Radio host writes of her journeys
For 24 years at the same microphone, radio host Judith Krummeck, her well-modulated voice sounding both authoritative and soothingly sweet, has rattled off breaking news while queuing up the next classical music piece from Dvorak to Mozart.
During her four-hour weekday presentation, Krummeck unveils a fount of selections featuring piano and violin sonatas, oboe concertos, wind quintets and Hungarian dances. Sometimes there’s a fandango for guitar blended in, giving things that much more texture and richness.
In February, Krummeck marked her 24th year at WBJC-FM, whose powerful, 50,000-watt signal creates a vast audio footprint that reaches several states. Krummeck is the drive-time radio host of the station, which is licensed to Baltimore City Community College.
WBJC’s studios and offices are located in a drab building in aging Reisterstown Road Plaza, a grab-bag of offices housing fingerprinting and juvenile justice services, Giant Food shopping carts and quick-serve pretzels and custard.
Given classical music’s more refined and dignified image, locating the station in such an unlikely atmosphere “is very bizarre,” said the radio host and author. “It’s like walking through the pages of a Kafka novel.”
Anti-apartheid family harassed
Krummeck was born in South Africa but spent some of her early years in Namibia, where her father worked as a banker. Her mother, a painter working in watercolors and oils, also taught art. Krummeck’s aunt was a classical pianist, while both of her grandmothers taught piano.
After growing up in this artistic family, Krummeck pursued a degree in drama and art history at the University of Cape Town. She started acting, “taking words on a page and turning them into dialogue,” as she put it.
Over time, though, she said, the stage lost its luster. “Sadly, I found [the marketing] aspect of the acting world — pressing the flesh, networking, et cetera — really depressed me.”
Krummeck grew up at a time when the specter of apartheid dominated and defined South Africa’s social, political and economic infrastructure. In her first year at the University of Cape Town, she took part in anti-government protests.
“I sat on the steps of St. George’s Cathedral,” she recalled. “There were photographs of students being beaten by batons.”
The news media, too, “was very much under the thumb of the nationalist government. My brother had his mail opened for years because of his stand against apartheid.”
In time, the brutal, decades-long struggle drove Krummeck to a personal crossroads, and she decided, “This is not a country I want to live in.”
Moving to America
Emigrating to the U.S. in 1996 with her husband, Douglas Blackstone, an American attorney, “I didn’t know what I was going to do here,” she said. “I looked at all my training — theater, broadcasting, arts. I was really throwing the net wide.”
Krummeck came across an ad in a broadcasting trade magazine: WBJC was looking for a staff announcer. So, hoping to realize a dream of finding a job at a classical music station on the East Coast, she applied, auditioned and was hired.
“I got the job out of the blue,” she remembered.
Still, the road connecting acting to radio was tough, she admitted. “Technical stuff was really terrifying,” she said. “I had never operated a [control] board before. I needed two weeks’ training.”
However, station managers had a different timetable. “I had three days. I was plunged on the air on the fourth day. Of course, things went wrong.”
What does an experienced radio broadcaster do while the music is playing? Krummeck dispelled the myth that announcers simply sit back with their feet up, hitting the on-air button.
“I am so busy!” she said, explaining, “I am compiling half-hourly newscasts during the peak hour of drivetime. I am programming ahead for the next day. Once the playlist is finished, I am pulling my CDs for the next day’s shift.”
Then there are emails to answer and social media-related assignments she tends to. “It’s pretty hectic.”
Along with her daily radio program, Krummeck hosts Book Notes on the station, a twice-monthly feature where she interviews an array of local and national authors covering all genres.
Her personal web page, a refreshingly subdued affair, is peppered with her bite-sized reflections. Her site also features dates of Krummeck’s public appearances at book stores, concerts and beyond. There’s also news about conversations with notable figures like James Conlon, the artistic advisor of the Baltimore Symphony.
Nearly a quarter-century in Charm City has seen Krummeck digging deeper into her vault of innermost thoughts. One goal she folded into an already chockablock schedule was to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Baltimore, which she earned in 2014.
Marion Winik teaches the creative nonfiction course there. Krummeck, she recalled, was “such a lively and unusual person. Her whole manner, her elegant accent. She’s a very gifted writer. She’s very kind and gives classmates her support. She’s also very determined.”
The thesis topic assigned for graduation required students to self-publish a book of creative nonfiction.
“They had to design, market and arrange [their book] for printing,” Winik explained. Krummeck chose Beyond the Baobab, her collection of essays chronicling the triumphs and the travails she encountered as a newly minted American.
Energized by the acclaim generated by her debut book (Writer’s Digest called it “an excellent read”), Krummeck followed up in 2019 with Old New Worlds — a biographical memoir that colorfully knits immigrant accounts of “my great-great grandmother from England to Africa, and mine from Africa to America almost 200 years later.”
When asked her preference if she had to make a choice between radio and writing, Krummeck, with a softly measured cadence, put a finer point on it.
“If I absolutely had to choose, I would choose writing because I could do that for the rest of my life, and it holds so many challenges for me still.”
All the same, she made certain to layer her sentiment with a sense of balance. “I find working concurrently in the media of the spoken word and written word a wonderfully complementary combination.”
In her years living, working and playing in Baltimore, Krummeck has nurtured a deep fondness for its people, the vintage rowhouses, world-class museums and major-league symphony orchestra. Nevertheless, despite the horrors of apartheid, her native soil occupies center stage.
“Cape Town is still my soul city,” she said, her comforting, signature vocalese dripping in each syllable. “It’s the smells, the lights, the people. It’s absolutely in my blood.”
In May, Krummeck will make two public appearances. On Fri., May 13 at 6 p.m., she will be a panelist at Greedy Reads: The Lost Weekend, speaking about the book, If You Love Baltimore, It Will Love You Back by Ron Cassie.
On Sun., May 15, at 4:30 p.m., Krummeck and composer James Lee III will host a pre-concert discussion before the Shriver Hall Concert Series at Johns Hopkins’ main campus.