10 Questions with ... Scott Fisher
February 11, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
From extremegenes.com: A Connecticut native, who has been in radio since his youth, and has spent three decades of spare time as a passionate â€œroots sleuth.â€ A long-time morning show host, Fisher is the author of â€œNew York City Methodist Marriages, 1785-1893,â€ Picton Press, 1994. He has also been published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Journal (April 2004), and Catholic Ancestor, Journal of the Catholic Family History Society of England (June 1996). His ten books on the families of both his and his wifeâ€™s ancestors, written over 25 years, fill the better part of a shelf in Fisherâ€™s family room library. Scott and his wife Julie have four adult children and four grandchildren.
1. First, what led you to a career in radio? Why radio?
At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school in Connecticut, a broadcast club was started. We received 15 minutes of airtime every Thursday night at 7pm on a little 1,000-watt day timer. Since three of us wanted to cover sports, I got two minutes every third week. No one has ever worked harder on two minutes of airtime than I did back then! My mother had hosted radio shows in San Francisco and Reno in the 1940s, and later was a freelance network television writer. My dad was Ed Sullivanâ€™s music arranger, so neither of them thought twice about their son catching the radio bug.
2. You were in music radio in several markets, and notably for decades in Salt Lake, and now you're doing a pretty unique show about genealogy. What led to that? Obviously, Salt Lake City is a hub for genealogy, but what gave you the idea to make it a radio show?
Having done radio since the â€˜70s (Y100, WQAM, WSAI) and mornings for thirty years (most notably for 16 years on KISN), it seemed obvious to me that nothing is more interesting and entertaining to an audience than good stories, and family history is loaded with them. There is no end to the material, even when doing segments explaining the many ways â€œdigging up your deadâ€ can be done. Stories of mystery, tragedy, discovery, overcoming challenges, and countless others that are just stupid funny! It would be tough to find a topic for a weekend program that has so much to keep an audienceâ€™s interest, even if they donâ€™t happen to be involved in it. I started the show at the local level, and now because thereâ€™s a great deal of interest, itâ€™s national.
3. In the short time you've been doing the show, what's the most memorable/amazing story you've encountered about finding something unusual in a family history?
There are many, including the woman whose friend uncovered a 1957 recording of the womanâ€™s 103-year-old great great grandmother. We were able to hear the ancestorâ€™s firsthand account of heading west in an â€œox teamâ€ in 1867. A man who runs a family history center in San Diego had the wife of a minister drop by to donate a Bible a parishioner had given her thirty years early. The Bible was from 1815. When the man opened it, he discovered the names written in the Bible belonged to his own ancestors! He had been looking for this information for years. Thereâ€™s even my ownâ€¦ I had sought a photo of my great grandfather for decades. When digitized newspapers came along, I learned that he had been a New York City volunteer fireman. The trail led me to a display right here in Salt Lake City that included a group picture of 104 New York firemen who came through on a sightseeing trip to San Francisco in 1887. Great grandfatherâ€™s picture was plainly identified. I had been to this museum/park many times over the years, but had no idea my New York ancestorâ€™s photo was on a wall there! Just as your readers have hopefully read this far because of what I just talked about, so it is with the radio show, the listeners keep listening.
4. Be an amateur psychologist for a moment -- what do you think drives people to seek out their roots? Why are people interested in who their ancestors were -- and what do you think they expect to find?
Itâ€™s inherent in all of us to want to know where we came from and who we are, and our family members both recent and long past play a big role in that identify. In 2013, a man who had been kidnapped as a child in Chicago (1964) and returned to his family a year later, after being found abandoned in New Jersey, took a DNA test. He learned that his parents werenâ€™t really his parents at all. You can imagine the impact that has had on him (and his parents, who are both still living) knowing he wasnâ€™t who he thought he was, wasnâ€™t born when he was told he was, and someone elseâ€™s blood courses through his body. (This was a big story this past year, too!) He is currently doing all he can not only to find out who he is and who abandoned him, but also, what happened to the man whose name he lives under and whose birthday he has celebrated for almost half a century. Family ties are intriguing, and it matters to people!
