The afternoon announcer with the warm voice and the calm, gentle demeanor — on and off the air — will be signing off from Classical 101 for good at the end of December.
Classical 101 afternoon host John Rittmeyer is retiring after more than 30 years at WOSU. The friendly voice you’ve heard at the end of your workday, during your evening commutes and while you settle into your evening at home has been a steady companion for thousands of listeners through the years.
As much as listeners will notice the absence of Rittmeyer’s assured golden tones from the airwaves, his colleagues will also feel the absence of his composed and friendly presence behind the scenes.
“John was always that solid influence and soft-spoken and gentle soul who was fully committed to what he was doing and the music that he was providing to the public,” said David Carwile, director of planning and initiatives for WOSU Public Media. Carwile previously served as program director for WOSU’s classical music station during some of Rittmeyer’s earlier years as a broadcaster.
Classical 101 morning host Boyce Lancaster was already on staff at WOSU when Rittmeyer was hired as a part-time announcer in 1986. Even today, he finds himself listening to Rittmeyer’s program on Classical 101 as an antidote to evening rush-hour traffic.
“I don’t drive much in rush hour anymore,” Lancaster said. “I come in before people really get in to work. And so the few times in the afternoon that I’ve had to drive through Columbus traffic, I needed every ounce of John I could get, because it was mad. John is just always this wonderful, calm surface on the water, even though everything underneath, like the duck’s feet, may be going like crazy.”
Classical 101 host Christopher Purdy echoes that sentiment.
“He was an island of calm in the middle of the chaos that often is the day when you work in public broadcasting,” Purdy said of Rittmeyer. “If you want to really kind of center yourself, it’s nice to kind of look in John’s door and see him writing a blog post or just doing what he does. And it brings you back to the necessity and the real beauty of the day-to-day work that doesn’t involve a lot of flailing about.”
“I would hear all this great music that I loved.”
A native of Schwerin, then in East Germany, and a rock 'n' roll guitarist from age 16, Rittmeyer’s journey with classical music began in 1974. He moved from Cleveland, where his family had settled when he was 2 years old, to Columbus and started school at Ohio State University.
He discovered WOSU's classical music station — then called Classical 89.7 — and listened to the music as a study aid.
“And what started to happen was, I would stop because I would hear all this great music that I loved, and say, ‘That’s beautiful. What is that? I have to find out about that,’ ” Rittmeyer said.
As his passion for classical music grew, listening to WOSU, attending concerts and learning about instruments, composers and performers became an avocation. The music itself also broadened Rittmeyer’s perspective on the world around him.
“When I would hear the music, it would kind of bring the past to life,” Rittmeyer said. “I felt like it was a time machine. It would sort of take me back to that time period, and it was present. Because no matter what century you performed it in, it was coming alive in the present. So it made it really present and alive to me.”
“That bright spark”
After completing a master’s degree in English at Ohio State, Rittmeyer, by then a committed WOSU listener, was looking for work and saw a vacancy announcement for a part-time position as Saturday overnight classical music announcer for WOSU. He applied for the job and interviewed with Mary Hoffman, then program director of WOSU Classical 89.7.
“I knew that coming from the English Department, as he did, that he was going to bring a love of language and a knowledge about how to use it,” Hoffman said. “I knew he was a musician and that he loved the classics and he was available for those overnight hours.”
Hoffman hired Rittmeyer in December 1986 to work from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, hosting the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, then introducing pieces of music he added to fill time gaps between programs on the overnight syndicated music service.
As the station’s program director, Hoffman was Rittmeyer’s first mentor on the journey that would lead him to his trademark golden voice and soothing delivery.
“He developed his gentle voice and his personal style that — you know, it’s John Rittmeyer,” Hoffman said. “I’m so pleased that he responded to the advertisement needing someone for the overnight hours and that I had the chance to see that bright spark in him and hire him.”
“It’s like sharing your love of a hobby with someone.”
Rittmeyer’s broadcasting career has taken him from the overnight shift to afternoon drive time, from the days of editing analog tape with X-acto knives to editing digital audio files with computers.
It has taken him into the depths of the symphonic repertoire as host of Symphony at 7 and through the range of repertoire for classical guitar as host of Fretworks. It has taken him, by way of the airwaves, into listeners’ cars, homes and offices and, by way of public appearances, into concert halls, bookstores and other venues throughout the community.
But bringing the music he loves to other people, Rittmeyer says, has been the best part of his job.
“It’s sharing the music,” Rittmeyer said. “The fact that you could sort of present it to other people, that seemed special to me. It’s like sharing your love of a hobby with someone.
Classical 101 program director Cheryl Dring says Rittmeyer's passion shows in his work.
"John came to classical music late, so he brings that excitement and freshness of somebody who didn’t grow up with the music, but who discovered it and has pursued it strictly out of a love for it," Dring said.
And even the friendly on-air delivery that listeners have come to know and love, Rittmeyer says, he cultivated to showcase nothing but the music itself.
“I always felt it was in the service of the music,” Rittmeyer said. “And maybe at times I could have done better, could have been more eloquent, could have done more. But the music, I think, speaks for itself primarily. I try to add just a little bit and not get in the way too much.”