’s harder to get into than med school.

   

Well, that is what happened when I entered college because I realized as I was applying to college that how difficult it was gonna be uhh, to become a veterinarian. So when I applied to college, I actually applied for pre-med. And I have an uncle that’s a pediatrician and I have a great, I think she must be a great aunt, who was a very early doctor. So I also had a little bit of that in my family and I thought, okay, I may not be able to get into veterinary school, but maybe I can get into medical school. I mean, how weird does that sound?

   

But anyway, so I started pre-med and I really loved it until I hit organic chemistry, which I failed. And I, you know, it’s the great leveler I’ve come to find out.

   

That’s so true. How many people have said that?

   

Yeah, organic chemistry. And then suddenly I was in an existential discussion in my head about my future. And I decided that I would take a lot of humanities classes because I was really interested. I loved from the time I was little, I’ve loved to read. And in fact, one of my earliest memories was getting my library card and my town was small. We didn’t even have a library. We had the bookmobile. And I remember going to the bookmobile. And you had to be able to sign your name to get a library card and practicing and practicing –

   

Ohh..

   

– so I could get my library card and then the whole world opened. And so I’ve always loved to read. So I took a lot of literature classes. I took some comparative religion classes and so forth. And it was, you know, it was just great. But then I thought, I’m going to live in my parents’ house for the rest of my life because there’s no jobs I’m preparing myself for. So, I went into business school and I’d been working. I started working when I was 16. My first job was at McDonald’s. And I’d worked through college and I’d worked for a group of banks. And I didn’t really think I wanted to work in finance. But I knew that if I had a business degree – I was really interested in marketing. And I thought, you know, maybe there’s some path and there’s some way. Graduated from school with my business degree, not a clue what I was going to do with my life. And I tell kids this all the time because I think a lot of kids think that you need to have your life planned out. And I was, you know, I had this now-checkered college career. All of my really difficult science courses at all colleges, electives. I had this, you know, I’d taken other classes that I think ultimately it’s funny, when I back up and look at my college life, I actually have a pretty well-rounded, you know, generalist degree based on all the things I did. But I started looking for a job. And at the time in the want ads and I mostly was looking for marketing jobs and I went on some pretty terrible interviews. And one day, I stumbled on an ad in the newspaper for a job working for UNICEF in Baltimore, which is where I’d grown up. And I went and interviewed for the job, was completely unqualified for a job. It was running their office in Baltimore. But the guy who interviewed me called me back and he said, you know, you’re not qualified for this job, but would you be interested in coming to Washington and working for UNICEF in our office there? And I took that job and it was just an amazing moment because I never realized you could work in the nonprofit sector. I thought that’s just something you did. I thought that you volunteered and you did these things to pay back. But it just never – I’d never really put the pieces together. There were actually people in those organizations that actually managed them and did the work.

   

Paula Kerger’s nonprofit career would take her to New York City, where she’d always dreamed of living. After working in fundraising at several nonprofit organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera House, she received a challenging and life-changing job offer – to head fundraising at the New York City flagship PBS station, WNET. At the time, the station was going through financial woes.

   

They had started a big capital campaign. Our station in New York had had a lot of difficulties. They’d gone through a couple layoffs. And I thought, you know, this is gonna be a very difficult job and, you know, all the other jobs I had interviewed, I knew for sure that I was going to be successful in it. And this one, I wasn’t quite sure. They’d had all these financial issues and it wasn’t- I wasn’t really clear that it was gonna be successful. But I think oftentimes the greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go. And you don’t get there by yourself. A lot of people help you. And I imagine that it has to be the most amazing experience. And you don’t have to ever do it again, by the way. But, you know, it also can change your life. And so for me, it was that job. You know, I took the job and it was really difficult. But it changed my life. I did that work for a few years. We raised a significant amount of money for the station. And then I was starting to think about, oh, I wonder what I might do next? And the then-president said, would you be interested in becoming our station manager? That was the second really risky decision for me because suddenly I was gonna be the boss of people that had been my colleagues. And that’s the hardest, I think, career change when you move into a role where suddenly you’re in a different relationship with people that had been peers. And it was really hard, but it was again, coming into public television was hugely important. That probably was the pivotal move because it was from that position that I actually got the call to come to PBS.

   

Now, there are very few people who run national organizations, especially those with a lot of constituencies. I mean, you have 330 or so public media stations that are members of PBS.

