WLAA Spotlight: WEMU’s Linda Yohn going off the air after a jazz-filled 30 years

Linda Yohn, whose voice is as smooth and special as the jazz music she has featured at WEMU for the past three decades, will take off her headphones and turn off her mic for the last time on Dec. 18.

She has spent the last 30 years as music director at the NPR/Jazz station at Eastern Michigan University. Her last day on-air also will mark the end of a year-long celebration of WEMU’s 40th anniversary of featuring a jazz format.

“This decision was not made lightly,” said Yohn. “But it’s time. I’ll miss working at WEMU and serving listeners with my heart and soul. I have never felt so fulfilled and inspired by my work as I have at WEMU, thanks to our wonderful listeners and the incredible southeastern Michigan jazz community.”

While the day-to-day work was incredibly joyful and rewarding, Yohn remembers some big hits during her wonderful career. Working on the Detroit Jazz Festival is near the top of the charts.

Read about Linda Yohn’s love for Jazz here: http://weloveannarbor.com/2017/12/15/sidebar-linda-yohn-has-long-been-consumed-by-jazz-love/

“We produced a local and national broadcast and professional recording of the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival,” Yohn said. “The festival’s name changed over the years, but the focus of intelligent, well-presented music did not change. This was demanding work, but a worthy achievement. WEMU was recognized as a national leader in jazz from these broadcasts.”

There were other chart-toppers along the way including WEMU’s association with the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair – The Original for their live jazz and blues stage; working on the live stage at “Taste Of Ann Arbor;” working on special workshops and presentations with UMS and partnerships with SEMJA (The Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association), The Ark, The Michigan Theater and the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

“For the past five years, we have enjoyed presenting the ‘5:01 Jazz’ shows on the first Friday of the month in October through May,” she said. “In fact, last month’s show featuring Ron Brooks, Ingrid Racine, Ellen Rowe and Gayelynn McKinney may have been one of the most satisfying nights of jazz I’ve ever experienced.  It was stellar.”

Yohn, 66, has been stellar ever since her first day at WEMU – both of them.

“I actually had two ‘first days’ at WEMU,” she said. “The first ‘first day,’ I pulled into EMU right on time at 8 a.m. on April 27, 1987.  I drove all night from Riverdale, N.Y., in a 1984 Sentra stuffed full of suitcases, houseplants, my stereo system, my coffee maker and the all-important coffee to set up in my new apartment. I spent the day learning about the many staff members I would be working with and claiming a little space in the office I shared with Jim Dulzo.

“The second ‘first day’ was Memorial Day, 1987. General Manager Art Timko had me start on a holiday when very few people would be listening. As I recall, things went smoothly. Nobody complained. The WEMU listener knows the difference between good music and mediocre. Never give them mediocre music. Always reach for the highest expression and integrity.”

Just like the musical director.

“Nobody has done more for jazz in southeast Michigan than Linda Yohn,” said WEMU’s General Manager Molly Motherwell.  “While Linda is well known and beloved in our area, I don’t know how many know of her impact on the national industry as well, both as a broadcaster and through her relationships with musicians, record labels, promoters, and other industry professionals. I don’t think there has been a jazz presenter in this area who hasn’t consulted with Linda before bringing in national acts because they know that she knows who is hot and who will draw.  Everybody who enjoys live jazz in this community owes her a debt of gratitude.”

Yohn, who the Arts Alliance recently presented the Lifetime Achievement Medal, which recognizes a lifetime of outstanding contributions and achievements within his or her field of the arts, creativity, sciences or humanities, began as host of Café Du Jazz on weekday evenings but quickly moved into the morning jazz slot where she has been a mainstay at 9 a.m. for over 25 years. During that time, she oversaw a massive growth in WEMU’s jazz audience and mentored countless on-air music staffers including current hosts Jessica Webster, Wendy Wright, Nik Thompson, and Daniel Long.

Yohn was named National Jazz Programmer of the Year five out of the eight years she was nominated, was given the Duke Dubois national award for service, and last summer won the Willis Conover/Marian McPartland Award for Jazz Broadcasting from the Jazz Journalists Association.

She has worked tirelessly on behalf of jazz in the community as a board member for the Southeast Michigan Jazz Association, as a panelist at numerous conferences and conventions, and with her stage presence as emcee at countless jazz shows that include the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Michigan Jazz Festival, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and many others.

Yohn graduated from Otterbein University in 1973 with a degree in Speech/Theater, French, and Education and followed up with graduate studies at The Ohio State University.

She says 66 is an OK age for retiring.

“I’ve been collecting a paycheck since I was 14, waiting tables and working in my father’s laboratory at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.,” she said. “But I’m not washed up! It is time to take a break for family concerns, to work on our wonderful property in Superior Township and to have some fun.  I hope to land on my feet in a year or so with a position in music management, the arts, hospitality, or community engagement.

“I’m planning to build a home studio and may produce an internet radio program. We do not plan to relocate because we have so many great friends in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, because this is such an amazing place to live thanks to the universities, and because the health care in our area is top-notch.”

 

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