The Man Behind THAT VOICE (Or, A Tenor in the Making)


Half a day of jazz, half a day of classical music. That’s been the recipe for success at Philadelphia’s WRTI-FM, found at Temple University.

Every morning at 6 a.m. for as long as most listeners can remember, classical music host David Conant signed off with his memorable, mellifluous voice as he turned the reins over to the jazz side.

For over forty years, David has built a career in radio, culminating in his last, long-term gig as WRTI’s General Manager, Program Director and of course, classical music host.

And now the man behind that voice has just reached his career finale and announced his retirement.

Talk about some of your favorites. For example, Gustav Holst, which “Planet”?

JUPITER, because he’s the “bringer of Jollity”.

From Beethoven: which movement of which symphony do you love the most?

The second movement of the Eroica. It was often played after the Kennedy assassination and made a deep impression on me.

Favorite contemporary opera (from “Porgy” onward)?

Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes”

In opera, would you rather keep up with the libretto or just enjoy the performance?

I’d follow the libretto if I don’t know the opera; otherwise, I’m happy to follow the action.

What does the classical music industry need to do in order to attract new listeners?

Good question, and one that the industry has been trying to answer forever. As for radio, keep partnering with groups like All-City Orchestra and Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.

Which musical genre do you enjoy the most?

I like the old rock and roll bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival. As for classical, the music of Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries are my favorites.

Which composer or artist have you met who left an impact on you?

Tough question, but probably Wolfgang Sawallisch. An excellent musician, conductor and interview subject.

Do you play any instruments? What’s your favorite one?

I do not, but I really love the sound of the oboe.

Do you sing?

I was in a church choir in my youth, but I confine my singing to the shower these days.

You speak musically, perfect for radio. Did you receive voice training?

I think I inherited my voice from my maternal grandfather who was a minister.  He had a magnificent voice and delivery.

What was your first exposure to live classical music?

My paternal grandmother was a pianist, with a baby grand in her living room. We visited nearly every other Sunday. My uncle was a harpsichordist who taught at Yale and Roosevelt University (in Chicago). He founded the Foundation for Baroque Music in Saratoga, NY. My grandmother took me to a Boston Symphony concert at Carnegie Hall when I was  around 10, and later to a performance of the Merry Widow, also in New York City.

You used to be a teacher?

I taught English in Philadelphia and then in Camden, New Jersey.

What was your input into the daily playlist on WRTI?

I programmed 6 a.m. to noon for years, and then oversaw the classical playlist after that.

How would you describe your visceral response to music?

Depending on my mood, it can relax me or pull me into an intellectual interaction with the music.

What are the top highlights of your career?

Helping plan and execute radio marathons that raised money for the Philadelphia Orchestra; doing remote broadcasts from Bermuda; and hosting musical and cultural  trips to various European cities and Egypt, Kenya and South Africa.

What was your favorite/funniest/most unusual listener request?

“Taco Bell’s Cannon” (Pachelbel’s Canon in D)

Which classical master would you have most liked to meet?

Haydn, for his innovation and sense of humor.

What now, that you have retired – is authorship in your future?

I’ve often talked about a book, but I’m not sure anyone would buy it.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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