   

Yeah.

   

And then of course, there are politics and there are filmmakers. I mean, it’s daunting. I mean, I can just imagine people saying I could do this part of it, but not that, not this and not all at the same time.

   

It’s complicated. And I always say, you know, if you want a lesson in humility, run a federated organization, because that’s how we’re structured. I think a lot of people don’t understand PBS.

   

Essentially it’s a co-op.

   

Yes, it’s like a co-op we’re a- we’re a federated system. So every station is individual, locally owned, locally operated, locally governed.

   

And many fiercely local.

   

Fiercely local, fiercely independent. And the stations themselves, as you know, formed PBS as an opportunity to bring together the resources and create scale across the entire country to invest in programing and content that would enrich all.

   

So essentially they’re the bosses, but you lead them.

   

Right.

   

That’s unwieldy.

   

So a lot of responsibility, not absolute authority.

   

I mean the mission makes a big difference. But there are a lot of differences in how our 330 stations operate.

   

Right, and as people travel around the country and see different stations, you see that not every public television station is exactly the same, which is what makes it, I think, such an unbelievably important and rich organization because we are absolutely anchored at the local level. And I think of this station in particular, you do so much great work-

   

Thank you.

   

–that really talks about this community and the people that are here. And you’re able to do that because you’re from here. And the people that are in the station live here and are committed to making this community as vibrant and important as all the people that live here expect it to be. And that’s what our best public television stations do.

   

Your job right now is pretty much managing change – change in many aspects of the organization as you look at the country and media platforms and what people are interested in, how they communicate.

   

Yeah. We are right now in an extraordinary sea change in media as there’s so much change in the way that people are consuming content. And for those of our stations who have been very happy being just broadcast stations to be pushed to understand that, yes, people will watch programing on their television station, but they’ll also stream and they’ll also be able to acquire content in multiple ways.

   

The whole concept of broadcasting has vastly expanded.

   

It has been completely stretched. And so, to get people to agree that the world has changed and that we’re going to work together is complicated. And you can only do it if you build trust. And that’s why the job — I’ve been in the job 14 years, to be honest, because it has evolved so much. When I first took this job, Apple had announced that they were going to sell episodes of Desperate Housewives for $1.99. And you think about that now and it’s like, oh!

   

That’s just you know, that seems so long ago.

   

It seems so long ago.

   

No Facebook; Netflix was sending you discs in the mail. I mean, the world was completely different. And the fact that it continues to change to me makes this really exciting. And to encourage this whole generation of younger people that are coming into public media to really think widely about what we can be is really exciting.

   

PBS National President and CEO Paula Kerger says that being the head of an organization, especially one that reaches across the country and requires extensive travel, can be lonely. But she has support from a key person in her life.

   

You can’t be a leader and make everyone happy all the time. I mean, that’s the — and again, I talked to young people who are thinking about their careers or actually as I’ve mentored people that are making career decisions. You have to be really honest about what it means to be leader. It’s lonely at times because you- you are very much aware that the buck stops with you. You also need to make the right decisions for the organization. And sometimes those are very hard decisions, particularly when it relates to other people. But you also need to be compassionate. You need to listen really carefully. I think you need to be able to make decisions. I see leaders fumble because they can’t, you know, they need more information, more information. You’re never going to perfect information, but you need to be able to move with deliberate haste and be able to work with your team in charting a direction and provide that leadership.

   

What does it look like to be this national leader with all these constituencies and- and a personal life and you’ve got external stakeholders, you’ve got so many people within the system.

   

Look, I was a first time CEO when I took this job and I looked to people that I trusted, as I have through my entire career. Actually I still do even 14 years into this job, you would think, I know what I’m doing. I do think I know what I’m doing. But we’re always coming into circumstances in our lives that are new and different and challenging. And so I think what has made the biggest difference for me and I think has really also contributed to the richness of my life is that I look to people that I trust that I can talk to. My husband is one. He’s been my biggest proponent. Oftentimes when I’ve looked at jobs and haven’t been sure that —

   

Is he in education or media?

   

Well, he is a — he’s a writer, but- and he worked for Norman Lear years ago. But his advice is really more about me personally. And, you know, I think that many of us and I think unfortunately more women have a tendency to do this, is we hold ourselves back. We wait for someone to tap our shoulder and say, here, we want you to take this opportunity. Or we will tell you all the reasons why we’re probably not the right person.

