In the latest in our series of interviews with WQXR’s hosts, we turn to weekend announcer Elliott Forrest. Even by broadcasting standards, Elliott has an unusually broad resume. Before arriving at WQXR, he worked for the CBS Radio Network and for the now defunct New York classical station WNCN-FM. For more than 12 years, he was host of Breakfast With the Arts on A&E and has hosted several PBS specials. And he's been a concert producer, voice-over artist and media consultant, among other things. He tells us about his diverse career.
Born and Raised: Midland, Texas
Current home: Rockland County, NY
Years at WQXR: Seven
Your first radio job was at KNFM in your hometown of Midland, Texas. What drew you to broadcasting in the first place?
I always loved the magic of radio. The pictures in your head are usually better than the ones you see. Like almost every adolescent, songs on the radio were an integral part of being a teenager. Getting my first radio job at 17 was a situation of curiosity meeting opportunity. My parents knew these guys who were on KNFM and owned the station, so I applied. It was a great experience and set the stage for the rest of my career.
From 1986 to 1993, you were on WNCN-FM. How has classical radio changed most since those days?
The biggest difference is then there were three classical stations in New York. There was actually a good-natured competition among the three stations. And now, while there is only one classical station in New York on the FM dial, there are thousands of classical stations being streamed online. So our job on WQXR is to ask 'Why should a listener choose our station?' Our answer is that we want to make WQXR the most NEW YORK of any station you can find. This is the home of Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and a multitude of classical artists. If you want to know about New York’s classical world, WQXR should be your choice.
In addition to radio, you've had a parallel career in television, including Breakfast with the Arts on A&E and PBS. As a host, what are the biggest differences between the two media?
No makeup or lighting required on the radio!
You've also done voice-over work for commercials and promos. What do like about that? Have you voiced any really strange products?
It's great work. I love being in recording studios. Among other work, I had a five-year run voicing promos on CNN. Being a part of the breaking news cycle was always exhilarating and challenging. I would be on call 24/7, voicing pieces from home, various studios and sometimes while on vacation. But I guess some of my classiest work was for “G-String Diva’s” on HBO. Try to find me, I know you want to.
Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape for radio?
I drink lots of water and I make sure I talk before I go on air. You don’t want the first thing you say in a day to be on the air. Trust me on that.
You've done hundreds of interviews over the years. Any particularly memorable ones come to mind? Anyone you'd still love to interview?
John Cleese is always a fun interview. Very honest and funny. I have a category of "legends" in the arts I’ve been fortunate to interview: Uta Hagan, Edward Albee, Lauren Bacall, Merce Cunningham, Catherine Deneuve, Luciano Pavarotti, Dave Brubeck, Paul McCartney. For years my quick answer to the one person I’d like to interview, but hadn’t gotten to yet, was stage and film director Mike Nichols. But I recently spent 90 minutes with him on stage for a fundraiser. I’d like to sit down with film composer John Williams. You out there? If you are, ‘phone home’ and let’s do it.
Do you have a favorite composer or piece overall?
Oh, there are too many to choose a favorite. But if you have not spent serious time with Respighi, do so. Listen to The Pines of Rome really loud. And I love Howard Shore’s score to The Lord of the Rings. An amazing scope of work.