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WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill retires after nearly five decades in radio

Paul Tuthill, right, with then-Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick after the 2011 tornado.
Paul Tuthill
Paul Tuthill, right, with then-Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick after the 2011 tornado.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home.

Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC since joining the station nearly 17 years ago. Now, Paul is in the final few days of a radio news career that goes back decades in the Bay State as he gets ready to retire at the end of the month. First, he’s here for a rare interview where he’s answering the questions instead of asking them.
Paul Tuthill, this is your life. At least the professional side.

Yes, you've put me on the spot.

How does it feel to be coming down to the end?
Oh, well, it feels kind of strange. I’ve thought about this for a while. This was not a spur of the moment decision. I started thinking about this actually back late last year, when I got a postcard in the mail urging me to save the date for my 50th high school reunion. 


And it dawned on me then that I have been doing this now, doing radio news, for almost 50 years. I started working part-time when I was a freshman in college. So I've been in it for a long time. I've enjoyed it tremendously. But I just thought, you know, I think it's time, I think want to step aside and frankly let somebody younger come in here with maybe a different perspective on things and let them take over here in the here in the Pioneer Valley News bureau. And I'll go on into retirement. 

So let's go back to the beginning. You said you've been doing it all these years. What attracted you to this kind of work in the beginning? 

Yeah, I'd always been interested in radio ever since I was a little kid. I remember, you know, walking around with a portable radio in my hand. I don't know if the people remember transistor radios, but I had transistor radios that you could tune in the local stations. I grew up in upstate New York in Olean, south of Buffalo. And I used to listen to the Buffalo stations on my radio. I'd always been interested in radio, would fall asleep at night listening to the radio, but it wasn't something that at the time I thought I want to do this for a living or do this as a career. 

But when I went to college, University of Rochester, my freshman year, I met a couple of people in my freshman dorm, they were interested in radio as was I and we went to the college radio station. There was a college radio station operating on campus, an FM station low-power station, and I became involved in that, started doing news, became news director, took over some other student management positions and as I said, I started working part-time actually doing some , work for United Press International ,which was around in those days and was the main competitor to the Associated Press wire service delivering the news to newsrooms all across the country. And so doing a little part-time work for United Press International and also doing the college radio. I thought to myself, you know, maybe I could do this for a living. And I'd like to do it for a living. And son of a gun, I did. 

So you as you say, you're from Western New York. How did you end up making most of your career in Massachusetts? 

I applied for a job at WTAG in Worcester in the early 1980s. I got the job, moved up here and stayed here. It was strictly a career move. When you're young, and you're looking to move up the career ladder, you want to go from a small radio station to a slightly bigger one to a slightly bigger one, and, you know, work your way up. That's kind the goal. And at least it was for me. That's how I that's how I ended up in in Massachusetts. It was a career opportunity to go to work for a radio station in in Worcester, WTAG tat was owned at the time by a newspaper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, that's where the call letters come from. After I had my interview with them, I realized that their news philosophy was kind of in line with mine. And it was a place where I wanted to go work. And I worked as a reporter there for a few years. And then about five or six years into my time at WTAG, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to news director. 

How did you end up coming to WAMC around 2006 or so? 

Again, it was an opportunity for me. I had left a job in Boston, and was looking for other work. Coincidentally, WAMC was looking to hire someone in the Pioneer Valley News bureau, they were looking for someone who had experience in radio, I was able to check that box, obviously. And they were looking for someone who also was familiar with Massachusetts, familiar with Massachusetts politics, state politics. And again, I was able to check that box because of what at that time was decades of experience now working in working in Worcester, and then later in Boston. 

And I'm glad you mentioned that, because that's a big part of the job. I don't know if all of our listeners always understand that, you know, Boston is outside of our signal. But it looms really large in the decisions that we cover and the officials who have to come west for things. How did you balance both doing kind of local city reporting with keeping an eye on what's happening in Beacon Hill? 

There is some overlap, obviously, but yeah, that's a good question. It is kind of a lot to keep your eye on at times. I try to balance it out by looking what do we think is the most important thing is going on this particular day? Is it something local? Or is it something statewide? Is it something that we can tie the two of them together? And so I guess it's just a question of trying to look at what the important news of the day is and deciding whether you're going to go local, or whether you're going to go with a statewide perspective on it. 

Your bureau is on the campus of Western New England University; they have a radio reporting class that's associated with our station. So we deal with some young journalists who are starting out and you speak to that class each year. So here's a tough one for you: What advice do you have for people who are just getting started in this business as you're preparing to say goodbye to it? 