   

As you did in that job interview.

   

Well I’ve done it at multiple interviews. Let me tell you maybe why I’m not the right person and not recognizing that no one interviews for a job that’s perfect in every way. And he is a, he has been a great supporter of mine, in part because of the way he was brought up. His father died when he was 5 and was left with six kids and her husband, it was a traditional family, didn’t let her work, and suddenly she had six kids and no money. And he tells a story which, you know, again, this is in our lifetime, Leslie. She worked overnights, so she’d be home to put the kids on the bus to go to school. She wanted to get a credit card and she went to the bank and they asked if she had an uncle or brother that could come and co-sign ’cause she was a woman and she was at the bank with her 10 year old son, and the bank officer said, I have an idea. My 10 year old husband cosigned a credit card so she could get her first credit card. He’s had that credit card ever since.

   

He signed as a 10 year old?

   

As a 10 year old.

   

They allowed him to?

   

Because he was a boy.

   

Ohh.

   

And so I think that, you know, when- and so when you come up like in that kind of story and you watch your mother really struggling to put food on the table and to keep the family together, it changes you. And he has been my biggest advocate because he looks at me and he looks at what I’ve accomplished in my life and knows that I don’t always get, even to this day, the benefit. I can’t tell you how many events I go to, and people say, oh let me introduce you to the president of PBS, and they shake my husband’s hand. Still to this day –

   

To this day.

   

– you and I both know this. And so I think that we’re blessed in our life. We have people that are our “yes.” And he has very much been my “yes.” So that’s probably the most personal story I can tell you.

   

And you’re always traveling or you’re often traveling. You have long work hours, but that still works for you. A longtime marriage.

   

Longtime marriage.

   

With your high school sweetheart.

   

With my high school sweetheart. And, you know, it’s like I prioritize my life. And even as much as I love my job, my husband does come first. And I think that, you know, again, I think about life is all balance. I believe that, you know, you have your professional life, which is important, but it is not your entire life. I think you have your personal life and your personal relationships, friendships, family. That is very important and that has to be cultivated. And it doesn’t just happen. I see a lot of people that get into trouble because they just assume family will always be there. You know, you have to nurture that relationship. Your physical self, I think is really important, and your community self what you give back. But I think that you don’t always have it in the equal balance. But I think all of those pieces are what makes a whole person. And when I finally leave this world, I want to feel like I’ve made this world a little better. Which was the- the “a-ha” moment when I got my very first job and I realized I could earn a paycheck and actually feel like I’ve done something that made a difference. And that’s really the core of me.

   

Paula Kerger, President and CEO of the national PBS, is gamely navigating changes of many kinds in the media industry—including technology and media formats, generational preferences, increasing polarization of opinions, and funding sources. She wants young people who are trying to chart out the rest of their lives to know that there’s no such thing as a straight-and-narrow life path. Life, she says, is truly a journey. In her words, “why would you close any doors?” Mahalo to Paula Kerger, visiting Hawai‘i from the East Coast, for sharing her story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

   

So I was in umm, International House. I got a call one day umm, from a headhunter asking if I’d be interested in working at the Metropolitan Opera. Now, I love music. Didn’t really know a lot about opera, but I’ve always wanted to work in the arts and almost talked myself out of the job, you know, because when I went to the interview, I said, you know, I don’t really know anything about opera and I’m not sure I’m the best person for you to hire. This is not the way you should conduct an interview.

   

And how old are you at this point?

   

Oh, I was 30, I guess.

   

Okay.

   

And the guy that was interviewing me who was the head of development at the Met said, “Do you like music? Do you like opera?” And I said yes. I said, “I just don’t know as much as I’m sure other people that could be interviewing for this job.” And he said, “We don’t want fans at the stage door. We want people that are really serious and that really are interested in this work.” If one had asked when I was a kid, “What would I have thought my career path?” Working at the Metropolitan Opera? Of course not. I mean, that was just crazy.

   

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox visit PBSHawaii.org. To download podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox go to the apple iTunes store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

   

 

[END]

   

 

 

KEN BURNS:
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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns

 

Learn about the making of the epic documentary series devoted to the history of this truly American art form. Features interviews with Ken Burns, Rosanne Cash and members of the filmmaking team.

 

 

 

COUNTRY MUSIC:
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Join celebrated musicians for a concert celebrating the film by Ken Burns. Hosted by Burns and featuring performances and appearances by Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more.

