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Answers with Donna Halper?

<p>Donna L. Halper is a Boston-based historian and radio consultant. She is author of the first booklength study devoted to the history of women in American broadcasting, Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting.</p>

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:16:55
Is there a message in your Book that you want readers to grasp?

I don't think it has one central message, but it does have a particular focus. My new book is a 2nd edition, revised and expanded, of "Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting." It tells the stories of many pioneering women on both radio and TV, against a backdrop of how broadcasting was changing American society. Attitudes about men's and women's "proper" roles are certainly different in 2014 from how they were in 1920 (the year women got the vote, as well as the year commercial radio made its debut); and yet, some issues that were debated in the 1920s are still being debated today. One message of the book is that women were involved in broadcasting from its inception, yet for the most part, media history text-books don't preserve their many achievements. In fact, the names of women like Eunice Randall (one of the first female announcers), Marie Zimmerman (the first woman to own a radio station), Bertha Brainard (the first woman radio network executive), and even Lou Henry Hoover (the first First Lady to give a radio talk) are generally forgotten today. All too often, histories of any new medium or technology focus on the corporations that funded the research and the men (and back then, it was usually just men) who came up with the inventions. We read about the founder of RCA and NBC, David Sarnoff; we read about inventors like Guglielmo Marconi or Edwin Howard Armstrong. But the myth persists that women in broadcasting only made peripheral contributions to the growth of the industry, since supposedly they were either performers or secretaries. However, in my research, I have found women engineers, women station managers, women publicists, women news reporters, women media critics, and women announcers as far back as the early 1920s. Thus, one of my goals was to give a fuller picture of the history of broadcasting, one that includes women's many roles. I've also tried to recover the history of African-American women in broadcasting: long before Oprah Winfrey, there were black women on the air. Did you know that the great blues singer Bessie Smith was heard on radio in the segregated south in 1923? My other goal was to examine how much the culture's expectations about gender have changed, and whether radio and TV helped to change them. For example, all of the major networks now have women reporters who covering war zones; this was considered quite unheard of as recently as the 1960s, but it is much more accepted today. But on the other hand, there are still questions about whether women political candidates (from both parties) are still subjected to different coverage from what men receive-- have we come a long way, or not? Another issue is the public's expectations about the First Lady-- since the 1920s, people have debated how often, if at all, she should she be in the public eye; there have also been debates over whether she should make political statements or simply focus on traditional issues like her favorite charity or raising the kids. Some First Ladies have seemed content to be more traditional and did not speak on radio or TV; but others have embraced it and used it often (Eleanor Roosevelt even had her own radio show, and some modern First Ladies have been guests on talk shows). So, throughout this book, you will read about a number of unsung heroines (and even some of the men who encouraged them), and also find out how some of today's high-profile women became so famous, and the struggles some encountered on their way to that fame. To sum up, "Invisible Stars" tells the story of what has changed for women since 1920, how radio and TV have covered issues that affect women, and how broadcasting as an industry had dealt with women's changing roles.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:20:42
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

I've been influence by a number of books: I'm very fond of certain verses in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and have found them inspiring-- Psalms especially. I'm a big fan of the philosopher of ethics Emmanuel Levinas, and while some of his work is difficult, he challenges me and I like that. I read every book written by Arthur Asa Berger, an expert on Semiotics (signs, symbols, and non-verbal communication). I've also been very influenced by the media historians I began to study in college: Michele Hilmes, Michael Keith, Christopher Sterling, and others. I love poetry-- growing up, my favorites were E.E. Cummings, Edward Arlington Robinson, and Emily Dickinson. I've never been much of a reader of fiction, although one of my favorite books when I was in college was "King Rat" by James Clavell; and to this day, when I need something escapist, I enjoy any novel Jackie Collins writes. But my tendency is towards non-fiction, and I've always read books about politics, history, language, ethics, and popular culture.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:25:27
Are Rush's lyrics today reflective of bleeding-heart libertarianism?

