For Candice Agree ’79, the path to becoming a classical music radio host wound through an internship with shock-jock Howard Stern and a job at a station that played heavy metal before arriving at her current spot as an afternoon drive-time host at Chicago’s WFMT, a classical and fine-arts station.
Agree was still in high school when her father suggested she consider pursuing a broadcast career. “My dad read in the New York Post that WPLJ had hired Carol Miller, and he said, ‘That would be a great job for you,’ ” she recalls. “I said, ‘They’re never going to hire me. They hired the one token woman.’ You just did not hear women on the radio that much, and it was extremely unusual to see a female instrumentalist in a symphony orchestra.”
Agree, a native New Yorker, majored in Russian at Barnard, to which she transferred after two years at the University of Rochester. After college, she worked for the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council and later held positions in Columbia’s history and Slavic languages departments. One afternoon, she called Howard Stern’s show to answer a question about opera star Placido Domingo, after which his producer asked her to come meet Stern, who hired her as an intern. “My job was convincing former stars—C- and D-list celebrities—to do an interview with Howard Stern,” she says.
She then went on to work at various stations in and around New York. In 1988 she began working at the New York classical music commercial station WNCN; in 1993 that job took an unexpected twist. One day, the staff was assembled and told that the format was changing at midnight from classical to “pure rock.” Agree was the only announcer kept on. “One day I’m playing Beethoven and Bach, and then I went on the air playing the Stone Temple Pilots and Nine Inch Nails,” she says. “Being able to make that jump gave me a lot of confidence as a radio announcer.”
Whatever the format, Agree’s philosophy is “less talk, more music.” She hopes “to entertain more than teach. A lot of people have the idea with classical radio that it’s a lecture or a music class. My approach is that it’s entertainment. I try to think of interesting things to say about the music, so if I were listening, I’d say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ ” She veers away from the dates when a composer lived, for example, in favor of anecdotes that illuminate the music. Her facility in languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian, has come in handy for pronouncing composers’ names and doing research.
Live radio has its share of challenges— a CD fails, an LP skips, the network-news feed is supposed to start but doesn’t—so there’s dead air to fill. “One thing that has always saved me from true disasters is that I come in prepared,” Agree says.
After two years as the station’s weekend morning host, she has served, since October, as the afternoon drive-time host, bringing listeners her “warm personality and sophisticated musical sensibility,” says David Polk, the program director at Chicago’s WFMT. The station has an audience of 240,000 monthly listeners and is one of the few where the announcers themselves select the music they play. Agree also continues to host and produce the early-music program Baroque and Before, which she created in 2014.
Dividing her time between Chicago and New York, Agree has numerous other projects. She serves as the off-camera announcer for CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, and she records audiobooks, commercials, training videos, and documentaries. Much of her free time is also spent working on her self-produced, syndicated show The Spanish Hour , which features the classical music of the Spanish-speaking world. “A handful of works came to represent everything ‘Spanish,’ so I designed a program for anyone who has an interest in the cultural life of Spain and the Spanish-speaking world,” she explains. “Along with recorded performances of great works by great artists, I present recordings of live concerts featuring Iberian and Latin American composers, conductors, and performers.” The show is heard on several stations around the country.
While being on the radio affords Agree the privilege of “being in people’s cars as they’re leaving work and school, or making dinner—relaxing and recharging,” what she likes most about her career is that it touches on so many different talents. “Being able to work in so many facets of broadcasting—as a voice actor, radio personality, writer, producer, and content distributor—is deeply rewarding. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll do next,” she says. •