Seven Questions for Classical 101's Boyce Lancaster

Suzanne Goldsmith

Boyce Lancaster’s three-decade run as morning host on Classical 101 FM, WOSU Public Media’s classical music station, ends this Tuesday, Sept. 17 when the 66-year-old signs off at 10 a.m. to join his wife, former program director Beverley Ervine, in retirement. For many classical music lovers, Lancaster’s 6–10 a.m. slot made his warm, witty voice the first one they heard each day. Christopher Purdy will take over the slot on Sept. 23.

Lancaster answered our questions by email prior to his final signoff. The highlight of his career, he wrote, has been “getting to know listeners—those who turn on the radio and give you their time each day. They are what I will miss the most.”

You have helped Central Ohioans wake up and hear the music daily for 35 years. How do you go about creating a playlist for those early-morning hours?

For the first 20-plus years, I created my own playlist. Some of it was, “How would I like to be awakened?" One friend made sure to remind me regularly to not play cymbal crashes or marches too early in the morning! Then it was remembering that there were listeners in every part of their day, even at 6 a.m. Some were just getting up, some getting off work, some had been at work for hours. … Then I’d just look for balance. One funny story came from a listener. I played Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which is really powerful. I came on afterwards and said, “Just make sure you check your speed after that.” He told me he looked down and was doing 85!

Your early-morning slot gives you a unique role in the lives of your listeners. What are some of the things they have told you over the years about the role of your classical music show in their mornings and their lives?

You really never know who is experiencing what when you’re on the air. One gentleman I spoke with was working at the ticket counter at what was then Port Columbus. As he was getting us set up, he said he had been hearing me come on each morning at 6 a.m., which was unusual for him. He and his wife had a new baby, so early morning feedings or a fussy child meant some extended rocker time, all while listening to our station. Another said she was going out for an early morning run and, as the sun began to rise, I played the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Mendelssohn. Those opening chords combined with the sunrise were a perfect combination … and it was then that she knew she needed to somehow be involved in classical music radio.

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You sang and played instruments when you were in school, but you did not get an education in music. How did you gain the background you needed to host a classical program, and what do you read to come up with the stories you share about the composers?

I grew up in a musical household. Both of my parents were both musicians and broadcasters. Music was a part of our daily lives, as much as eating and sleeping. The music lessons I received from 4th grade on up into college provided the foundation to understand classical music, but it was Mary Hoffman, who was the program director here, Beverley Ervine, who was a musician and music educator (and eventually my wife!), and my co-workers who helped me begin to understand the wealth and breadth of this music. Then you just keep digging! As for stories, there is such a wealth of information about composers and performers out there—the hard part is deciding how to pare it down to one interesting facet of the musician’s life and work.

Your rich baritone is an important part of the experience for listeners. Did you always know you had a voice for broadcasting? Did you have to work at developing an on-air voice? 

I was blessed with this voice, which came quite naturally. Both of my parents have wonderful voices, (Mom is an alto and Dad a baritone), so I guess my voice was destined to be low. Growing up around the world of both music and broadcasting gave me an amazing school, where I heard people who spoke and sang well, which meant when I began working toward being on the air, I had fewer habits to break. I DID have a bout with voice problems years ago which resulted from getting into some bad habits. It took some surgery and a year of voice therapy to re-learn how to use my “instrument.” It really made me constantly vigilant about caring for it!

You met your wife, Beverley Ervine, on the job and were married at the radio station in 1986, working together there for 30 more years until she retired in 2016. Tell us about your partnership.

It really HAS been a partnership. When we first got together, we spent many hours talking about many different subjects, but, as you can imagine, music was a huge part of it. It also helped that we were both in the same business, so we each understood what the other was experiencing. Also, SHE is the organized one and sees the bigger picture of what something can be. An example is a special we did inspired by the book “Ruby Elzy: Black Diva of the Thirties,” written by David Weaver. What could have been just a quick interview and short piece turned into an amazing exploration of being a black woman in the 1930s. She came to Ohio State, eventually went to Juilliard, and was one of the four original leads in Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. That took on a whole new dimension because of Beverley’s vision. Over the years, she enabled me to be and do far more than I ever would have on my own.

Doing a live show for so many years must have had its nail-biting moments. Do you have any fun stories to share?

I was working at another station, late at night, alone. The audio board sat on a small table. I jostled my coffee cup a bit, and a little got onto the table. I grabbed a towel and lifted the front to wipe under it, and just as I did … BOOM! Everything went dark. No sound, no lights, nothing! AHHH! I dashed outside and even the tower lights were off! I called the manager in a bit of a panic. We later discovered that, just as I lifted the console, someone ran into a nearby power pole with their car and knocked out power for the entire area.

Have you given any thought to what will be the last recording you'll play when you sign off on September 17, your final day?

Wow—there are so many! I think I’d like it to be “Vocalise” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, played by Branford Marsalis on soprano sax. My wife Beverley and I adopted that as our song very early in our relationship.


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