Since Neil wrote the lyrics to Rush's songs, people heard a reflection of what Neil believed. There was certainly a period of time in the 1970s and even into the 1980s when Neil was what Americans might call a right-wing conservative. And back then, he was, as almost every fan knows, very influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. But he has long since moved on from that. He always had a libertarian streak, but as I said, back then, his views might have seemed similar to what people in today's Republican Party believe. That too has changed-- while I can't speak for Neil, he has said in interviews that he no longer holds the views he had back then. If we were to categorize him, he is much more center-left these days. He would not blame the poor for their situation, for example -- he is much more aware of how the playing field is not level and how some people are not being treated fairly; he might even agree that at times, the government can and should help its most vulnerable citizens. But even back in his conservative days, Neil was generally a very caring person. (I think some people see him as aloof because he does not generally attend the "meet and greet" events or shake hands with fans and sign Autographs. But while that is not something he feels comfortable doing, there are a number of times when he has reached out to fans and been very kind.) Over the years, I have always known the members of Rush to be philanthropic and compassionate-- they didn't make a big deal about it, but they have supported several worthy charities over the years, and yes that included Neil. As for the lyrics, I think the themes that have concerned Rush over the years continue to manifest themselves-- including maintaining one's ethics and integrity in a world with so much dishonesty and hypocrisy; or the importance of thinking for oneself and making informed decisions, rather than following the crowd. Rush remain a very cerebral and thoughtful band; they play with intensity and enthusiasm, but they are also unafraid to address some of life's biggest questions. (And while they don't claim to have all the answers, they do want their audience to think about those questions too.)

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:25:02
Is Neal Peart still the philosophical center of Rush's lyrics?

Yes, Neil still has the most influence on the lyrics, based on what I've seen. But Geddy and Alex have their share of input too. When Neil first joined back in 1974, Geddy and Alex were young and not as confident as they would become later on. Geddy especially was rather shy, as I recall-- not up on stage as a performer, but in his relationship with Neil, who he believed was much smarter, or more talented at songwriting. Interestingly, while Neil may be known as a deep thinker and reader, Alex too keeps up with current issues, reads some philosophy, and can hold his own in any conversation. So can Geddy, who has long since gotten past his somewhat intimidated attitude about Neil. These are three different guys with three different personalities, but they each respect what the others can bring to a song.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:24:07
As a band that has maintained the same lineup for almost 40 years, what advice do you have for bands just starting out to help them stay together?

First, there is no guarantee that you will stay together for 40 years-- if you do, that's commendable, but while it may sound like a cliché, start out by taking things a day at a time and don't worry about where you will be in four decades. The guys in Rush are both colleagues and friends, so that has helped them to stay together. Another thing is they are committed to their music-- they take care of themselves and they don't get caught up in the excesses of the "rock and roll lifestyle." Don't get me wrong-- I am not saying the guys have never partied. I am saying that partying is not the main reason they are involved in Rock Music-- they have never allowed some of the problems or excesses that break up other bands (drugs, or clashes of ego) to get in the way of what they want to do. They are genuinely committed to their music, to their fans, to each other, and yes, to their families. I have never seen any member of the band lord it over the other members, nor have I seen anyone try to impose his ego on the others. Thus, if I were giving advice about how to be a successful band, based on Rush, I would say get to know and respect each other as people, be able to compromise, be true to yourself, give each member's musical strengths a chance to shine through (rather than having one person dominating, which only creates frustration and resentment); and above all, work on perfecting your craft so that you can give the fans something they will remember positively for a long time.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:23:11
Being a trio, has there ever been a song or style of music that the group didn't feel like they could perform the way they'd like to?

Actually, they seem very satisfied as a trio. At times they do add musicians to their tour-- for example, they have used a wonderful violinist named Gerry Hilera on some of their songs. And while Neil is known for his drum work, Geddy can play bass and keyboards, and Alex not only plays guitar but sometimes he plays other stringed instruments like the mandolin. The members of Rush know what kinds of musical genres and styles they want to perform, and that is what they focus on. They also know what they don't want to perform-- they refuse to "sell out" and create lowest-common-denominator top-40 hits. They believe that music is an art, and they try to be faithful to their vision of what skilled artists should create, both for their fans and for themselves.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:22:35
Are the members of Rush friends, or co-workers?

Both. The guys genuinely enjoy each other's company. They understand each other, respect each other, and have a good time being with each other. That's helpful, since they tour so much and spend so much time in hotels, on planes, and of course, on stage. But when they have a break and can go home for a while, they live somewhat more separate lives, since each has a family and they like to spend time away from the music scene. But this is a band with no "drama"-- no fights, no resentments, nothing worthy of a tabloid article. Of course, they don't agree on everything, but in all the years I've known them, they seem to have developed a really strong relationship. They are three guys who have known each other for years and they are very comfortable with each other. But they also known when to give each other some space; family is very important to them, and unlike the stereotype of the rock star, the guys really are family men when they are not performing.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:21:55
How was the band Rush discovered?

