10 Questions with ... Ruth Copland
May 5, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Ruth has not followed a traditional career path (see #10 below: Worst Advice she has been given). In addition to writing and recording her own music, she is a published writer and songwriter and a professionally trained actress and member of Equity; she has a BA (Honours) degree in English Literature, and a Master of Science Degree in Counselling (specialising in creative arts therapies); she is a certified culture transformation tools consultant and has consulted for clients in the Arts, business and education; she is a Member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council; she has worked as a business copy-writer and editor for published authors and has designed and conducted original funded clinical research into the effect of the creative arts in business; she has worked in inner city elementary schools counselling children for the Charity The Place To Be and as a life coach for adults; she is a Traditional Usui Reiki Master Teacher and practises meditation. Ruthâ€™s eclectic professional background has perhaps been the perfect preparation for producing and hosting "Itâ€™s A Question Of Balance" - from researching guests and topics, writing scripts, presenting, audio editing, and engaging with interviewees, to writing the theme music for the show. Originally from England, Ruth is a citizen of America and Britain.
1. You have a background in business and psychotherapy, youâ€™ve been a writer, musician, actorâ€¦ what drew you to pursue radio? What about radio appealed to you?
Iâ€™ve always been a keen listener to radio, both music and spoken word. Coming from Britain, the BBC provided an amazing range of spoken content. However, although I have a background in the arts, radio was not a medium I had thought about pursuing. I came to it in a roundabout way. I was asked by some friends to contribute to their show on KSCO, and did some in-the-field reporting covering the Monterey Pop Festival 45-year Anniversary Celebration. I then ended up covering quite a few shows during absences. I really loved doing it and started itching to create my own show and present it in the way I wanted. I gave a lot of thought to the type of show I would want to do, to create something new that would contribute something different. I pitched my show to the Program Director at KSCO and she liked it. I started out first filling in for other talk hosts and then was given a temporary slot where I was able to do the show in the format I wanted. Finally, I got my own slot where I could brand my show as I wished.
Radio appeals to me personally because producing and hosting my show brings together different skills and passions that I have in one place, which feels very fulfilling. Radio as a medium appeals to me because it can accompany you as you do so many things, it can feel like a trusted friend. I also love how it engages your imagination in a way visual presentations donâ€™t.
2. Your show, both in title and in practice, seeks to take a middle ground -- it's about the debate and discussion more than picking sides, which differs from what else is out there these days. Why did you choose to go in that direction? Do you think that the polarization of just about everything on radio, on cable news, and in social media leaves room for taking the middle (and some might say higher) ground?
I think the room for taking the middle ground is enormous. I conceived my show based on my despair at the seeming polarisation in America and also the very black and white way issues are presented in the media. Life is nuanced and complicated, and yet so many issues are presented as if there is a simple, obvious answer that trumps all other points of view. Complex issues are reduced to sound bites whether it be from the Left or Right.
Personally I donâ€™t want to be told what to think. Thus the idea of telling other people what to think is not appealing to me either. For me the key is conversation. I want to present topics in a way that people donâ€™t immediately think they know what they think about that particular issue. I also want to engage people regardless of their political affiliation. Presenting a discussion allows this. I have listeners from the Right, Middle and Left.
I interview real people on the street and the content is not contrived. I donâ€™t weight it so that each side of the issue has equal comments. I simply feature all the conversations. The "balance" comes from giving listeners the space to make up their own minds about what they think about a topic, stimulated by hearing other peopleâ€™s opinions, which they may or may not agree with.
The arts hour of the show also endeavours to stimulate thought. Art gives us a way of entering into another personâ€™s experience. I am not approaching my arts interviews from the entertainment/celebrity perspective. I believe art has a vital role in helping us understand and make sense of our world whether pursued professionally or for pleasure. Through Brunel University in the UK, I designed and carried out funded clinical research looking at how participation in the arts affected senior business executives in a multi-national company. The results showed positive effects on performance and creativity at work and also on health and well-being. Art permeates and enriches our lives in many ways beyond pure entertainment.
The "Balance" in the title of the show comes from the balance of having a non-partisan, discussion-based approach but also from the balance of the intellectual with the creative. One of my guests on the show, Hampton Sides, an award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and historian was kind enough to say the following: â€œ'It's A Question of Balance,' so rare among radio talk shows, lets its subjects breathe. With her discursive style and pleasingly eccentric range of curiosity, host Ruth Copland each week treats her listeners to two hours of Whole Brain Radioâ€. If I am indeed doing that, then the show is working as I intended!
3. You've had an impressive array of guests on the show -- which one (and for this exercise, you get ONLY ONE!) was the most memorable?
This is an almost impossible question to answer! I have been honoured to have in-depth conversations with some truly amazing artists who have dedicated their life to their craft. Each has been memorable for different reasons. For sustained creativity, I could choose Alan White of Yes, whose 40-year career with a band that is still performing is awe-inspiring; for poignancy it would probably be Jett Williams sharing her struggle to be recognised as the true child of her father (Hank Williams, Sr.) and express her own creativity.
