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Classical 101

WOSU Centennial: A visit with Mary Hoffman, program director from 1965 to 1987

Mary Hoffman and Christopher Purdy
WOSU Public Media
Mary Hoffman, who was classical music program director from 1965 to 1987, with Classical 101 host Christopher Purdy.

When I first came to WOSU just over thirty years ago, listeners I was meeting for the first time would ask me, “Do you know Mary Hoffman? You must meet Mary Hoffman!”

Mary at that time hosted a pre-recorded program of music that aired on Sunday mornings. We would say hello and exchange a few words in my early days when she would come into the station to record, one hour per week.

I had inherited the small office of a classical host who had gone on to brighter things. His desk was an archaeologist’s delight of memos between himself and Mary Hoffman, who had been his boss. These were spicy and beautifully written exchanges. It's clear that there wasn’t a lot of love lost between the two, but there was mutual respect.

Lucky me. I came to love and respect Mary Hoffman. She had been program director for what became Classical 101 from 1965 to 1987. I missed working with her by a few years. Maybe that’s why we are fond of one another to this day. She never had to work with me.

After lunches, e-mails, in-person visits and a share of music lore and gossip, Mary and I became friends.

When I realized 2022 was WOSU’s centennial year there was one person I wanted to interview on film. Mary Hoffman IS WOSU. I wanted this to be a good quality, on-film visit. None of this Zoom stuff for Mary!

I was delighted when Mary agreed to come to WOSU’s new building to be interviewed on camera. This is an oral history of WOSU going back to the 1960s. Mary also reminisces about her interviews with Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, and Maria Callas. Plus, one artist who was a pain, well, not an easy interview.

If you don’t know Mary, prepare to be dazzled.

Here’s a coda that didn’t make it on film. Mary recently married Ray Cunningham. They are both in their nineties.

Mary’s son Eric Rousculp said, “Mom called me to tell me she was in love with Ray, and did I mind too much if she got married. I asked her, 'Are you in love now like you were when you were a young girl? You are? Good. Then get married.'”

They did. Happily ever after.

This film would not have been possible without my WOSU colleagues Mary Rathke, David Holm, and Diana Beregmann. Thank you.

Classical 101 mary hoffman archives
Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.