I was the music director at WMMS-FM, an influential album-rock radio station in Cleveland, in 1974. As music director, I helped to select the records (it was vinyl albums back then) the station played, so I would receive albums from the various record companies, and I'd give them a listen, hoping to find something worth bringing to the disc jockeys. One day in the spring of 1974, I received an album from a Canadian record promoter friend of mine in Toronto, Canada. He told me his company had decided not to sign this band, but he thought the guys had some potential and wanted to know what I thought. The band was an unknown trio named Rush, and they had put out their own album on Moon Records. I wanted to find a long song (album rock stations were known for playing long versions, while top-40 stations only played short versions of songs) and put the needle down on "Working Man." From the moment I heard it, I knew immediately that this was a perfect record for Cleveland, which was a working-class town. I believed the lyrics, about "got no time for living, yes I'm working all the time..." would resonate with our listeners. I found a couple of other good songs on the album, but it was "Working Man" that stood out for me. I brought it down to the d.j. on the air, a guy named Denny Sanders, and as soon as he played it, we began to get requests. Our airplay led to a demand for the record, which was only available in Canada. So, I called their management, who were rather shocked that suddenly they were getting played in Cleveland (ironically, radio stations in their hometown of Toronto were not playing them). They sent a box of albums down to a local record store that sold imports from other countries, and that's how it started. I became friends with the management, and then with the band.  They were able to come to Cleveland to perform in the summer of 1974, and we've been friends ever since. I helped them to get signed to a US recording label (Mercury Records), which re-released their first album, and Rush added a thanks to me for "getting the ball rolling."

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:19:21
How are you publishing this book and why?

I wish I had met the late, great Eunice Randall, New England's first female radio announcer. I dedicated my book to her and the introduction is about how her niece found me and gave me unprecedented access to Eunice's childhood home, her books, her publications, etc. I came to feel as if I knew Eunice. Yet, I never had the honor of meeting her. I'd also love to have met Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneering First Lady, a champion for social justice, and a broadcaster who was not afraid to push for more women in the public sphere. (And yet, she was also traditional-- I tell the story in the book about how she rejected the idea of a woman president when several female attorneys formed a committee in the mid-1930s to promote having a woman as president or even vice president.) And if I could really go back in time, I wish I could meet Deborah, the first woman judge, mentioned in Judges (chapter 4) of the Hebrew Bible. I am named after her-- my Hebrew name is Devorah (Deborah). I'd love to know what it was like to live in a patriarchal culture and yet manage to achieve becoming a judge, something few women of that era achieved. When I was growing up, I was told repeatedly that my own desire for a career would never happen. I wonder what people told her, and whether perhaps she found someone to mentor her. We all can use a mentor every now and then!

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:17:13
Do you have a specific writing style?

I try to be a story-teller. No, not in the sense of making stuff up, but rather, in the sense of being understandable and interesting; I strive to make historical material, and historical figures, come alive. My books have years of research, but I try to present it in a way that makes you feel as if you understand what life was like for that person or why that particular issue mattered. One of my pet peeves is books that are so dense and such a melange of facts and statistics that the reader's eyes glaze over. Yes, I want to be considered a scholar (I did go back and get a PhD, after all), but I want my work to be accessible. I believe you can be scholarly (accurate, factual, providing context to events) without being boring. I have in many cases come to feel great affection for some of the people I write about; I hope my readers find their stories as interesting as I do!

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:19:01
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

For years, I wrote my ideas down on paper, in longhand; or I recorded them on a tape-recorder if I were in my car and suddenly an idea came to me. And like many of us from the pre-internet era, I then compiled them on a typewriter - your basic IBM Selectric, with lots of correction fluid handy - I never was a good typist! These days, I'm part of the modern world to some extent. I type things up on my computer and that makes it easier to correct my multitudinous mistakes before they get sent out to anyone. I'm a PC person-- I was only trained on PCs, and never did get accustomed to a Mac, plus I never got caught up in what to me seems like hype around Macs. I'm happy using my PC. I also have some of the more modern tools like Skype, if I need to do a long-distance interview with someone (although these days, I take notes on my computer, rather than trying to write them in longhand-- my handwriting was never terribly readable, so this way, I know I can actually read what I just typed).

