For 40 years, journalist pursues her love
“From WYPR, I’m Sheilah Kast. We’re On the Record.”
That’s the line Sheilah Kast delivers each morning as she introduces her daily public radio program, “On the Record,” on WYPR in Baltimore.
Kast has hosted daily programs at the station since 2006. But she has been a journalist working in newspapers, network television news and public radio for 40 years.
The award-winning journalist, now 70, said in an interview with the Beacon that age discrimination has never been an issue for her. “I was already in my 30s when I started in television, so I was never a super youngster,” Kast said.
Then she “fell in love with radio at about the time when an aging face might have been an issue for television jobs.”
On a path since high school
Her interest in journalism began as a teenager, when her mother suggested that she work for the school paper at her tiny Indianapolis high school.
“I got to be the editor-in-chief because there really wasn’t that much competition,” Kast said. The position, she said, “set me on a path.”
She went on to work on her college newspaper at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she originally was studying chemistry, planning to attend medical school.
But Kast said her love of journalism won out. “Especially when you’re a little shy, being a reporter gives you the license to ask anybody anything…I didn’t realize that was important to me, but it was.”
First taste of the newsroom
After graduating in 1971 with a liberal arts degree (with a concentration in French literature), Kast decided to apply to the two newspapers that existed in Washington D.C. at the time.
The Washington Post was not interested in someone like her, without professional journalism credentials. But she was hired at The Washington Star as a dictationist, typing up writers’ stories when they phoned in from the field.
On her first day in the newsroom, President Nixon imposed wage price controls, which was “a big story,” she remembered. “The atmosphere in the newsroom was electric. It was everything I thought a newspaper would be,” Kast said.
After about a year at the Star, Kast moved to Richmond to work as a reporter for the Richmond News Leader.
She was soon rehired at the Star in late 1973, eventually becoming a business reporter there. But her newspaper career came to an end when the Star shut down in 1981.
Kast said the demise of the Star happened partly because of competition from television newscasts. “I was very aware that television seemed to be the future, but there was a lot that I, as an outsider, didn’t understand,” Kast said.
Moving on to television
Intrigued, she transitioned from print to television, learning on the job as a reporter at the Washington bureau of ABC News. There, she learned to appreciate the different ways reporters have to relate to their audience in broadcasting.
“You have to make them want to listen to you. You have to learn to convey enough authority by both the way you write and the way you deliver what you write,” Kast said. “I loved learning it. I loved realizing the difference.”
During her 15 years at ABC, Kast covered a number of major news stories, including the attempted coup in Moscow in August 1991; the 1990 budget battles between President George H.W. Bush and Congress; President Reagan at the Berlin Wall in 1987, and the Reagan-Gorbachev summits in Iceland and Moscow in 1986 and 1988.
Kast stepped away from daily journalism when her husband, Jim Rosapape, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Romania by President Bill Clinton in 1998. They lived in Romania until 2001, later publishing a book together about that former Communist country titled Dracula Is Dead.
During the ambassadorship, the couple saw first-hand that “attitudes were changing, that Romanians were waking up to democracy and were taking more responsibility for their own future,” she said. “And [they] were very interested in engaging in democracy.”
On to radio and her own show
After returning from Romania, Kast freelanced for CNN and eventually went to work for NPR in a position that involved both television reporting and radio hosting. At NPR, she said, she “fell in love with radio.”
Then she heard that WYPR Radio in Baltimore was planning to increase its staff. Hoping to host her own show at a smaller station, she applied and was hired.
Kast began hosting “Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast” in 2006. The program featured several interviews each day focused exclusively on the people, events and issues of Maryland.
That program won the prestigious DuPont-Columbia journalism award in 2014 for its year-long coverage of the inequalities separating residents in Baltimore, a series called “The Lines Between Us” — an important recognition for WYPR.
“For a relatively small public radio station to win a DuPont was real testimony to the serious reporting that we did,” Kast said.
Kast hosted that show until October 2015, and one called “Midday” for the next year. After WYPR decided to change its programming, she began hosting “On the Record,” a half-hour program that focuses on one or two issues each day.
Kast commutes to Baltimore from her home in College Park, where she lives with her husband, now a Maryland state senator who represents northern Prince George’s County and western Anne Arundel County.
The veteran journalist enjoys her job as a radio host at WYPR, but she considers her 36-year marriage her biggest accomplishment. “I think the partnership I have with my husband…probably means the most,” Kast said.
Even with all of her accomplishments, Kast has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I’m having so much fun doing what I’m doing that I don’t have any plans to stop doing it,” Kast said.
She intends “to keep asking people questions, and listening to what they say, and sharing it with other people,” she said. “That’s both a joy and something I think I’m good at.”