 

COUNTRY MUSIC: Live at the Ryman, a Concert Celebrating the Film by Ken Burns

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Waipuna

 

Kale Hannahs, David Kamakahi and Matt Sproat of the acclaimed Hawaiian music group Waipuna present their interpretation of Hawaiian music, accompanied by hula dancer Jaimie Kennedy. From “Malama Mau Hawai‘i,” a selection from Waipuna’s first album, to “E Mau Ke Aloha,” composed by David’s father, Dennis Kamakahi, Waipuna will take you through a joyful musical cycle.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
At Halekulani’s House Without A Key

 

NĀ MELE goes on location to document a traditional, cherished Hawaiian experience. Halekulani has a special place in the hearts of Hawai‘i’s people and everyone who has spent time there. PBS Hawai‘i captures a late afternoon at the hotel’s House Without a Key with hula dancers Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, and the musical trio Pa‘ahana (Pakala Fernandes, Kaipo Kukahiko and Douglas Po‘oloa Tolentino).

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Melveen Leed

NA MELE: Melveen Leed

 

Singer Melveen Leed is joined by her hula dancer daughter Kaaikaula Naluai at the PBS Hawai‘i studios. Best known for contemporary Hawaiian, jazz and country, Moloka‘i girl Melveen also has deep roots in traditional Hawaiian song.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr.

In Memoriam: Cyril Pahinui 1950-2018

 

 

This special NĀ MELE presentation features Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr., sons of Hawaiian music icons: slack key guitar legend Gabby “Pops” Pahinui and Peter Moon Sr., a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s.

 

NA MELE Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr.

 

 

 

COUNTRY MUSIC
A Film by Ken Burns

TOP

COUNTRY MUSIC premieres September 15, 2019
All programs begin at 8:00 pm

Preview

 

Explore the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the twentieth century. The series, directed by Ken Burns, features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. No one has told the story this way before.


 

COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - The Rub (Beginnings – 1933)

The Rub (Beginnings – 1933)

Sunday, Sept. 15, 8:00 pm

See how what was first called “hillbilly music” reaches new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launches the careers of country music’s first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - Hard Times (1933 – 1945)

Hard Times (1933 – 1945)

Monday, Sept. 16, 8:00 pm

Watch as Nashville becomes the heart of the country music industry. The genre grows in popularity during the Great Depression and World War II as America falls in love with singing cowboys, Texas Swing and the Grand Ole Opry’s Roy Acuff.

^ Back to top of page.

COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945 – 1953)

The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945 – 1953)

Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8:00 pm

See how the bluegrass sound spreads in post-war America, and meet honky-tonk star Hank Williams, whose songs of surprising emotional depth are derived from his troubled and tragically short life.

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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - I Can’t Stop Loving You (1953 – 1963)

I Can’t Stop Loving You (1953 – 1963)

Wednesday, Sept. 18, 8:00 pm

Travel to Memphis, where Sun Studios artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley usher in the era of rockabilly. Ray Charles crosses America’s racial divide by recording a country album. Patsy Cline shows off Music City’s smooth new Nashville Sound.

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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - The Sons and Daughters of America (1964 – 1968)

The Sons and Daughters of America (1964 – 1968)

Sunday, Sept. 22, 8:00 pm

See how country music reflects a changing America, with Loretta Lynn speaking to women everywhere, Merle Haggard becoming “The Poet of the Common Man” and audiences looking beyond race to embrace Charley Pride.

^ Back to top of page.

COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968 – 1972)

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968 – 1972)

Monday, Sept. 23, 8:00 pm

Learn how country music responds to a nation divided by the Vietnam War, as Army captain turned songwriter Kris Kristofferson sets a new lyrical standard, and artists like Bob Dylan and the Byrds find a recording home in Nashville.

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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973 – 1983)

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973 – 1983)

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 8:00 pm

Witness a vibrant era in country music, with Dolly Parton finding mainstream success; Hank Williams, Jr. and Rosanne Cash emerging from their famous fathers’ shadows; and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings launching the “Outlaw” movement.

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COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns - Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984 – 1996)

Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984 – 1996)

Wednesday, Sept. 25, 8:00 pm

Learn how “New Traditionalists” like George Strait, Randy Travis and the Judds help country music stay true to its roots. Witness both the rise of superstar Garth Brooks and the return of an aging Johnny Cash to the industry he helped create.

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