Well, my advice when I talk to that class, as you mentioned, the one thing that I always stress is, you know, we're in the communications business, so you have to know how to communicate. And the most important thing to me is writing. You've got to be able to write, you know, clear, concise for radio. Now we do a little bit more obviously, because we’re publishing to our website. And so, I think that even makes the writing even more important, because now not only are you writing for someone's ear, but you're also writing for their eyeballs as well. And so what I emphasize when I talk to students, or when I talk to anybody that's interested in getting into this as a profession, is I emphasize the writing. Learn to write first and then you can then you can do then you can do just about everything else. The technical aspects of it, that can all be taught. But you know, the writing you've really got to work on, I think. 

How do you get people to tell you things as a reporter? 

Well, you ask them. 

Step one. 

You mean, how do you gain their trust? 

Yes, exactly. 

Yeah, I think you gain their trust exactly by doing what you say you're going to do. If somebody tells you this is off the record, then you keep it off the record. I’ve found that people want to talk to me about things. I don't know why that is, whether it's just me or what, but I've found that people generally like to talk about things that they know, and even sometimes talking about things they don't know. But I think it's just a matter of building a rapport with people, building a trust with people. And that’s what it all boils down to. 

You talked about the importance of writing to this line of work. Are there other ways that it's changed over the time you've been doing it?

I mean, when I started, everything was everything was strictly analog. By that I mean we were doing all of our recording on magnetic tape. And now everything has gone completely digital. Everything we do is on a computer now. On the either laptop, or portable, I mean, we can go out and edit stories in the field now using a laptop computer, which was something that obviously was unheard of when I started. 

So yeah, the technology has changed a whole lot. There was no internet, no cell phones or anything like that when I started. So the technology has taken the job to a different point. But fundamentally, it hasn't really changed. I'm still trying to get information that I think people need to know and want to know, and then convey it to them in a way that they are going to be able to find it and utilize and whether that's over the airwaves when we're broadcasting or whether it's on a website, or it's on a podcast, or it's on their phone or wherever it is that they happen to find it. But the fundamentals are still the same. Fundamentally what you're trying to do is get valuable, pertinent information out to people accurately, clearly, concisely. 

As you're thinking about your time, especially here at WAMC, what are some of the stories are the people that stick out among the sea of all the daily work you've done? 

Well, you know, you played some of the highlights here, I would say. You mentioned I've had a front row seat to the tenure of the longest-serving mayor in the city of Springfield's history, Dominic Sarno. My arrival here in the bureau in 2007 just happened to coincide with his upset victory in the in the mayoral election in Springfield that year. So I've covered that. There was the devastating tornado that hit Springfield, and in other areas of western Massachusetts, in 2011. And of course, you know, covering up the follow up to that, how the city responded the tens of millions of dollars that came to the city as a result of that and what they were able to do with it, building a brand new community center to replace the one that had been destroyed by the tornado, building a senior center, which had been something that the city had had a goal of for decades, but didn't have the wherewithal to do it financially until they got the money from the tornado. And then the other benefits that came out of it, new housing that was constructed. Some of the walkup apartment buildings that were damaged and destroyed, and they were they were torn down and replaced by single-family homes and duplexes. 

And then the other statewide politics has been has been interesting as well during the time that I was out here. We had a governor elected who actually was a resident at least part-time in Western Massachusetts, that was Deval Patrick. I think people most people probably know he has a home in Richmond. And so that was interesting to cover him as well because he spent a lot of time out here. Physically he was out here in this area probably more than any other governor. It's sort of like the favorite child question, right? It's kind of hard to pick a story out and say, Well, this is the thing that I remember the most, but certainly I have very vivid memories of the of the tornado. I mean, some of those images I'll never forget seeing some of the things that I saw in the aftermath of that of that storm. 

OK, so let's look ahead a little bit. Let's say it's a weekday in January. For people who don't know, we have a morning news meeting every day at 8:25. You'll be retired. What will you be doing instead? What lies ahead here? 

People ask me, oh, what are you going to do when you retire? Well, I'm not going to go to work every morning. So I guess that's that'll be the answer. I will not be on the call. Who knows? I may be asleep. Maybe I'll be out on a golf course somewhere. I don't know. But I will not be working. I know that is one thing for certain. 

Well, Paul, congratulations. A great run coming to an end here at WAMC. As you say, five decades, more or less, as a radio reporter. You really don't see that too much anymore. I congratulate you and thank you for letting me put you on the spot a little bit.

Ian, thank you. It was fun looking back.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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