But if I have to choose one, then it would be recent guest Rama Chakaki, social entrepreneur and founder of Baraka Bits, which is the only media outlet delivering exclusively positive news from the Middle East, with a huge emphasis on the work of creative artists. It is memorable because I felt so inspired by her positive energy and the stories she shared about artists creating under the most challenging of circumstances. Diagnosed as a young woman with an auto-immune disease that affected her heart requiring 12 surgeries, and not knowing how long she might live, Ramaâ€™s passion has carried her forward. Barakabits.com is providing an opportunity for people to show how art can both reflect and shape conflict, as well as giving a more holistic voice to people living in countries that are often represented simply as areas of conflict in Western media. Here is a place we can explore our humanity and whether we do indeed have more in common than divides us that I knew nothing about before my interview with Rama. That is exciting to me.
4. How are you getting the word out about your show? Are you looking towards social media, or word of mouth, or other methods to let people know what you're doing?
Social media is a good way to get the word out. I use Twitter and Facebook - you can follow me @ruthcopland or friend me at https://www.facebook.com/ruth.copland.1 :-) . I also podcast my shows on my website www.itsaquestionofbalance.com and I have people who listen around the world. That is a rather mysterious process to me. Iâ€™m not quite sure how people in, for example, Latvia, Vietnam or Ukraine, or even France and China for that matter, know about my show but somehow it has found its way to these places amongst many other countries. This I think can be the power of social media, the knock-on effect of people sharing links. When guests have good social media followings that is very helpful. Word of mouth is still important too. My on-the-street interviews keep me in touch with listeners, both current and potential.
5. Who are your influences and inspirations?
I am inspired by different people on an ongoing basis for different reasons, both in the public domain and in my personal life. Artists frequently inspire me, as do those seeking social justice through peaceful means and those overcoming challenges. I did have one dear friend who had a huge influence on my life from a young age, who has passed on now, Lady Lilian Carpenter. She inspired me with her integrity, her child-like enthusiasm and curiosity for life, and her deep humanity. She was genuinely interested in each person that she came into contact with, whether a one-off encounter or a close friend. She made the time to give people her full attention. She nurtured the best in people whilst also seeing them for who they truly were, faults and all. She made people feel they mattered, whatever their station. She came into contact with everyone from the Queen down, but she remained her true self in every situation. The world is a better place because she was in it. That is something to aspire towards emulating.
6. Of what are you most proud?
Being open to change and growth. Iâ€™ve had some challenging experiences emotionally that at times have made me feel I canâ€™t get up again. I donâ€™t know if proud is quite the right word, but I am grateful to be in a place where I am open to learning about myself and the world, and to being authentic.
7. What's your show prep process? Where do you get your topics, and how do you prepare for interviews?
I keep abreast of current events, trying to get my information from well-researched, neutral sources. I am a fan of traditional, non-partisan journalism, particularly the written word, as it allows the delivery of more complex information than a visual format. I am eternally curious about many different things. All my early school reports stated â€˜Asks too many questions!â€™ I have always wanted to know â€˜why?â€™ Life is a mystery that we are all exploring to lesser or greater degrees at different times and my mind is constantly delving. I keep an eye on current events and may choose timely topics, otherwise I follow my interest for that week. I also bank ideas as they come to me so I have a resource to use when Iâ€™m stumped. Of course, if I am really at a loss, Perryâ€™s great talk topics on AllAccess can save the day! I avoid politics, which is unusual for commercial talk, because I feel it instantly polarises people and stops them thinking. Put a political conundrum before someone and they most often have their answer ready even before you finish the question, they are not actively thinking, they have already decided. If you drop down a level and get at the issues behind the issues, as it were, then people have to ponder a bit more and you also have local relevance and global significance.
As far as preparing for interviews, I research my guests before they come on and make sure I have viewed, read or listened (as appropriate) to some of their work so that I have direct experience of their art. I never use talking points provided by publicists. I am interested in why the guests create their art, what drives them, what place they feel art has in the world. Thus, I try to get into the space of each unique artist and craft my questions specifically for them. Often artists give a lot of interviews so I want to ask questions that will lead to content people will not hear elsewhere.
8. Okay, look into the future: Where do you want to be, career-wise, in ten years? What's the ideal progression for what you're doing?
I would like to get my show syndicated nationally and I also have an interest in creating a visual version of "Itâ€™s A Question Of Balance." In ten years' time, I would hope to have my show on stations across the country, still providing quality content and guests, and engaging with questions that matter, and also have a TV version of the show.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _____________.
...time alone. I love meeting new people, working with people and having great conversations but I also crave time to be still with my own thoughts and being. My younger son would say that being alone also provides me with the opportunity to talk to myself, which I do frequently. If it is indeed the first sign of madness, then I am way down that road!
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? The worst?
The best advice: Someone gave me a card years ago with a quote from the British Victorian female novelist George Eliot that stated â€˜Itâ€™s never too late to become what you might have beenâ€™. This felt profound to me. It is so easy to feel you have missed the boat in life, and that is a paralysing sensation, not to mention depressing. I find the idea inspiring that we have the possibility to evolve and express our nature at any time. It frees you up to think differently.
The worst advice: That I should â€œlive in the real worldâ€, which apparently my world was not! This was basically telling me that what I wanted to do with my life was a pipe dream and I should have a reality check and get on with living a â€˜realâ€™ life. Iâ€™m still not sure I know exactly what a â€˜realâ€™ life is! But as it was apparently the opposite of what my heart was telling me would fulfil me it didnâ€™t seem terribly appealing. Obviously one has to make oneâ€™s life work practically but I think each person needs to craft that for themselves. Pronouncing judgement on another personâ€™s path, even for their â€œown goodâ€ is never helpful in my opinion.