5. How has the Internet changed the process of searching for family history -- do you think it's been beneficial or does it lead down too many rabbit holes? How do you use the Net, both for genealogical purposes and to get topics and information for your show?
The Internet has changed everything. I first started doing this in the early 1980s, most days after my morning show was over. I would search books, and write, and phone people I thought might have information to share. My wife and I spent vacation time devoted to research. I had some wonderful experiences doing thatâ€¦ including randomly running into a 98-year-old distant cousin of my wifeâ€™s at a cemetery in Indiana, who dictated my wifeâ€™s line back to 1763. Today, we digitally share photos without a word being exchanged, and without even thinking about it. We read the most remarkable stories about our ancestors in digitized newspapers. (Example: We learned that in 1875, my wifeâ€™s great great grandfather, a rancher, swindled a bank out of $10,000, and changed his name to his motherâ€™s maiden name so he could run off with his farm handâ€™s wife. You donâ€™t have to be related to enjoy stories like this!) I have found more hard-to-find information on line in the past five years than I probably did the previous 25. Are there â€œrabbit holes?â€ Sure, some, but you learn how to quickly identify them and move on.
6. About what are you most passionate?
Aside from my own â€œtime travel,â€ writing, etc., I really enjoy hearing other peopleâ€™s stories and helping friends learn how to do it. Theyâ€™re often blown away at how many resources there are out there now, many of them at no cost. Itâ€™s amazing how many kids and teens are getting into it, too. Theyâ€™re interviewing their grandparents, making on-line family trees, and writing stories. The â€œchief genealogistâ€ for the New England Historical and Genealogical Society started when he was eight. We had him on the show recently and he talked about tracking down the worldâ€™s oldest living professional athlete, a former Negro League baseball player, when he was 111.
7. Who are your heroes and influences?
There are many, starting with my parents. Both of them gave me a great appreciation for family traditions and stories and the importance of hard work. Another was Jackie Robinson. As a teen, two buddies of mine and I drove to nearby Stamford, Connecticut, and knocked on his door. Imagine our shock when we were welcomed in and invited to sit next to him on his couch! He signed several things for us that day (which I still have), just months before he died unexpectedly at 53. I canâ€™t ever get too hung up on obstacles in my path without thinking of all that he overcame. There have also been countless people in the business that gave me the confidence early on that I â€œbelonged.â€
8. Of what are you most proud?
I think when I was young, like a lot of broadcasters, there was a lot of pride. But now, I defer far more to my familyâ€™s accomplishments than my own. Iâ€™ve been married to the same great wife for 32 years, who is in our Governorâ€™s Cabinet here in Utah. I have a son working in Hollywood, another who is well on his way to becoming a graphic designer, and two married daughters with two kids each, as well as a couple of awesome sons-in-law.
As far as my career goes, I guess Iâ€™d have to say becoming part of a community and having an entire generation grow up listening to me and several outstanding partners along the way as we lived our lives on the radio. I still enjoy meeting someone who has a favorite story of something we did that Iâ€™ve long forgotten, knowing that it was memorable for them. What a privilege!
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
...a Coke! Iâ€™m desperately trying to defeat that habit, but sometimes I think itâ€™s more like cocaine. It might actually be an improvement, because for years, my breakfast was Dr. Pepper. Hey, thatâ€™s just how morning people roll!
10. What was the best advice you ever got? The worst?
Easy! The best advice was from John Leader, the CHR guy at R&R back around 1980. I was a young programmer/morning guy, and he had made the rounds of major markets. He advised me to find a market I likedâ€¦ that worked for meâ€¦ and marry it. And I did. Not many broadcasters are given and/or make the opportunity to have that happen. My kids had a stable upbringing without being lugged from place to place. (I had done all that earlier.)
The worst advice was not to buy our radio station with some co-workers in the mid-90s. â€œToo risky,â€ I was told. The next owner bought it for $7 million, and five years later it went for over $50 million!
Iâ€™ll add to thisâ€¦ â€œBiggest lie.â€ That was: â€œYouâ€™ll get used to it,â€ when it comes to getting up at 3 or 4am to do mornings. You NEVER get used to it!