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:18:47
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your book, "Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting," to life?

My publisher this time around is M.E. Sharpe. (My previous book, about Boston radio, was published by Arcadia Press.) M.E. Sharpe is a respected academic publishing company with more than five decades in the industry. This time, however, my book is coming out in both a hardcover (aimed at libraries seeking a good reference work on women's history) and an affordable paperback. We added in more photos too. The hope is to make sure it's in bookstores that generally would not carry an academic hardcover, but may indeed carry an interesting historical paperback version. And of course, it will be for sale online at the major online booksellers.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:18:31
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Yes, I do. When I was a kid, I was the only Jew in my neighborhood, at a time when, sad to say, there was still some anti-Semitism in the culture. I was also a girl who was different from other girls-- I didn't like "girlie" stuff-- cooking didn't interest me, I couldn't sew no matter how much my home Economics teachers yelled at me, and I wanted a career at a time when girls were only supposed to want to get married and have kids. I knew from the time I was about 5 that I wanted a career, even though I saw few if any businesswomen. I also wanted a marriage that would today be called "egalitarian," and while I love kids, I love them if they are somebody else's. Long story short, because I was so different from the norm, I got made fun of a lot-- today it would be called "bullied," and writing became my catharsis. I wrote my first song when I was about ten, and also wrote lots of poetry. None of it was very good, but it made me feel better. It gave me a way to express myself. Years later, that translated into writing history and finding the forgotten and unique people (both males and females) who deserved to be remembered.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:18:14
What are your current projects?

I began writing my first book a few years before the internet became widely used. So, I did most of my research in libraries, using old microfilm. I didn't mind. It was like a treasure hunt. These days, thanks to the internet, some research is much easier and faster to do, and I'm grateful for that. But while today, we take it for granted that nearly everything is digitized, the truth is that the vast majority of the world's knowledge is not digitized, nor will it be at any time soon. There's also a dirty little secret that most researchers know: the databases that are the most useful are often the most expensive. That means unless you are affiliated with a university or unless you are fabulously wealthy and can afford to purchase access, you are going to be at a disadvantage. There really is a "digital divide"-- the haves (professors at big universities, with hundreds of databases at their disposal) and the have-nots (unaffiliated scholars, and writers from poor neighborhoods, who can only rely on public libraries-- wonderful places, but in all too many cities, their budgets are being repeatedly cut). I've gone all over the US to find rare copies or books or magazines, but again, unless you have the ability and the time to do this, it's going to make doing research more of a challenge.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:17:54
What book are you reading now?

While most people associate me with media history, I am also a big fan of baseball and just completed five essays over the past couple of years for various books published by SABR (Society for American Baseball Research). I've researched the early years, 1910-1914. My baseball essays focus on telling the stories of the sportswriters, and how they covered the teams; or the fans, and how they kept up with baseball in that pre-radio era. And yes, I've even found some interesting women from those early years, including one who was the sports editor of her newspaper and one who owned a baseball team.

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:17:33
What books have influenced your life the most?

I am a voracious reader. I just finished a fascinating book by Tim Birkhead, who is an expert on birds (I teach courses in communication, and the new research on how animals communicate is really interesting). Mostly, though, I read magazines and newspaper articles. It's very important to me that I keep up with what is going on out there, and not just in the subjects that interest me (like politics or pop culture). I've been doing a lot of reading in comparative religions, and also in world history. I read online, I read on my Kindle, I read hard copy (or dead-tree) editions, I just love to read. Mom raised me like that!

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Kevin Stringer
Answered 2019-09-11 20:26:45
The current lineup of Rush is coming up on 40 years together -- what are you doing to mark the occasion?

I know what they are doing-- they are taking a much-deserved break from touring, to re-charge their proverbial batteries and spend some time with their families. As for me, what I am doing is feeling profoundly grateful. When I first discovered them, I never expected to get a 40 year friendship. I've done favors for many bands over the years; that's the job of a music director, to give new bands a chance to be heard. But rarely have those bands kept in touch, nor would I expect it. Rush, however, is unique. Despite all their success, they remain three very down-to-earth guys; success has not spoiled them. Yes, they are wealthier, and they've gotten many awards over the years (including FINALLY getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), but if you hang out with them, as I've had the privilege of doing on a number of occasions, they are still Alex, Geddy, and Neil, three very good human beings who deserve every bit of the success they have achieved. I consider it an honor to know them and to have been a small part of that success.

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