Cheryl Willoughby's World of Music


Words by Julie Seger

Cheryl Willoughby, host of the Radiator’s World of Music program, presents a diverse array of music that aims to touch listeners in some way. World of Music airs Mondays from 3 to 5 PM, on 105.9 The Radiator.

Entering into her 25th year in professional radio, Cheryl’s experience has culminated into a unique program that is certain to interest a wide range of listeners. “I want to somehow incite listeners to experience something. People hear things differently, and I learn from the people who might hate something as much as from the ones who love it.” Cheryl selects music that will “strike a beat with what’s happening in Vermont, in the world, it could even be the weather that day.” Though she admittedly plays what she likes, Cheryl consciously strives to “acknowledge other tastes, to strike a balance between different rhythms, styles, and textures to mix things up.” This week during her show, Cheryl offered the World Cup “for your ears,” a selection of music that embodies the games and international excitement about the tournament.

A lover of all genres, Cheryl says music comes from two places: the institution or the people. Growing up north of Denver, Cheryl was raised on the latter, country music like Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash. Her appreciation for classical music also came at an early age while playing on a playground next to KVOD, Denver’s commercial classical station and overhearing their broadcasts. Cheryl remembers, “One day when I was 12  years old I walked over there and asked them what I could do to help out.” She filed albums, swept floors, whatever she could to be a part. From there she acquired a thirst for music and an interest in radio. When she was 12, Cheryl got her first FM radio for Christmas and “could listen on the radio to the music I had been hearing leak out of the station's back door when I was a kid on the playground. It was completely enchanting, and I became hooked on the Met Opera on Saturdays. That's when I decided I wanted to be part of it, and made that first walk up the hill to start hanging out there.”

Cheryl continued to work in radio while at the University of Northern Colorado, where she graduated with a B.A. degree from the school of Performing and Visual Arts. “I began volunteering again but this time for my college radio station, KUNC. I answered phones during their pledge drive and spent time there until I got a student part-time position about a year later.”

In 1998, opportunity arose for Cheryl at the Classical Public Radio Network in Los Angeles, a position that provided valuable experience and wound up lasting longer than Cheryl had anticipated. It was just a regular day in 2004 when Cheryl got a call from Vermont Public Radio, saying they had a job for her. “I wasn’t even looking!” Curious, Cheryl came for an interview and has worked at VPR ever since, now serving as the Director of Music Programming. The switch from L.A. to Vermont was “very welcome.” With winter as her favorite season and nature as a rejuvenating force in her life, Cheryl was excited to come to Vermont for many reasons. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking are her favorite outdoor pastimes, which she most frequently enjoys in her own back yard.

After a long and successful career in public broadcasting, Cheryl notices that those who work in radio come from many different avenues, including music, art, technology, visual and graphic design, and communications. As the medium evolves, its capability to touch individuals remains an endearing constant for Cheryl. “When you’re on the air, you’re really only talking to one person. Yes, there are thousands of listeners, but I’m speaking to you, alone driving in your car on the way to work, or a mother, making dinner for her family, or anyone. It’s such an intimate medium. And that’s what I love about radio.”

In her work at both VPR and the Radiator, Cheryl is impressed by the mission-oriented drive of her peers and the relentless energy they put forth to keep radio alive. “The people and places can be so different, but it’s also a community, and there’s this vibe of everyone doing their best.”

Outside of radio, Cheryl is also an accomplished artist. She enjoys working with watercolor, metal, found objects, and paper. “I might use sheet music, used stamps, postage marks, old battered books, whatever really.” Collage and photography are the mediums Cheryl finds most expressive, particularly when looking at what she terms, “items reclaimed.” Recently while helping out at a friends garage sale, Cheryl called dibs on a green bucket of rusted junk that had been pulled out of a river, the contents of which are certain to become her next piece. “Now that I’ve settled into Vermont and my duties here, my life is full and happy. But as an artist there are things I would love to accomplish, and dedicating more time for my artwork is important.” Cheryl would love to show her work somewhere locally in Burlington, like The Daily Planet, a place she found refuge in a  wonderful meal and a great glass of wine after that fateful interview with VPR back in 2004.

On and off the airwaves, Cheryl approaches her work as a chance to express herself. This ideal comes from John Coltrane, one of Cheryl’s all-time favorite musicians and an admirable artist. “To me, he is representative of an artist who had so much to say that he couldn’t stop searching, I admire that kind and that depth of expression.” Big Heavy World and the Radiator too play their parts. “They work so hard to make sure that Vermont’s artistic voices have a place to be heard and to keep engaging the next generation of creators.” Be sure to strike a beat with Cheryl’s World of Music program on Monday afternoons from 3 to 5 on the 105.9 the Radiator.